Steps to Networking – Step 13: The Boardroom Dinners

Written By Rick Frishman Published April 4th, 2010

STEP 13: THE BOARDROOM DINNERS

“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Boardroom, Inc., is a publisher of books and newsletters located in Stamford, Connecticut. It was founded in 1971 by Marty Edelston and is best known for publishing the newsletters: Bottom Line/Personal, Bottom Line/Health, Bottom Line/Tax Hotline and Bottom Line/Tomorrow. Boardroom hosts monthly dinners that are so inspirational and provide such unparalleled networking opportunities that we decided to devote a complete chapter to them. Boardroom dinners also present an exceptional, easy-to-adapt model that you can tailor and use to substantially boost the quality of your networking and your life.

The Boardroom formula is to surround yourself with remarkable people, the most brilliant, exceptional and accomplished individuals you can find, and to create an atmosphere that will encourage them to share their wealth of ideas, wisdom and experiences. It sounds basic and, in some ways, it is. However, Boardroom has perfected the execution of this idea and elevated it to glittering heights that excite the imagination as well as the guests. The result is networking and human interaction at their pinnacle – – – dazzling, stimulating and inspiring experiences that can entertain, teach, uplift and help you build exceptional relationships.

“The dinners are incredible,” public speaker and marketing consultant Ken Glickman explained, “Marty brings together such truly amazing people. He creates an atmosphere that encourages people to talk about what they know and the exciting things that are occurring in their area. These evenings create a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and positive energy and besides learning a lot and making great contacts, I always leave with enormous motivation to make something exciting happen. You learn success knowledge, which is the knowledge of how things really work, and the only people who can teach you that are the people who have made things happen. Marty fills the room with those types of people.”

As you read about the Boardroom dinners, think how you can host equivalent events on a scale that will fit your budget, needs and your particular circumstances.

Background

Boardroom’s publications rely heavily for content on articles and information submitted by the foremost experts and authorities in their fields. This approach is an outgrowth of Edelston’s curiosity and his life-long passion to acquire knowledge and understanding. A voracious reader, Edelston was frequently inspired by the books he read so he hired the authors to write articles for Boardroom publications on subjects that fascinated him. He also made a concerted effort to meet and build relationships with the authors of “the best books” and probe their expertise more deeply.

The idea for the Boardroom dinners came after Edelston attended stimulating lunches and dinners hosted by friends and business contacts. He found the guests and the conversations so magical that he decided to try to recapture the experiences by hosting similar events. While compiling the names of potential guests to invite to his dinners, Edelston realized that the experts who contributed to his publications and his existing contacts constituted a fabulous list. So he invited them to his dinners. Since then, he has continued to supplement his list with other experts he meets, hears of or with whom he works.

Originally, Edelston held his dinners in his New York City office, but then he rented an apartment solely to house those events. He hired a great caterer and sent out invitations. Experts attended, met other experts, engaged each other in riveting discussions and enjoyed exciting, enlightening evenings. And no one enjoyed them more than Edelston. Soon, guests told friends about the wonders of Edelston’s dinners and as the word got out, the dinners became coveted events and destinations.

Eventually, Edelston’s gatherings evolved into the monthly Boardroom dinners that have been held in a private dinning room at New York City’s renowned Four Season’s Restaurant since 1994. The Boardroom dinners reflect and are a tribute to Edelston’s deep curiosity, his thirst for knowledge and his unyielding passion to build relationships with the best and the brightest. They also demonstrate his joy and generosity in sharing with others.

The logistics

Boardroom dinners are co-hosted by Edelston and Brian Kurtz, Boardroom’s Executive Vice President. The number of guests usually ranges between 12 and 27, but 80 people signed up for one recent Boardroom dinner. Kurtz believes that groups of 16 to 22 are ideal because seating larger groups is more difficult and tend to make the evenings less intimate. With groups up to 22, ten guests can be seated at both sides of a single, long table with Kurtz and Edelston at either end.

Guests are selected from a database that Boardroom maintains and includes authors who have written articles for Boardroom or individuals who were featured in or interviewed for articles in the company’s publications. Other invitees are experts Edelston and Kurtz have met at conferences, meetings or other events and authorities who have worked or consulted with Boardroom. In addition, guests might have little or no connection with Boardroom other than the hosts’ interest in them and their expertise. Selection is geared toward inviting the best people, not toward achieving particular mixes or adhering to any set rules.

