Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gathering, Introvert-Style

By Laurie Helgoe, PhD, Author, Introvert

How do you gather with people you can’t find?

How do you gather with people who aren’t drawn to gatherings?

Introverts are everywhere, but they aren’t easy to identify: Some stay out of view, keeping their profiles as low as possible, while others enjoy hamming it up on stage or in the break room. Some create the books and products we love, but do their work where we don’t see them. Many seem too outgoing or influential to be introverts. We forget to look for introverts while stuck at a party (they’re looking at their watches, too).

And the introverts we pass by pass us by for the same reasons.

So how do introverts find other introverts? And if we can’t find each other, how can we experience our collective presence as well as our diversity?

We live in a society largely defined by extroversion. Rewards come to fast talkers, team leaders and those who schmooze, and many introverts have learned the game. Introverts either become less visible or start to look like extroverts.

Contrary to the stereotype of the basement-dwelling social phobic, most introverts enjoy and seek connections with others – especially other introverts. A couple of key factors get in the way of these connections:

  1. For the reasons mentioned above, we have a hard time identifying those in the introvert majority, and they have a hard time identifying us.
  1. We’re not big on the preliminaries: initiating contact, introducing ourselves, easing into the kind of conversations we desire.

But the need is there. And we’re ready to respond. Mary, Robin and I have been envisioning a gathering of introverts: a retreat or conference for -- and about -- introverts.

An oxymoron? I don't think so. Imagine a gathering with a new set of rules, a culture in which your values and pace are honored: Where a breakout session means breaking away from the group rather than chatting with the person to your left. Where competitive hand-raising is prohibited. Where you don’t feel alienated when you say no to the cocktail hour and formal dinner, because these activities aren’t on the menu. Where interaction emerges consensually and organically rather than mechanically and on cue. Where you can withdraw and recharge without being seen as rude -- or diagnosed as depressed.

Here are some questions to get you going:

[ What topics would strengthen and enrich your introvert identity – and help you bring introvert power into your life?

[ When (time of year, days of the week) would you enjoy attending such a gathering?

[ Where would you hold the event? Hotel in a city or funky artist village? Rustic, natural setting? Large house on the beach? What city, setting or part of the country?

[ Why do we, as introverts, need this type of gathering?

[ How would you structure the learning experiences?

[ What would you prohibit at the event?

[ When you are not gathering, where would you want to be? Doing or experiencing what?

We’d love to know what you’re envisioning. The seed has been planted and a groundswell of introvert desire is pushing toward the surface.

Spring is on the horizon. I can’t wait to see what we’ll create!

Laurie Helgoe is the author of INTROVERT POWER: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength. Laurie is often mistaken for an extrovert because she has fun leading seminars, coaching other writers and performing on stage. But she also loves to hide, particularly in dark movie theaters with a bag of popcorn. Laurie’s website is



Congratulations to Vivian (aka HipWriterMama) for winning a signed copy of Becky Levine's newly launched book entitled The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

More congratulations out to the winners from our two part interview with business and communication coach Nancy Ancowitz.

Jan Godown Annino has won the 45-minute tele-coaching session with Nancy! And Carol Grannick, you are the winner of a signed copy of Nancy's book Self-Promotion for Introverts. If each of you will email me off-line by clicking here, we'll make arrangements to get you prizes to you. We are so happy for you each!


In case you have been wondering if Robin has fallen headlong into a tear in the universe's starry fabric, well, she has! :-) Robin is working fast and furious against some exciting (read excruciating) deadlines. She is looking forward to being back with us just as soon as she can.

Can't wait to hear your comments about an Introvert Conference--


Mary Hershey


Vivian Mahoney said...

I had to read your post a couple times to be sure I saw my name. Thank you so much!

The idea of an introvert gathering makes me smile--especially as I'm thinking of the last event I attended--total flower on the wall.

I think if you keep the numbers small, it would go a long way to make people comfortable.

And yay, Robin! Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

There's always the possibility of online gatherings. But if you're thinking in-person:

Lovely surroundings, where one can take solitary walks during breaks.

Topics for discussion:
Playing to our strengths: How does introversion help us?
Stretching: How can we slowly extend ourselves into worlds that are a little less comfortable?

Suggestions: Some sort of signal that attendees could use to let others know, "I'm available, please talk to me" and "I'm decompressing, please leave me my space." Like, if you're wearing your green nametag you're approachable, but if you're wearing your yellow nametag you "vant to be alone."

Generous amounts of unscheduled time. The biggest problem I have as an introvert at conferences is the sheer amount of activities crammed into the typical conference day.

Absolutely no event where an audience member is required to get up in front of the room against her will.

As for time, weekends always work best for me.

Anonymous said...

Yay, Vivian! I just emailed you. :)

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, Jennifer and Vivian, for your thoughts.

I really liked your idea about the On/Off nametags, Jennifer. :-) And, yes, time for decompressing, walking, napping, and noodling!

The last conference/retreat I went to (not SCBWI), as an icebreaker, the facilitator put on Dancing Queen and made us all get up and dance. It was like 8am in the morning! The I's were completely horrified, but the E's just jumped right up and got their groove on. It wrecked the morning for me.

So, yeah, no required exhibitionism of any kind!

I'd love to really spend some time looking at self-care, and comfort zone issues.

Love to hear more from everyone!
Mary Hershey

Anonymous said...

Your photos are hilarious! An introvert's conference...Hmm...I'll have to think about that. Maybe if it wasn't all women I'd attend :)

Anonymous said...

