how can I get shy people to turn up for meetings of my shyness group?
January 2, 2009 10:20 PM   Subscribe

A question for the shy/ introverted - what sort of meetup group would you really want to be a part of? As someone who helps organise such a group, how can I get people excited about it?

I started a Meetup group for shy people in my home city (Glasgow, Scotland) back in February 2007. I have benefitted from meetings of a similar group in the past but that fizzled away. Our group has been really good in some ways (have had 33 meets, and the ones I have been too I have enjoyed a lot) but we can only get a tiny proportion of our 143 members to turn up to meetings - maybe 2, 3, or 4 at times. If we could only get to the point of having 6 regular attendees that would be great, and anything more a bonus. Our group is not a self-help or therapy-type group, it's purely about practicing social skills through meeting up and chatting at coffee shops, or doing a shared activity like going to a local museum then chatting in the cafe after. We have tried meeting in the pub sometimes too but many shy people seem to have really negative views of pubs and the people who go there.
I feel fortunate to live in a big city where there's room for a group such as ours, and think our group has a lot of potential. At the same time I feel a bit down that our attendance is so much smaller than the other group I occasionally go to (just a coffee and conversation group for regular folks). I know some people are * really * shy and despite their good intentions will never bring themselves to meet up with strangers, but how can I persuade more of the persuadable ones to give our meets a try? If you are a shy person, what would persuade you to go along to such a group (and alternatively, what would put you off?)

I have enough free time that I can spend a couple of hours writing a little e-newsletter to coincide with each upcoming meeting, for example with tips on overcoming shyness in particular situation that I've found in books, but I'm not sure if people ever actually implement such advice (in fact I am not the best at implementing such advice myself, it's going to meets that has been the most helpful thing for me). Apart from these little newsletters, does anyone else have suggestions for creating a group that shy people will want to be actively, as opposed to passively, a part of?
posted by AuroraSky to Human Relations (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am really shy. Please don't take this as a put-down, but I'd find a meeting where you practice social skills absolutely mortifying and kind of embarrassing.

My suggestion: perhaps rather than a public setting, hold your meeting in someone's home, and maybe do something like play board games or video games or cards where, if the conversation isn't immediately flowing, you can focus on the game until you are comfortable enough to open your mouth.

Also, girls.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:39 PM on January 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

For some of the meetups, try activities other than unstructured chatting. Instead of making the social aspects the centerpiece, make the activity the centerpiece with the social being the side-benefit. It gives people a built-in topic in common, and allows shy/introverted people a crutch. (It's easy to go from "Hi" to "I'm really excited to see this art exhibit." or "I love bowling, but I'm horrible at it. When I bowl, please duck." or "I really enjoyed the deep dark subtlety of 'Dude, where's my car?'" but when you have an unstructured social situation, the whole "OH GOD, I've got to be social with these people I do not know!" becomes all-encompassing. It also provides spaces for quiet and silence that feel natural and make the shy one more comfortable.

If you deliberately want to avoid attendant activities, you might want to consider suggested topics for discussion (e.g. Movies: Everyone brings a list of their Top Ten Movies) which allows people to know they're going to be able participate by preparing in advance.
posted by julen at 10:43 PM on January 2, 2009

If we could only get to the point of having 6 regular attendees that would be great, and anything more a bonus. Our group is not a self-help or therapy-type group, it's purely about practicing social skills through meeting up and chatting at coffee shops, or doing a shared activity like going to a local museum then chatting in the cafe after. We have tried meeting in the pub sometimes too but many shy people seem to have really negative views of pubs and the people who go there.

Pretty much agreeing with the earlier answers here - I'm extraordinarily introverted (not necessarily shy) and I just don't want to go out and chit-chat with groups of more than 4 people or so, especially if I don't already know them fairly well. I just don't enjoy it. It's not a lack of social skills on my part, it's just that doing that is basically torture for me.

However, I will gladly subject myself to enormous groups of people if there's some sort of activity going on. I've always hated office Christmas parties and summer picnics, but I loved it when we went bowling. I've taken the Wilderness Basics course offered by the local Sierra Club a couple times and would do it again in a heartbeat. If you did some sort of activity and then made the unstructured chatty time afterward completely optional, maybe even unplanned in advance, you might have better luck.
posted by LionIndex at 12:15 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the suggestions above that an activity might be good, rather than just unstructured chatting.