Dinners are planned one year in advance and a schedule of the upcoming dinners for the year is sent to those on the invitation database. Out-of-town guests can then plan to attend a dinner during a time when they will be visiting New York or they can arrange trips to coincide with the date of a specific dinner. Each guest sends back reply card, which is enclosed with the schedule, to inform Boardroom of the dinner he/she wishes to attend. Boardroom keeps a list of all responses and as each dinner approaches, confirms the date with each scheduled guest.

An invitation to Boardroom dinners is a hot and prestigious ticket. Besides being invited to dine at one of the world’s great restaurants, guests are given the rare opportunity to spend an evening engaged in stimulating conversations with an amazing collection of fascinating experts. Simply being considered to be a guest is exceptionally flattering.

The dinner menu is set in advance, but adjustments are made for guests with specific dietary needs. “The dinners are too special and the people are too special to not accommodate any and all requests. We’ve even provided car service home for elderly guests,” Kurtz noted.

Prior to each dinner, Edelston and Kurtz review the guests’ biographies and create the seating arrangement. Edelston and Kurtz consider the seating arrangement crucial and strive to make good matches. They strategically seat guests to build upon obvious synergies, which they hope will encourage lively exchanges and the creation of stimulating relationships.

The guests

Guests decide which dinner they wish to attend, so the mix is random and varies from dinner to dinner. Kurtz believes that the randomness and constant changes make the dinners more dynamic. Usually, the guests represent an broad assortment of disciplines, but it can vary. “At one dinner we had six doctors with various specialties, at another we had seven people who were in direct marketing and at yet another, nobody was in healthcare, but six financial analysts attended,” Kurtz said. “We could plan it if we wanted to, but by not planning it we end up with something more interesting.”

Since Boardroom places a higher premium on the quality of the guests than on the areas of their expertise, a diverse range of businesses, professions and disciplines have gathered around the table over the years. Guests have been spellbound by information disclosed by experts on everything from terrorism to sex therapy. Medical researchers have explained the latest breakthroughs in their fields and a former White House staffer from the Kennedy White House has shared inside stories about the JFK era.

The dinners

Each dinner is preceded by a cocktail hour, at which time guests arrive, meet one another and mingle. Guests then move to a private dinning room where place cards instruct them where to sit. When the guests are seated, Edelston and/or Kurtz welcomes them. Since some guests have attended past dinners, they know why they were invited, but others have no idea. So the hosts explain that the purpose of the dinners is to bring together some of the brightest and most interesting people who can be assembled in one room during one evening and to encourage them to share ideas and information while they enjoy a fabulous meal. “Things that you can ordinarily do on a week night, like going to the movies or the theater are okay, but there’s nothing like the stimulation you get spending time with brilliant people.” Edelston stresses.

The hosts then go around the room to introduce each guest to the group and inform them about his/her area of expertise. In his introductions, Kurtz finds himself constantly saying that this or that guest “is the World’s best ________.” Can you think of a better way to spend an evening?

When they are introduced, each guest is asked to share something with the group. For example, what they’re most proud of or what they would like to have everybody in the room know about them. Guest may also be asked a probing question such as, “What’s new in your field?” or “what are you working on?”

The hosts try to move the introductory phase along briskly because they want to make sure that all of the guests are properly introduced. However, guests can become so engrossed with information that another guest is sharing or find him/her so interesting that they ask lots of questions, which slows the pace. For example, when a terrorism expert spoke about information he learned at the CIA, the other guests immediately peppered him with so many questions that they stopped everything cold. “When you get great people around the table, the conversations and the dynamics are really mind blowers” Edelston noted. “Fabulous stuff happens.” When the intros run long, appetizers are served during while guests are still being introduced.

When the main course is served, the guests have the opportunity to meet, talk and get to know each other. After the main course, salad is served, Edelston rings a chime to get the guests’ attention and resume the program. Prior to each dinner, Edelston and Kurtz review information about the guests who are expected to attend and they select stimulating topics to kick off discussions. If eminent physicians are to be in attendance, a good opening might be to ask them what is the latest, most groundbreaking medical research nearing completion in their specialty area. The hosts also try to identify which guests might try to monopolize the room and prepare appropriate responses to bring others into the conversations.