I love this idea. I think you might need to offer several possibilities at any given time of the day. So, instead of just listing the workshops on the schedule for that hour, there was also an option for writing time in your room or in a room that had privacy/quiet rules. Or there might be a walk in the woods scheduled--I like the on/off labels for that. People could talk if they both wanted, or walk alone if that was their pref. I think the trickiest part for some of us introverts is guessing WHEN or WHY we'll need downtime/recharge time. Being able to make those last-minute choices might help a lot?

Rebecca Knight said...

This idea is so refereshing :). I'm always so anxious whenever I have to participate in a small group of total strangers, talk in front of a room at a conference, etc.

I totally agree that somewhere peaceful and scenic would be great, like a cabin by a lake. Weekends are great :).

Love the nametag idea, and totally agree about overscheduling being a bad thing.

Thank you for this!

Sarah Stevenson said...

I love the photos, too! Especially the one with the person walking around with a box over half their body. :) I imagine this is the appropriate environment to admit that it's not an unappealing thought at times...

I like what others have said. The on/off name tags are a great idea. And I agree with Vivian (congrats, Vivian!!) about the idea of keeping numbers small.

Also, enabling people to get to know others in very small groups--no gigantic group icebreakers, no putting people on the spot to introduce themselves in front of the entire group--that would help a lot, I think. Maybe a random icebreaker question that people could answer, rather than starting with the usual spiel delving into personal stuff? I think that if people are able to start out small in terms of getting to know others, then larger group events won't be nearly as excruciating. I don't mind stuff like cocktail parties if I feel comfortable with at least a few people and don't feel forced to make conversation but can just be relaxed.

Great discussion topic!

feywriter said...

Great ideas here; agreeing with all of the above. I'd love a gathering in a less urban setting, so we can slip out and breathe when we need to. On a weekend.

It would be great to gather with others who don't expect you to introduce yourself to everyone and do those crazy getting-to-know-you activities.

Raffles preferred over auctions.

For down-time I like the idea of a wooded walking area or gardens, and a reading room.

And I just got my prize today. So exciting! Enjoying every bit of it.

Nancy Ancowitz said...

An introvert conference. Quiet conversations. Plenty of time to reflect. Violets all going at their own pace. Connecting with one at a time. No need to fill in every pause. Listening. Learning. Teaching. Laughing. Recharging. Laughing more. Great idea, Laurie, Mary, and Robin!

Anonymous said...


The on/off nametag idea is genius!!

Mrs. Pilkington said...

boy, do i love this post!

introvertgirl said...

I love it! Sounds like fun. Besides no goofy getting to know you games or requirements to be at every 'workshop' , NO loud music, please!! Lots of unstructured time to do whatever. How about an artist's area available? :-)

Dan said...

I like the whole idea of a retreat/conference/gathering just for introverts. I'd really enjoy an art lesson or two in a small group, and in a quiet environment. An outdoor setting might also provide some inspiration for a sketch or a painting. Maybe I could get Laurie to autograph my copy of Introvert Power... ;)

Sheila said...

An email from Laurie sent me to this blog. Thank you so much for putting forth this idea of an introvert gathering. What a wonderful thought!

I love all the suggestions, particularly the idea that we leave out the initial going around the room with forced introductions in front of the entire group. For me that's only worked to increase my anxiety as I see the spotlight getting closer and closer. I tend not to remember what anyone said anyway. It's so much easier to connect one on one when it's not forced conversation.

I don't care where the setting is for this event. I noticed most people prefer a rural setting; on the surface this makes sense. One other thought, though: an urban setting also provides a way to escape and wander.
I live in a city and I enjoy walking through an amazing array of diverse settings that inspire and recharge me in many ways. The city is rich with history, architecture, and people. As I walk I know I don't have to necessarily converse with people; that frees me up to enjoy the scenery. And, there is indeed plenty of scenery in a city to observe and enjoy. Many artists, writers, and poets find inspiration in the diverse atmosphere of a city. If the convention were held near a park, we could have the best of both worlds!
Having said this, I would find a rural setting fine, too.

The important thing for me is the experience of having a gathering of people where introversion is the norm - yea!

Deb said...

I loved being at a hotel in Vancouver once that was right across from the bay, a wonderful park, and a museum that I spent hours wondering around in. Something like that in an urban setting would be lovely.

myletterstoemily said...

i can't believe there is an entire blog for
introverted people just like me!

my husband and i were talking about how
much fun it has been for me to blog in the
anonymity of my safe, quiet home.

i'm sorry that i can't imagine a gathering
of introverts. seems like i need a few
extroverts to get me going. :)

Anonymous said...

Dr.Helgoe says in her book "Introvert Power" that extroverts talk about other people a lot. I believe some of the remarks made are hurtful at times and I rather choose my words wisely.

Anonymous said...

Where a breakout session means breaking away from the group rather than chatting with the person to your left.

YES, yes, a thousand times yes! Thanks for this idea. I just stopped by out of curiosity, but now will be watching for updates to this thread and checking out the rest of the site.

kittens not kids said...

BEST IDEA EVER. I have been wondering, for years, how introverts make friends (I'm an introvert AND shy - crikey). and at the professional conferences I go to, I always feel awkward and exhausted, *and* slightly rude for not being more extroverted, for not initiating contact and networking more.

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We live in a society largely defined by extroversion. Rewards come to fast talkers, team leaders and those who schmooze, and many introverts have learned the game. Introverts either become less visible or start to look like extroverts.