My first experience with a retreat gave me my first ever migraine headache.

Despite being in a spacious house with fantastic women who were ever-so-respectful of personal energy, the sheer demand on my social capacity overwhelmed me. Even as “just” an attendee, it took me days to recover afterward.

Now, I just wrapped up hosting our 2nd annual retreat in the Flathead Valley of Montana. I feel invigorated and ready for more.

As a hardcore introvert, I’m an unlikely retreat host.

But I’m a big believer in the power of live small business events—both in-person and virtual—to help you transform as a business owner and entrepreneur.

While recognizing that declaring yourself an introvert on the internet in 2018 is anything but groundbreaking…

…I want to share what’s worked for me to both manage the personal load of hosting events and creating events that other introverts can easily manage, too.

Since you’re already familiar with the challenges of being this unique brand of special snowflake, I’ll cut right to the chase:

Whether as an attendee or as a host, small business events pose a minefield of challenges for the introvert…

…any one of which might explode and make the rest of the event unbearable.

Meeting and talking to people at events is an integral part of doing business. Whether you’re looking to trade notes with other business owners or hoping to meet your next client, showing up at a small business event is a fantastic way to do it.

And I, for one, aren’t ready to let the extroverts have the upper hand at this.

I’ve made it my goal to host introvert-friendly events for small business owners — while simultaneously making it easier for me to host these events.

It’s important to remember that the reason that introverts are challenged at small business events is not that they don’t like people.

That’s misanthropy.

And, it’s not because they are shy — that’s just a stereotype.

As Kris Gage points out in her article, 3 Things We Mistake As Introversion, “social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion.

Introverts want to meet people, talk shop, and share the work they’re passionate about. But most small business events aren’t structured to make that easier for us.

This is the checklist I use to make sure an event is going to work for me and our attendees:

1) Plan my own space first.

I always need a plan to escape the pressure to socialize when it’s not necessary so that I can show up fully when it counts.

This is the “putting the oxygen mask on yourself first” part of event hosting as an introvert. Taking care of myself is an important part of being there to take care of others.

At a longer event, it means making sure I have a great hotel room to retreat to even if it’s just for 15-minute breaks. For a shorter event, I might just need a green room or closeby outside space that I can access easily.

Speaking of breaks…

2) Plan for generous breaks.

Long breaks give both introverts and extroverts relief.

I’ve found that a 2-hour lunch during an all-day or multi-day event gives introverts time to recharge in private and still nourish themselves. It also gives extroverts the opportunity to process what they’re experiencing with other extroverts in a way that a more structured event doesn’t give them.

Generous breaks might also include a late start in the morning to give everyone the chance to establish themselves for the day without being thrown into the melee of socializing and external processing. Or, it could include calling it a day early to let people explore their inner or outer worlds on their own.

Of course, taking a short break during a long session is important too. That said, I think short breaks need to be carefully managed. They should have a distinct purpose and a clear end time — otherwise, short breaks can easily morph into a serious challenge for an introvert.

3) Create the space for internal processing.

Most small business events could use some quiet time.

As an introvert, I’m an internal processor. That means I need to think things through before I share my analysis or opinion. External processors — like my husband and best friends — think by speaking. They’re much more likely to start talking as a way to figure out what they think about a subject.

One isn’t better than the other! But, in an environment where internal processors aren’t given time and space to think through our perspectives on the topic at hand, our batteries will empty fast and we’ll largely be left out of the conversation.

What works for me is to utilize the beginning of sessions (generally every 45 min to an hour) to share a prompt or question and give all attendees time to journal, sketch, or think on their responses.

At the very beginning of an event, I might give attendees a cue for how to introduce themselves and, instead of launching right into introductions, let them write down what they want to share about themselves.

Throughout an event, I might use prompts that help me transition from one subject to the next.

Toward the end of an event, the questions might ask attendees to reflect on what they’ve learned or experienced.

These small breaks don’t have to be long — 5 to 10 minutes is plenty — and they level the playing field so that everyone can contribute.

4) Regularly communicate what to expect.

Once I have the structure of an event planned and participants are signing up, I pop in to remind people what to expect throughout the event.

It’s one thing for me to say there will be plenty of breaks and another to send out an agenda with that generous 2-hour lunch break. It’s one thing to say there will be masterminding and integration time and another to explain how that time will be structured.

I also find that there is no such thing as overcommunication here. Most people won’t read most of what is sent to them — even for something they’ve paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for. Communicate the details in various forms and at different levels of detail.

5) Plan activities that engage attendees in something other than social interaction.

I’ve found that plunging a bunch of near strangers into an unfamiliar situation is a great way to get people talking and connecting — without the burden of networking or socializing.

Last month, I hosted a networking event at my bouldering gym. We taught participants the basics of climbing and then let them at the wall.

There were plenty of falls and lots of laughs. Everyone was connecting over the task at hand and no one was thinking about “networking.”

By the time we were too tired to climb anymore and regrouped around pints of beer and cider, conversation flowed easily. One attendee remarked to me that it was the most introvert-friendly networking event she’d ever attended.

At last week’s retreat, I incorporated climbing and hiking so that we had time away from the pressure of the conference room. One participant in last year’s retreat told me she was most interested in an event where all we did was the adventure stuff!

It’s tempting to think that you have to cram an event full of “valuable” activities — but I’ve found the most value comes from the unexpected.

Virtual small business events can be introvert-friendly, too.

Just because someone can attend a small business event from the comfort of their home office doesn’t mean that it’s introvert-friendly.

Virtual small business events need to have quiet time, integration time, breaks, and opportunities to connect with others in easy ways, too.

At CoCommercial, our platform for helping small business owners work together, we host a lot of virtual events to give our members a way to connect outside the “social network” functionality of our core site. We like to utilize ritualized structure, platforms that make it easy to participate without being “live” and on camera, and special breaks where we take time to quietly process and integrate what’s being learned.

What works for me with virtual events is not allowing assumptions about how easy online events are to participate in or how events are “always” structured get between us and better event management. Whenever possible, we model our virtual events off of our in-person events.

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Not every event can check all of these items off this list. Some small business events will be more draining than others. Some formats will appeal more to extroverts and some more to introverts.

But I believe everyone — introvert or extrovert — can (and should) attend business-oriented events and that anyone who wants to can host events for their customers or colleagues.

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By the way, if you want in on next year’s retreat to Montana, now is the time to register. We’re convening a group of 30 business owners to mastermind throughout 2019 and meet up outside of Glacier National Park in September. Click here for all of the information.