I went to an interesting lunch the other day – a discussion on narrative as a tool for coaching, which is a more complex way of saying how stories have impact on people in the workplace. Lots of anecdotes about things that have happened inside companies that have had impact (both good and bad) for years.
However the most interesting thing for me was to compare and contrast this luncheon with one of the dinners I regularly run. It gave clarity to my thoughts about how I run dinners and I thought I would share them.
I am of the opinion that running memorable dinners should absolutely be part of the toolkit of any business development professional.
So here’s my thoughts:
1. Have a clear objective
Having a clear objective for a function is important. Love ins are great, but you do tend to get disappointed at the end when “you weren’t sure what you were expecting to get out of the function but you are certain you didn’t get it”. It’s easy to have an objective – have customers validate a new service you are designing, discuss an issue that your industry is concerned about, or have a guest speaker.
2. Event planning
Make sure you structure your function so that it runs smoothly – both at the dinner and communications before (for example, timing the reminder emails).
3. Guest choices
I personally think that 10 around a table is a great number. Any less and you don’t get the diversity of voices. Any more and you start to get sub conversations happening which means you are unlikely to achieve your objective. It’s also wise to think about the personalities of the guests. People who don’t speak are boring, so are those that won’t shut up. It’s useful to have contradictions at the table so not everyone agrees. Also, since last minute dropouts do occur, it’s useful to have a backup guest (normally someone from your business).
4. Event timings
I vastly prefer to do dinners than lunch. First, my guests have more time, and second, they are more relaxed. It’s OK to take a taxi home after dinner, but not after lunch. Friday nights of course aren’t likely to be well attended either.
5. Venue choice
Picking a venue can be an art form, and it’s worthwhile to try before you buy.
Just because they say they have a private dining room doesn’t mean that it actually will be. The quality of food, the speed of service and the presentation are important. If you have to wait too long to get a dodgy looking meal, you can be sure your party of 10 won’t be having a good experience. Unfortunately all this comes from first hand experience.
6. Menu choice
Allowing guests to choose their own menu selections can be very expensive and slow the process down. No one minds a set menu and food delivery is much more likely to happen to your timeline. Asking guests about any dietary requirements they may have first is important.
Communicate the agenda to your guests so they know what is going on. And like any other presentation, guests like to know where the toilets are and that they should turn their mobiles off. (Top tip, don’t invite those addicted to their BlackBerry.) It’s also useful to have guests turn their place markers around so that everyone can see who they are. I also find it useful to have a menu with everyone’s details on the back to help along conversation.
Finally, it’s worthwhile remembering that too much rich food isn’t good for you or your waist line; or so my wife tells me. Then again if you can’t make business development fun, you are probably in the wrong business.