Also, if you meet in a public place, make it very easy to identify the group in some way, and tell people that you'll be doing so. Wandering around a public space looking for the correct group of people is tough for shy people. I had a particularly negative experience with such a meetup held within a mall at a not-clearly-described location, and wandering around wondering if each group of people I saw was the one I was looking for was hell (and in the end I found out that the leader had flaked out that day and not held a meeting at all, without telling anyone! Don't do that, ever.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:14 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely, I'm introverted, and I *hate* small talk, yet I organize Café Scientifique Orlando, a monthly event where people who like science gather in a cafe/pub and drink and hear a researcher or scientific expert talk about their favorite topic in their field. I love it because,

* There's something specific to talk about -- some theme or presentation. I'm not fishing for commonalities with the Joe who happens to be near me spatially.
* I get to listen a large portion of the time, if I like.
* There's inevitably someone there who's smarter than I am.

I don't count myself as shy, just introvertedly misanthropic, fwiw. I have no problem speaking in front of that room of 50 people. But, if it were a truly diverse group who shared nothing but shyness, I would be miserable. Shyness is too boring to talk about, I would think.

A shyness group sounds self-defeating, but if you make a group centered around something else and invite shy people, it could totally work.
posted by cmiller at 5:52 AM on January 3, 2009

I think it would help to distinguish (not explicitly to the group, but in your own mind) between three different traits and realize that none of these necessarily goes with any of the others:

1. "Shy" -- roughly means you're nervous about socializing.

2. "Introverted" -- roughly means you prefer to spend more time alone than most people.

3. "Need work on social skills" -- means that on the occasions when you do socialize, you don't do a good enough job of it.

So, for instance, someone could be just a plain introvert who's not shy and doesn't need work on their social skills. While you might consider that person to belong to your group, they wouldn't have much motivation to actually go. There's probably not much you can do to change that.

Or take another type: the shy person who doesn't have particularly bad social skills (which is no less contradictory than a socially bold person with clumsy social skills, and we're all familiar with those types, right?). It seems like the (implicit?) message of your group to this person is that they should feel the need to improve their social skills. Well, they have enough problems just being shy -- they don't really need someone telling them they have a problem with social skills when they don't. I might seem to be making a picky semantic point here, but I think this is significant: trying to "help" a shy person by coaching them can only make things worse. What's the natural reaction to someone hovering over you trying to guide your actions because they've perceived you to have sub-par social skills? Probably very, very negative.

Also, realize that shy and/or introverted people have a range of different situations they react better or worse to. I love extended one-on-one discussions and giving well-prepared presentations to large groups; I'm more likely to feel uncomfortable in fluid, casual, medium-sized groups of 5, 10, 15, or 20 people. I have a friend who's the opposite: he seems to instantly hit it off with everyone in those casual medium-sized groups, but he describes himself as having intense anxiety about prepared public speaking.

Another example: it's typically said (including in numerous AskMe threads) that the way for a shy person to be more social is to start with encounters that have almost no stakes, like chatting with service workers. For me it's the opposite. Those situations make me nervous because there's no motivation to do a good job -- they don't feel like they're really "about" anything aside from revealing people's social skills. It feels like a test, and an unnecessary one at that. Whereas I often get a lot of enjoyment from high-stakes situations like a first date or a job interview because, hey, even if you slip up, everyone expects you to be a little nervous, and there's still plenty of motivation -- there's something clearly good that might come out of it. So if you have people in the group with this attitude, they might just not be predisposed to see the point in socializing for the sake of socializing.

I hate to say it since I admire your good intentions, but there seems to be a built-in self-defeating quality about your group. Being gathered together with a group of people to focus on your social skills sounds like every shy person's nightmare. What could be more belittling than to have someone your own age let you know that they see you as having a problem with socializing that requires outside help?
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:54 AM on January 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

Nthing activities.

