Back to Basics: The Dinner Salon Makes a Resurgence in Social Change Communications Circles

In the Beginning… They Held Salons

Four thousand years ago when I attended Journalism School at the University of Kansas (Rock chalk, jayhawk), professors were still talking about a once commonly employed communications tactic called the “salon.”

A salon is, generally speaking, a gathering of great minds to generate inspirational and/or important conversation. With their roots in 16th century Europe, salons have a larger role in the development of our world than most realize. Read the lengthy Wikipedia page dedicated to salons to learn more about their history and impact.

The Roots of An Idea Take Hold (Finally)

At the young and inexperienced age of 22, this idea of a salon held very little resonance with me—after all, I was practically still a kid and the most I knew about gatherings of smart people just to talk was being forced to listen to my Philosophy 101 professor and his colleagues drone on about theory and politics and critical thinking (to be clear, as an adult, I’ve grown to love these things but at the time I loved them much less). The idea continued to lay in wait as I spent the first part of my career building my reputation as a pioneer of social media, something that doesn’t, by nature, lend itself to in-person gatherings.

But last summer, all that changed and this tiny little idea of a salon trapped somewhere deep in my brain’s ether made a large contribution to Prichard’s biggest social change initiative to date.

A Need to Do More

I’ll start by saying that I 99% love being a consultant. The diversity of organizations, experience and projects I get to work with is invigorating and so inspiring. I truly work with the world’s best people. So, what’s the 1% missing? Simply put–it’s the hands on part… the part where you get to roll your sleeves up and actually mold social change. As the Vice President and Managing Director at Prichard, I spend a ton of time helping people with strategies and managing projects, but I miss the down and dirty part sometimes–the implementation…the actual changemaking.

I shared my thoughts with Mac one day and doing so triggered a pivotal conversation during which we truly considered how we could combine our experience as consultants and our love of connecting people with our shared desire to make a more hands-on contribution to social change in Portland. In the back of my mind this tiny little professor voice from the days of yore screamed “salon!” “salon!” Mac had similar thoughts.

A Salon is Born

As such, last summer, we conceptualized and launched our first ever dinner salon series, The Portland Ten (TPT) with the intention of connecting Portland’s social changemaking community to strengthen individual and collective efforts to make our city better. And, I couldn’t be more thrilled to report that this old school tactic of gathering people to talk continues to have new school value. TPT has been wildly successful.

We’ve heard stories from attendees from our first four classes who have:

  • Gone on to get new jobs because they were inspired to do more
  • Forged new partnerships to improve conditions for kids in Portland
  • Made relationships that resulted in a new grant or new funding to help sustain their nonprofits
  • Nurtured connections that ended in fresh alliances of ideas, minds and organizations

And, to top that off, our list of nominations from the community has gotten so big, we’re beginning to design guest lists three to four dinners ahead!

Human Interaction Cannot Be Replicated

There is no doubt that social media is the emerging king of communications programs designed to support social changemaking groups. As one of its pioneer users, I can attest that it’s a bit of a tour de force for nonprofit communicators working with small budgets, resources and capacity. But, technology, the very thing that makes social media so powerful, convenient and useful, has limits. And one of those major limits is its ability to connect people in a ‘real’ way. I have no science to back this up, but, I suspect we’ll see more and more small, in-person efforts like TPT and other dinner salons make a resurgence in some circles, as people like Mac and I begin to crave live human interaction to share and explore ideas… it’s something that technology just can’t replicate (yet).

Check out features in the San Francisco Chronicle and NPR’s All Things Considered, about other people who are bringing back the salon to make connections and nurture conversation about the life, politics and the world.

Our Secret Formula

Our next TPT will be held on August 5th and it’s shaping up to be another great event. Our guest list was curated partially from the community and partially from friends and staff. We couldn’t be more excited to connect with new friends and help them connect with one another. Follow the event on Twitter using #pdxten.

Interested in nominating someone? Learn how: http://www.prichardcommunications.com/the-portland-ten/

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll reveal how it all works and our secret formula for making the TPT such a success.

Jennie Day-Burget

Former Vice President and Managing Director Jennie Day-Burget is a lover of surprises, wine and chevron (the pattern, not the oil company). Jennie has worked in communications and public relations for more than a decade and cites the hashtag (#) as her favorite communications innovation.
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