Meetings & Your Brain

Un-Quiet Conversation

Talking with author Susan Cain about what meeting professionals should know about introverts.

When I made plans to interview Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I suggested we meet in a coffee shop that, visually, exudes calm, the kind of place where patrons sip coffee at long wooden tables, surrounded by piles of crusty loaves of bread.

But when I showed up to meet Cain, fresh from my reading of Cain’s description of optimal environments for introverts — introverts have wide-open channels for stimulation — I became keenly aware of all the racket. Dishes clanked, conversations boomeranged off the walls and ceiling, and the piped-in classical music seemed intrusive. I could even feel the subway rattling underground.

Cain was extraordinarily gracious about the distractions and even allowed me to do a short video of her top takeaways for meeting planners about making meetings introvert-friendly. And because it was really noisy and it is hard to hear her on the video, here’s a transcript of what she said:

I think the most important thing for meeting planners to understand about introverts at a conference…Well, there are really two things. One is that introverts really do need to recharge, and they are going to be at their best, at their most energetic, at their most socially open, if they get the time that they need to take breaks. And so it is not a good idea to encourage everybody to be going from morning until night. It is actually okay to be able to go back to your hotel room, or off by yourself to a café for an hour to take the break that you need. And so that is the first thing.

And then the second one is that introverts are probably not that excited about breakout groups in the middle of the session and probably a lot of them feel like they are there to get information, and they actually want to hear the information from the speaker on the stage. And they might be less excited about doing a little breakout group where they chat with their colleague about what they just heard. There are exceptions to that.  It depends on the topic and the material. But in general, I would be careful about assuming that everybody enjoys breakout groups. They might act like they are enjoying them because they know that there is an expectation that they should, but the truth might be different from the face that they are showing.

You can read more from our conversation about introverts and meeting planning in the June issue of Convene.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.