And/or: Break the group up into smaller groups somehow. *Teams* obviously makes sense if you're doing an activity like bowling, but even if you're just trying to get people to introduce themselves to each other, split people into groups of a manageable size (4-6 or so); try arranging people into small group tables if you're doing coffees -- same idea. Rotate people around if necessary, but at any keep groups small enough that people aren't feeling like they're performing when they open their mouths. (Also I'd consider the effect of too much rotating of group members if you go that route: don't do it so frequently that no chance is had for people to connect first, or get worn out introducing themselves a gazillion times. Better to do different groups on different weeks.)

Also (this would go a long way towards making such an event less scary for me), tell people all of these comforting characteristics of the meetup *in advance* so they know exactly what to expect. If I know there's going to be activities organised and we're going to be broken up into teams of no more than five and those are the people we're going to interact with for blah amount of time - and different ones next week (or later in the day, or whatever) - I'd feel a lot less fearful of moments in which I might feel fidgety and non-belongy.

Maybe note too that it's okay to come along and yet be fairly quiet. If it is, of course.

And finally, if the people you've got going along are regulars, communicate to all the passive people on your list that you guys are getting sick of the sight of one another and want to see some new people along! I think everyone knows it's hard to break into an established group in which everyone knows each other, so if your mailing list is thinking everyone who shows up are regulars, they might be reluctant to come along and be the new kid who doesn't fit in. Make it clear you're all dying for fresh meat, so they know you'll all be welcoming and their being the new one won't add a whole new level of frightening.

Think that's all I got... good luck!
posted by springbound at 6:15 AM on January 3, 2009

I like the idea of a shy social group, but I would probably never attend. Years ago I did try a couple of things like this, but they didn't work out well. But here are some random thoughts:

Make it dead easy, like going to a movie where only minimal or no interaction is required. Afterward, some people may want to get coffee and talk about it, others may not and can just go home. I might just go to see the other people to decide if there was anyone I'd be comfortable with.

Make it something easy to arrive and leave. I'm much more likely to go if I know I can just show up, say Hi, and then wander off and disappear after 5 minutes if I want. I don't want to be stuck in a room and have to make a big deal about leaving if things aren't going well.

Find some connections between people other than their shyness. With 143 members, there must be a few photographers. Maybe have an afternoon photographing around a local park or attraction. Two weeks later they can share their prints at a coffee shop. Similarly, there must be a few programmers, knitters, bowlers, etc.

You could have an explicit support session for those interested, where they could relate their latest cringe-worthy interaction, their latest crush-from-afar, the latest shyness book they've read, or whatever. You'll need the proper setting for this, a crowded coffee shop won't do. A private meeting room in a church would be better for this. I find it easy to talk about shyness to a supportive ear. Perhaps other shy people do to.

Perhaps some in the group could be persuaded to give a presentation to the group. It can be easier for some to get up and speak rather than just to engage in unstructured conversation.

Are you the leader of the group, the person who kind of takes charge? There probably needs to be a leader/facilitator to keep things moving if the conversation/activity dies down.

Some non-face to face online activity might help break the ice a bit and let people get to know a bit about who others in the group are. I'd be more likely to go to a mefi meetup than a meetup with shy people I knew nothing else about.
posted by DarkForest at 6:20 AM on January 3, 2009

One more thought: another underlying problem with the group is that the assumption seems to be that introverts do well when they're together. But actually, I've found that extroverts are essential to social groups. If you put introverts together on their own, they unsurprisingly don't have much to say to each other.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:28 AM on January 3, 2009

For one thing, don't confuse 'shy' with 'introverted'. They are not the same. Introverts are happy to get together, provided there is a topic which interests them. It is the lack of topic and the demand of 'small talk' which turns introverts totally off.
posted by Goofyy at 6:29 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's another supporter of having an activity. I'm introverted, sometimes shy, ocasionally socially awkward, and I'd likely *not* go to a shyness group if there wasn't some kind of end goal or destination.