The discussions

The central group discussions begin when one host directs an opening question to an expert. Opening questions are intended to elicit reactions and group participation. Although the expert initially carries the ball, everyone present is encouraged to speak and ask questions. The hosts constantly monitor the discussions to keep them moving and usually let them follow their natural course. However, if a topic plays out or if a guest hogs the floor, one a host will step in and change the subject by posing a question to another guest. Over the years, the hosts have become adept at reading guests’ reactions and since they know the guests’ bios, they can smoothly move discussions in new directions. As a result, the group rarely stays on one topic for an entire dinner and the conversations seldom stagnate.

“When you have people sitting around a table talking passionately about their areas of expertise and sharing new developments and insider stories, whether it’s psychology, cardiology, pending legislation, entertainment, finances or sex, it’s simply amazing,” Kurtz exclaims. “It becomes a phenomenal evening and you end up learning tons of remarkable stuff in addition to making unbelievable network contacts.”

At one time, Edelston recorded the dinners to get story ideas for future Boardroom publications. Although the proceedings are no longer recorded, the hosts inform their guests that they may use information discussed during the conversations as inspirations for future content for their publications. In addition, a member of Boardroom’s editorial staff usually attends each dinner to take notes so that staff writers can follow up on good story ideas with guest interviews.

Guests are free to exchange business cards and during the dinner, a list is circulated to get each guest’s email address, which will be added to Boardroom’s invitation database. After each dinner, Boardroom sends follow-up packages to guests that include samples of its newsletters, one of its new books and a present such as a Boardroom umbrella. A full listing of the guests’ contact information and their specialties are also provided with the packages.

“The people I’ve met through these dinners are remarkable,” Kurtz said. “And having co-hosted these dinners, has taken me to a new level of intimacy with a lot of our guests. Email makes it easy for me to keep in touch with them and I’m always referring people to this one or that one. I’ve got a great Rolodex and I’m a good networker, but this has expanded my networking well beyond my core competencies.”

“When I first started going to the dinners, they made me feel kind of small because I realized how huge the world is and how insignificant each of us is. But now, I’ve gone completely over in the other direction, which is that the world is such a fantastic place. Everybody is an expert in something and when you can share your expertise and your passions in a way that is totally giving, extraordinary things occur,” Kurtz added. That’s networking magic!

Host your own

The moral of the Boardroom story is to surround yourself with remarkable people. You owe it to yourself and those you love to meet and build relationships with the best. Nothing can improve your life like associating with terrific people; it gives your life fullness. And, remember, when you build relationships with extraordinary individuals, you also become privy to their networks, which are usually composed of equally outstanding people.

So shoot for the stars, the top, the highest rung you can reach. However, in the process, don’t abandon your present cronies and network partners. Add new faces, new spice, new minds and new ideas, but also don’t forget or abandon the old.

Take the initiative and put yourself together with those who can stimulate you, excite you, teach you, broaden you and make the nights fly by. Top people are frequently open to new experiences and new relationships. Some may initially say no to your approaches, but there is always tomorrow and if your dinners, or gatherings or whatever you do build good buzz, they’ll be clamoring for an invitation.

Naturally, we all can’t host lavish dinners at the Four Seasons or draw from the same remarkable talent pool as Boardroom. How many people would fly in to your town and build a trip around one of your dinners? Yet, we can all start small gatherings filled with the most exceptional people we know and then build.

Start with the best people you can reach. Invite your most interesting, enjoyable, entertaining friends and contacts. Invite people you’ve heard about, but don’t know. Invite people who you’ve wanted to meet. Select guests who are experts in fields that interest you and in areas that you know nothing about. It doesn’t have to be all talk. If you know musicians, poets or entertainers ask them to in order to refresh the mix.

Work on a scale that you can afford. Although good food certainly helps, great people should be your top priority. So when you’re starting out, think first about the quality of your guests, about attracting the very best people. And if the food is a way to attract heavy hitters, do whatever you can, within your means, to get them to the table. Then get them talking.

Prepare and ask questions that will make your guests expound. Once they’re talking, sit back and let the magic work. Only interject if a guest filibusters, gets too far off course or the discussion becomes dry. Then steer the conversation gently by asking another question that could ignite more stimulating talk.

Once you get rolling, do it right. Kurtz recommends sparing no expense, “And if that means doing fewer dinners, but making them all ‘perfect,’ I would recommend that.”

Action steps

1.State three ways you could adapt the Boardroom dinners to work for you.
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2. What you would like to accomplish by hosting your events?
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3. Who would you invite to your events? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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4. What new features would you add to your events?
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(Excerpted from NETWORKING MAGIC: Making Connections That Will Change Your Life By Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin With Mark Steisel)

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