NOTE: Portions of the blog post below were originally used in an August 2014 CMEpalooza newsletter that approximately five people read. You can call it self-plagiarism if you want, but if Donald Trump, Jr’s speechwriter doesn’t have a problem with it, then I don’t have a problem with it, either.
In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, she postulates that 30-40% of the members of any audience would identify himself or herself as an introvert. That’s not a small percentage. Now, think about the primary methods most conferences still use for audience engagement with the faculty. At smaller sessions, you raise your hand; at larger meetings you go up to the nearest mic and wait your turn. Either way, a certain amount of aggression is needed to get your question asked and you’re required to talk in front of an audience. Many of you are able to do this without a second thought and have little difficulty with hopping up in front of a crowd of people to ask a question. It is a method that definitely favors the communication style of the extroverts in the audience.
But for that 30-40% introvert audience, getting up in front of a group of people and asking a question is just not going to happen. It’s not. It’s not that we don’t have questions (yes, I’m including myself in this group) – we often do – but if the only way we can get it asked is by being put in a spotlight with everyone around us waiting to hear what we have to say, well, we’ll just wait until later and figure out a different way to find an answer, thanks. To be fair, more and more meetings I attend are starting to include alternative means for audience interaction, such as notecards for questions or the ability to send in questions via an iPad. But in general, most of the engagement still comes via live questions, and that’s fine. Live conferences cater to an extroverted audience, which is understandable since that is the dominant cohort.
One of the (many) things I love about CMEpalooza is that it is a haven for introverts. You can attend a day-long conference without ever leaving the comfort of your home, office, or home office. You don’t need to arrive early to grab a “good” seat (i.e. in the back) and then spend the next 15 minutes looking at your phone in order to avoid awkward small talk with the person next to you. No walks through the exhibit hall to refill your coffee, avoiding eye contact with any of the exhibitors you see watching you out of the corner of your eye. And no standing up in front of a crowd of people to ask a question. You can ask questions, sure – just not in the usual “stand-up and be recognized” manner.
During every version of CMEpalooza, we have three designated methods for the audience to ask questions: the Google Hangout Q&A app, #cmepalooza hashtag on Twitter, and our text line. All three have worked well for us and provide a means for our audience to engage with our faculty.
Moving beyond just the audience, we have found that the Google Hangouts format has appealed to some of our more introverted presenters, as well. The thought of standing up in front of a live audience, regardless of how large or small, and delivering a presentation can be very intimidating to some. I’ve talked a number of people into presenting at CMEpalooza simply by reminding them that there’s no audience to look at or to look at you. The only people you will see is me (or Scott, which is another issue entirely, but I digress) and the other presenters. That has proven to be a comfort to some and I’ve been pleased that we have had a few “first-time” presenters participate in what they felt was a manageable environment for them.
I’ll close with a reminder that we are still accepting abstracts for our Puntua Lortu session at CMEpalooza Fall. If you are someone who has been looking for an opportunity to present in a casual, low-stress environment, I’d encourage you to consider submitting an abstract. The due date for abstracts is July 29, so don’t wait too long!