Also, for the love of Jove, do not make people do icebreaker games where they have to learn everyone's name and repeat them back, or tell two truths and lie, or whatnot. The idea of a playing an icebreaker game is almost as difficult for me do as regular, "unstructured" socializing.
posted by fantine at 8:20 AM on January 3, 2009

About five years ago I attended a Toronto group for social phobes. While it wasn't sponsored by the hospital - it was founded independently by someone who received therapy there - the group met at the mental health institute. I found it by typing "'social phobia' toronto" into google. Meetings were dominated by the two organizers, and too much discussion turned to outreach, funding, administration issues. The organization was new at the time. For me, there was also too much emphasis on an illness model - the dominant people there were too quick to say declare yourself sick, take pills and go on disability. But I attended regularly for a couple months, simply because it was a place to go a couple nights a week. I looked forward to the meetings. I was surprised by the diversity of personalities of the people who attended. Some just wouldn't seem to shut up. I'd sit there thinking, "You're not shy". Maybe everyone in that sort of situation thinks they're more the sensitive snowflake than the next guy.

I've just returned to Toronto, don't really know anyone there, and I'm looking for work, so I've been considering attending the group again, just for the possibility of meeting people who may have similar outlooks to my own, but their website seems to have not been updated for a year or so. I've also tried Toastmasters a couple times, although not to the point of taking membership. The exaggerated formality of Toastmasters ("Dear chairmen, fellow Toastmasters and honoured guests") is difficult for me, but their methods do seem to work for people, and I've wondered if some of their structure could be adapted for specifically aiding the socially awkward while lessening the emphasis on business and career.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:34 AM on January 3, 2009

hrrm. Random thoughts, in no order or sense.

Loud places SUCK. I'm fairly noise sensitive, and often claustrophobic in crowded places, so things like pubs or rock concerts probably wouldnt be an option. Also, smoke bothers a lot of people, and sometimes booze does too.

Have a REGULAR SCHEDULE, and STICK TO IT! Nothing is worse than a days notice for an event. Geeky people like to plan! Or at least poke at the idea for a few days/weeks. Maybe a monthly meeting or two, or a monthly with the option for a second, alternate meeting for the ones who couldn't make the monthly

Have lots of different events. Going to a movie is ok, but having, say, a model rocket launch is a lot more interesting. Theres anime, museums, themed movie nights, cooking nights, boating, specific tv shows, someone mentioned knitting, hiking, book discussions, science debates/lectures, local tourism.... all sorts of interesting and unusual things that will attract some people and not others.

be as inviting and welcoming as possible. Easy email/instant messenger contacts, not making it sound like a 'fix the broken people' event, maybe have designated people to watch out for newbies and introduce them and stuff.
posted by Jacen at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2009

It's kind of a funny meetup that is supposed to attract a lot of people who don't like to be around a lot of people. It seems sort of like a meeting of magnetically north poles. And hey, maybe there's something to that! What kind of meeting would actually attract introverts? I'm tempted to say one with extroverts. But it seems to me that introverts find extroverts irritating. There has to be an idea here...

For me shyness stems mainly from not wanting to impose on people. I equate talking to someone with forcing them to listen to me. And that's an imposition. Evidence of this is that I rather enjoy talking to people when they ask me a question about anything. And bigger evidence is that I love public speaking when I can be prepared and talk about something that people are interesting in hearing.

Another aspect of shyness for me is not being prepared. When meeting someone I know absolutely nothing about, I have to just wing it. And that doesn't always go well. And I like things to always go well. Sometimes I end up insulting someone, or convincing them I'm arrogant, or going straight on through their comfort levels on some topic. As an introvert I can be very perceptive. But I think it has developed as a skill, not a much faster intuition. So some of my shyness can come from a fear of failure socially.

Nthing Activity. As a "shy" or as I would prefer "introverted" person I am not satisfied with my ability to meet women I'm attracted to when I don't have any reason beyond attraction to talk with them. I need a reason to be ok with taking someone's attention. And the fact that I'm a great guy that everyone would love to be friends with and that women everywhere want have sex with doesn't empower me enough. I don't like to talk about the weather. I like to talk about the physics of fluid dynamics. I don't like to talk about Britney cleaning up her act but still needing to lose weight. I like to talk about the ways that vegetarianism can be a major component on the path toward energy independence and sustainability. Common interest is a key element in meaningful social connection. And unfortunately, having a common interest in the ways we are "broken" socially isn't particularly inviting for most people. Especially when they think of the most likely people it is inviting to.

