These community dinner events bring people from all walks of life together to share food and engage in the forgotten art of face-to-face conversation
"Technology has really killed a lot of the comfort we have with engaging with each other face to face," said Brooklyn resident Mollie Kinsman.
This somewhat forgotten art of interpersonal conversation is largely what prompted Kinsman, and her friend Taylor Buonocore-Guthrie to begin hosting Convers(ate), a series of intimate dinners where complete strangers gather to eat catered organic cuisine and share opinions over pre-selected topics.
"Our hope is to bring back conversations in the biggest possible way," Taylor said. "It isn't that we don't like technology, but it has shortened our communication. Texting and snapchat are things that we're all used to, and makes it even harder to engage in meaningful conversation. So we are creating the space for people to do that."
Mollie, a career coach, and Taylor, who leads a philanthropic initiative, are tired of small talk and maintain a sincere curiosity about other people's thoughts, perspectives and stories.
The pair met at a training event in 2007. A couple of months ago, they realized that - across industries and continents - they've explored similar ideas of storytelling, authenticity and connection, in both their personal and professional lives.
[perfectpullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"People are full of interesting stories and I just want to hear them," said Mollie. "For that you kinda have to move past the small talk."[/perfectpullquote]
"People are full of interesting stories and I just want to hear them," said Mollie. "For that you kinda have to move past the small talk."
To get past the initial small talk, Mollie began hosting slightly structured dinners for her friends in the backyard of her Brooklyn home three years ago.
"I first tried to curate dinners with people who I knew would be particularly interested in that topic. I asked each person if they could bring one friend they thought that would be interested," she explained. "Then I started a little emailing list and eventually got the dinners on the calendar every month."
She teamed up with Taylor who was on a similar professional path. Having worked in international development, Taylor also had begun creating community building trainings, including dinners in business settings. What Taylor discovered: The dinner table brings different cultures together; it levels the playing field and balances hierarchies.
[perfectpullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"At the table you have the managers and their employees. But, when you talk about one of these human condition topics, one that everyone can relate to, there is no more manager or subordinate."[/perfectpullquote]
"Everybody at the table is the same," said Taylor. "At the table you have the managers and their employees. But, when you talk about one of these human condition topics, one that everyone can relate to, there is no more manager or subordinate."
Both observed that for many people moving beyond small talk to a certain level of depth in conversation can be hard, even more so when the people coming together are strangers. According to Mollie all it takes is a framework and that one real good question in the beginning that makes everybody think and want to share - it works like a charm every time.
"The topics are anything that all humans can relate to, are part of the human condition. It unites everyone," said Mollie. "When people show up with their stories, experiences and backgrounds it makes for really rich conversations."
So far they have hosted 50 conversation-focused meals, covering themes such as mentorship, personal finance, faith, differences, meaningful work, immigration and networking as introverts. No conversations are off limits, as long as the attendees are respectful. And while the topics may be broad, ultimately it is up to the participants where the conversation goes.
[perfectpullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"It is to share and to hear what other people have to say, and to ultimately learn something new from the conversation."[/perfectpullquote]
"Really no topic is off limits. We may not agree with each other at the table but the point is not to pitch and persuade somebody from your point of view," said Taylor. "But it is to share and to hear what other people have to say, and to ultimately learn something new from the conversation."
On their quest to bring back great conversation to dinner tables anywhere, they are now taking it a step further: they just launched a kickstarter campaign for the Convers(ate) card game.
"There is so much potential for this methodology to break down barriers between people on all different platforms," said Mollie, and Taylor added:
"When everybody shares a little - where they come from, what shaped them, what they value - it changes everything. We know each other now. We can do something now."
To learn more about Convers(ate) and to reserve a seat at the next table, go here.