Dancing over dinner

February 9, 2010 |  by  |  Uncategorized

In my last post I outlined what happens at the start of a Conversare gathering. Here I will go into the next component of the design, participants having a meal. For an evening gathering this is dinner.  (The invitation had made clear that this was an integral component of the event).

The starting point is two people who do not know each other well – and may not have ever met before – elect to have a conversation while having their meal together. In this case a la carte dinner. They did their ordering once they were seated a table for two. * See below

There are two main alternatives as to what participants may talk about. One is ‘Anything that comes to your minds’, the other is for the facilitator to suggest a topic. Either can be satisfactory for all concerned as they both lead to the first anyway!

At the last event, on 22 January, the first ‘just happened’ quite naturally. Participants quickly got into a spirit of ‘we are among the right people to be here’ and let’s see what emerges.

The other possibility is that the facilitator suggests a topic. At previous events I have suggested a topic such as ‘Would you wish to share a most memorable experience?’

When I say that both approaches ‘work well’ this is what I mean:

With both there is immediately a buzz in the room as people seemingly recognize that here is the rather unusual  experience of spending at least half an hour, over a meal, with someone you don’t know.  How often has this happened to you?

Feedback on the first option:  “I heard such a lot about the person that I had no idea of”. Also very enthusiastic, “That conversation made for one of the most lively social gatherings I have ever attended.” Another:  “When my dinner partner asked me: ‘Do you do things because you really want to or because you think you should do them?’ it changed my perspective on my priorities quite dramatically.”

And  “It was so interesting sitting with someone completely new who led a totally different life style …”

When I have invited people to say to the group as a whole “What did you feel when you shared your most memorable stories?” responses have been:

“I found it so fascinating to hear what my partner said as I have never had an experience of  anything like it.”

“I wondered  why I had chosen the particular memory to share.  It was a story of from my childhood which featured my father.  Through telling this I gained a perspective of him that I have not ever had before.”

.  When two people at different tables both chose to bring up a reminiscence of being Ireland, this set up a lively exchange across the room as these two talked more of why these experiences were so memorable. And others joined about how hearing these stories resonated with them.

One of these two people subsequently wrote:

“Coming to Conversare takes me back to a time when as a boy I experienced the same natural state of communication when friends and strangers came together in the pubs of Ireland. It was a magical time.”
Gerald Winnington-Ingram

I wonder if you see, from these brief accounts, the power of this comment:

… “We should be more demanding of our social lives. Rather than seeing a successful encounter as a rare gift, we should expect to engineer one regularly. The history of conversation suggests that it’s when there are rules around that our spirit can best be set free. We might be tempted to giggle at the artificiality of a conversation menu or the pretentiousness of [some] dinner parties—and yet we should welcome them for helping us get to the elusive, spontaneous, and sincere bits of ourselves.”

Excerpted ( slightly adapted) from:  Alain de Botton The Art of a Lively Conversation

Coming up: What happens after dinner is over at a Conversare get together. Be prepared to be surprised!

*  Having a buffet meal enables participants to move about the room more freely. The venue where Conversare events have been held to date do not have a buffet option when using the private space in their facility.

Alan Stewart
Hong Kong

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