That said, my formula for success (and this is actually important to me since some of my biggest life goals will hinge on the ability to bring like minded people together) would be to come up with activities that attract socially distant people to the same place, but from the perspective of something tangible instead of their aversion to social situations.

I think that most introverts share my enjoyment of consuming media. I love to read, watch educational tv and movies, and play video games. An awesome thing I did a few years ago was to put a digital projector in my living room and hook it up to an xbox, dvd player, and surround sound system. Then my roommate who had friends from playing WOW invited a bunch of them over for movies and beer and pizza. They watched a few dvds and didn't mind that half of them had to sit on the floor. That was fun. And cheap too. Good projectors can be had for a couple hundred dollars on Ebay these days. They won't be capable of full HD for that price, but they still look great when projecting a 9 foot picture.

Other things that I think would help are to have more than one meeting place. In the study of "Pickup", there's a term called "Bouncing". Basically when you first meet someone, you are both very much individuals psychologically. Part of your current mental frame is attached to your arriving separately. But when you "bounce" from one place together as a couple or a group, that frame changes to define you as together. This can be used in a large meetup by having the gathering place be different from the place of the activity. If you were all going to a coffee shop that is somewhat far for some people, suggest meeting at someone's house and carpooling. If you are going out for a night at bars, definitely have people meet and carpool with the designated drivers, or take public transportation. The major benefit to this is that after the activity, you all have to go back to the first place to get the cars. But many people will want to come in and continue in conversation. And that's where the real bonding takes place.

Overall, I think there's going to need to be some sacrifice of defining the group as shy to get them together. It may be a more successful approach to figure out major activities that attract introverts and socially awkward people. Then attract them and get them to interact and focus on activities that play to those motivations. You will get some extroverts too that way. But they aren't so bad. ;-)

Maybe just do meetups that focus on activities you personally enjoy. And define the groups as something ambiguous that changes every time but is structured and described in a way that always is easy for the shy people to get involved in if the activity is of interest.
posted by davathar at 11:06 AM on January 3, 2009

I've always wanted to join a group to meet other introverts, but have been hesitant about joining one where the focus is on the introverted nature of the participants. Its something people above have brought up.

I recently joined a meditation group and found that it is actually a perfect group for introverts. We all show up, and then sit for silent meditation for half an hour and chat later (or not). The atmosphere is one that is very relaxed where talking is not even required. The social aspect of the group is growing very slowly and fits perfectly with my nature.
posted by bkpr at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2009

I used to organise a meetup group in my area, until the demands of sick family members on both sides of the Atlantic and work up to my eyeballs put paid to it. It's a lot of fun, but at times it can be a little demoralising, particularly when you're first starting out and you aren't getting a lot of feedback from your members.

Three things I'll give you to chew on:

1) Any group of people is going to have a core of regulars and people who come as and when the mood strikes. Don't be discouraged if your group size fluctuates. You will never be able to have absolutely everyone in your group attend an event, no matter how cool it might be. It isn't always a referendum on you or on your event. Life just gets in the way.

2) With point one in mind... the six people that show up pretty regularly? Ask them what they'd like to do. If you have fun as a group, other members will want to come, too. Meetup has the capacity to set up a poll. Just set one up and ask members to vote on what they'd like to do. Post pictures of your meetups on the site. It lets other members see that you're all normal and that they'd fit in at your group, too.

3) If you keep having events on the same day of the month, or at the same place, your group members will remember. "There's a group I go to when I can, it meets at Central Well Known Pub the first Monday of the month" will get more repeats and referrals than the random location model. Unless your group is about exploring random locations, that is.
posted by Grrlscout at 12:15 PM on January 3, 2009

I'm probably the type of person in your target audience, and I'd feel anxiety about just showing up at a cafe somewhere to chat with strangers (I feel a little knotty right now, even pondering the hypothetical!)

As many people have suggested, a group activity, especially one that naturally incorporates interaction (so, playing a board game like Settlers of Catan versus watching a movie), might be a low-stress way to help people practice their social skills, and gives everyone the opportunity to participate. I'm often one of the quieter people in any given group, and in most group discussions, I have a hard time speaking up even if I had something to say.
posted by prex at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2009

« Older Arepas in Manhattan?   |   one (of ten) fingers feels numb in the cold. What... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.