Last week I wrote about starting Zen’tinis, a conversational salon. Maybe, like me, you’ve been to enough cocktail parties, networking events, and informal hangouts and you long for the substance of real stimulation.
This is Hanging Out 2.0. It’s the art of using inspiration to do the shaking and stirring.
I started by sending out invitations that read:
Your whole self is cordially invited to join us for Zen’tinis: Conversational & Mindfulness Salon, a gathering of like-minded professionals for the sole purpose of connecting, relaxing, breathing a little deeper and smiling a little sweeter. At Zen’tinis events we leverage powerful questions, tools and themes, bringing inspired perspective to navigating daily life.
Here are ten basic (and continually evolving) guidelines I’ve adopted:
- Announce the event with clarity. Choose a name for your event that means something to you. I chose and trademarked the name “Zen’tinis” not only because it was memorable and playful, but because it paid respect to another phrase I used years ago in a press article when I referenced how we often mistakenly use our spiritual practices as a “spiritual martini” rather than as groundwork for more skillfully managing life. I described it in detail, and scheduled it at a regularly recurring time—the first Monday of the month. I used Eventbrite and Facebook to get the word out and manage the RSVPs.
- Select your topic in advance, but whether you announce the topic in advance is up to you.
- Make it a pitch-free and phone-free zone. No elevator speeches, no urgent texts. We can’t really be together when we’re transacting or mentally leaving the room.
- Remember that the room holds the wisdom. You don’t have to say anything brilliant. You don’t need an expert. You just need the ability to pay attention to one another and let the insights surface.
- General crowd management tips: Model whatever conversational tools you have chosen to use to guide the attention of participants during the mingle portion. Roam the crowd through that portion to support the conversations as needed. When you segue to the facilitated portion, share the topic by posing a question or statement, then, as participants share their thoughts, be confident but compassionate in active listening and extrapolating, as well as managing opinion hogs. Staunchly encourage people to use “I” messages and avoid telling others how to do/be/act. Call on people who give physical signals that they would like to speak. Allow a breath or two after each person shares so that the group can process what they have heard.
- The Southern girl in me believes that any time you invite people to gather, it’s only courteous to offer snacks and beverages, but you don’t have to do much more. Self-serve is fine.
- Establish the vibe before the experience begins. Salons should be refreshing and relaxing, as much an escape from daily firefighting as your weekly yoga practice. To establish this vibe in advance, I email exciting messages to the attendees a few days in advance with little clues of what is coming or cool insights from the last event. On the day of the event, I put signs on the front door of my office building, like a little trail of peace crumbs for them to follow all the way up through the elevator and hallway to my office: “WelcOMe. We’re so glad you’re here.”
- As guests enter, change their orientation from social jitters to engagement through some sort of dialogue tool. I have used various devices, including posting a whiteboard featuring an icebreaker question, giving quote cards for participants to use as fodder for conversation, and even question-asking games based on our most powerful human experiences.
- Monitor your participants. Bust up clusters of people who already know each other. If you have an icebreaker question, go through the room and model how to use it. If someone seems shy, give him or her permission to be so and just make sure to express warmth and welcome even for your wallflowers. Sometimes they hold the greatest insights.
- Hand out a short survey at the end of your salon. Ask a few questions to assess what people liked best and what they’d want to see in the future.
If you’ve ever hosted or attended a salon, tell us about your experience! How did it rewire you?