For many, many years, the meetings and events industry has talked about integrating networking in our conferences as a means to learn more than merely what is induced from the stage (by exchanging knowledge peer to peer). But when I entered a world of a more introverted people (generalizing, I know!), I started wondering what forced networking does to these delegates.
Furthermore, we’re all stressed and maxed out these days, so no matter if you’re en extrovert or an introvert, you(r brain) need downtime in order to cope with information, relations, and just … life!
Is networking for everybody?
I’ve written about chill zones for conferences in another blog post – could this chill zone be part of a soulworking zone? What if we staged the chill zone to be a silent zone – not only a place to chill, reflect, and maybe rest your mind, but a place explicitly meant to be silent? Would we then give both the extroverts and the introverts a chance to be comfortable?
Could you actually talk about networking versus soulworking?
Facilitating is key
Just as a networking session has to be facilitated in order to be fruitful (“Go have a cup of coffee and network” is not the recipe for networking!), soulworking needs to be as well. Put cards with questions to reflect upon on the tables and ask the delegates who use the chill zone/soulworking zone to think about these questions – the same questions you would use at the networking lounge. That way you emphasize the point of both the networking and the soulworking: The purpose is the same, it is just the road that leads there that is different!
And if you ask your delegates to do something while networking (reflect upon questions, come up with answers to a task etc.), you should ask the same of the attendees slipping off to the soulworking zone.
How to make a soulworking zone
You could also use the decoration of the room to facilitate the silence. If you make sure that the chairs, sofas etc. in the zone do not face each other, you stress the purpose of the room not being a place for conversation.
Also, you would want to have the soulworking zone in an adjacent room to the networking zone so as not to send the attendees, who wish to ‘soulwork’, to the farthest corner of the hotel. You would not want these attendees to feel inferior to the others, but you would want it to be a bit quieter than the networking zone to accommodate those who are easily distracted by too much noise.
Together or apart
On the other hand, would you really want the chill zone to be silent per se? I see the chill zone as a place everybody can hang out – not just the introverts – which means that even though the chill zone might not be the loudest place at the venue, it is not as such completely quiet either. Some attendees might want to relax with a cup of coffee while checking E-mails, others want to reflect upon presentations and speeches.
While it comes as no surprise, we all need to remember that extroverts get information overload too and wish to cool down on a busy conference day – just check out this article by Harvard Business Review about designing a workspace that gives extroverts privacy too.
So, maybe the chill zone should just continue to be exactly what the name states: a CHILL zone, while we can use other spaces to create silent zones, networking zones, soulworking zones, etc. while we just keep our chill zones as sanctuaries from all the input a conference consists of.
I believe there is no 1 right answer.