The internet is the greatest connector in the world, it facilitates meaningful and powerful connections. Over the past several years there have been waves of startups that are trying to leverage this connection machine. There are firms like Twitter and Facebook, whose entire model is based upon connecting people and building a community. There are also the less obvious firms, like Shapeways or Quirky, that have built communities as an integral part of their business model. They have been successful because they create value by connecting people around their products. More and more companies are realizing that to be successful they have to connect individuals and build a community.
Seth Godin defines the Connection Economy, in his new book the Icarus Deception, as “value created not by industry, but by trust and interaction.” Digital connections have become more prevalent, but they should not replace offline connections. In the era of digital collaboration, the face-to-face element can be lost. There is something so remarkable about sharing a meal with someone else, and the web has yet to replicate that experience.
Michelle Welsch, founder of Project Exponential, recently published a free e-book, Host a dinner party that gets everyone talking, to help people curate connections among people in their network. Michelle created this e-book after attendees of Project Exponential’s Curated Events and Salon Dinners asked her to help them create an event of their own.
In Michelle’s experience, “most everyone is not where they want to be.” Everyone has a network that they leverage, people they can connect. Think about what value you can create by brining people from your network together. The e-book dives into topics of theme, and how to create the right setting. Framing your event is crucial, by setting clear expectations at the outset of your dinner your guests will feel accomplished by the end of the evening.
Project Exponential’s Curated Events have an air of mystery about them. Attendees are not told anything about others prior to the start of the event. This is done, according to Michelle, so that “the focus is on the content of what people say, not their title or corporation.” Building anticipation can help to make your event a success.
I spoke with Charlie Grosso, an attendee of several Project Exponential events, to get a better sense of what makes a dinner party memorable for an attendee. She spoke highly of the events she had attended, because “the structure of the events makes it easy to meet people.” Charlie really appreciated that at each course the attendees were shuffled so by the end of dinner she had a chance to meet just about all of the attendees. After the rearrangement, “each small group was presented with a problem to solve, so you have an immediate icebreaker. It forces you into a conversation.”
One of the more valuable suggestions pertains to setting a budget; if at all possible try to settle payments ahead of the event. If you can arrange a prix-fixe ahead of time, having your attendees pay for dinner can easily be arranged with any number of online services. It might be worth signing up for Square, if you want to collect payments at the end of a dinner. There is nothing like the clumsy moment of splitting a bill at the end of a dinner to damper the pleasure of the event – plan ahead and avoid it.
The e-book is full of helpful hints on how to plan your first event. It takes away any justification you might have for not organizing an event, and it makes the process a little less overwhelming. Organize, connect, and succeed.
Sean O’Connor is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, working with young entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. He is a recent graduate of Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.
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