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A very special dinner

In May 2011, Isabel and I had the pleasure of organizing the first edition of TEDxBordeaux. The theme we chose was Together. The underlying idea was, as I said in my introduction to the event, We can rediscover our power to change things. Together.

When I read about 15 Toasts in Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, it reminded me of the dinner we organized with the speakers and organizers the night before the event.

The 15 Toasts dinners aim at creating safe spaces that give the “15 guests the permission to be vulnerable, engage as human beings in an open and genuine conversation, and surprise one another and themselves.”

I hadn’t thought of that this way, but when I read that sentence, I thought: “Yes, exactly that!”

Side conversations are not necessarily the ones you plan for…

Our goal was that the speakers connect, learn more about each other so that they support each other on the big day on which they will give the best talk of their lives. We thought that the audience would feel the connection between the speakers, the organizers, and that will contribute to the overall perception of the event, and help make the connection between the theme, and each of the topics the speakers will cover: Education, Healthcare, Technology, Art, Universal Basic Income, Open Source…

We were lucky enough to find the best possible location to do that: a big round table in a private room at the back of a good and reasonably priced restaurant. Unfortunately, that space does not exist anymore, the restaurant moved to another location, and the people who took over chose to remove the big round table and replaced with too many small tables of four.

As Isabel coached all the speakers, she was the connection point between all of them. We worked on assigning the seats so that the people can be comfortable to engage in side conversations. But we wanted more. The dinner participants all knew that they would have to introduce themselves, answering three questions that Isabel had shared in advance. We don’t remember the questions but it was something to push them out of delivering their usual pitch.

And it worked! It worked during the dinner. It also worked during the rehearsals the morning of the event. It worked during the event itself on that Saturday afternoon. The speakers and the organizers all behaved kindly, supporting each other, overcoming the obvious growing pressure, and contributing to the magic of the event.

The next time you organize an event, you can start to think of using the necessity of food to accomplish something more. I don’t believe large dinners in conference centers can accomplish that, and this is the reason I love so much the Dinner with a Stranger idea.

I will cover that next time.

What are your best ideas to foster that sense of connectedness that definitely gets things done? Please share through the usual means: comments, Linkedin, Twitter, or direct email. Thank you!

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