Last Friday I went to the last of the four Silent co-creation classes that I have been attending (read the blog post ”Silence, please!” to learn more about Silent co-creation). I attended the class together with my good friend and business associate, Hans Ravnkjær Larsen of Cheche, and we ended up discussing silence in connection with the networking and chill zones we use for our conferences.
Is networking for everybody?
For many many years we as an industry have 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 as I have entered a world of a more introverted people (generalizing, I know!), I have wondered what this forced networking does to these delegates, and I have fully embraced the thought of chill zones.
So, 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 – the term Hans and I came up with in our discussion?
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 lounge 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 lounges: The purpose is the same, it is just the road that leads there that is different!
And if you ask of 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 lounge.
How to make a soulworking lounge
You could also use the decoration of the room to facilitate the silence. If you make sure that the chairs, sofas etc. in the lounge 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 lounge in an adjacent room to the networking lounge so as not to send the attendees, who wish to use the lounge, 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 lounge 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.
Just the other day I read an article by Harvard Business Review about designing a workspace that gives extroverts privacy too, and while it is no surprise I think we all need to remember that extroverts get information overload too and wish to cool down on a busy conference day.
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 lounges, soulworking lounges etc. We could just keep our chill zones as sanctuaries from all the input a conference consists of.
What do you think?