BLOG: Leadership Insights

Get Email Updates

How to Throw the Ultimate Dinner Party | Creating Meaningful Conversation Face-to-Face When Meeting in Person Isn’t Possible

April 6, 2020 Richard Leider

Join us for a special conversation on Purposeful Leadership® with Richard Leider on April 16 at 2:00 PM. Register for this free webinar today.

“Physical Distancing”

If you’re working from home for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing pandemic, you’re most likely going to be getting a lot more comfortable with video conferencing. Just because we can’t go out doesn’t mean we need to feel isolated. Isolation is fatal. Physical distancing does not demand “social” distancing!

During this time of physical distancing and hunkering down, I find that we’re hungering for “courageous conversations.” We feel a need to be transparent, to feel less anxious, and to help others feel the same. It takes curiosity to connect in meaningful ways.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”

I learned from the architect and iconoclast founder of TED, Richard Saul Wurman, that he created TED based on his “ultimate dinner party.” In 1984, he invited guests from Silicon Valley (T), Hollywood (E), and academia (D) representing his deep curiosity about the emerging convergence between these fields. The rest is history as TED morphed from his dinner party into a viral video phenomenon and a worldwide network of people united by their curiosity.

As the story goes, if Richard felt bored at his “TED dinner party,” he had no problem ending a guest’s rant and posing a good question. TED talks eventually took on the 18-minute limit—the alleged limit of the human attention span. Asking a good question requires us to move beyond what we think we know about an issue or a person. It moves us out of our comfort zones into the unknown, the awkward, and sometimes even the unpleasant.

“That’s a Good Question”

I’ve always been curious, bordering on obsessed, with questions. When I was a kid, I asked a lot of questions. The problem now is that I never outgrew the habit. In short, I can be annoying.

How so? Well, I often find myself posing endless, often biased, questions in conversations. I guess I was born with the “curiosity gene.” I’ve noticed that too many times, conversations tend to slip into “How are you feeling?” It’s a question we rarely (if ever) answer honestly—instead defaulting to the standard “I’m good” or “I’m fine, thanks!”

Do you have the “curiosity gene?” Who would you be curious to invite to your “ultimate dinner party?” It’s possible that what you’re curious about, others are too, and the questions you’re obsessing about, others might also be asking themselves too. Richard Wurman claims that “curiosity is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Great questions can spark that curiosity and invite new connections between people. So, the key ingredient for a meaningful life-affirming dinner conversation is to intentionally select a table question—a theme for the conversation. The truth is that questions are just as important as answers, often more so.

We Live in Zoom Now

We live in Zoom now, a video calling app. Overnight, Zoom has become a primary social platform for millions of people. Zoom has emerged as a cultural phenomenon to host parties, concerts, church services, and, of course meetings of all sizes. A common joke among college students is that they all go to “Zoom University.” Harvard University, like most schools, has canceled all in-person graduate and undergraduate classes and will conduct them via Zoom.

Recipe for a Meaningful Conversation

Try using Zoom for an “ultimate dinner party.” Invite several other people to share wine, healthy snacks, and great conversation virtually. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Follow this “recipe” for your dinner party: GQ + GP + GF = F

Good Question (GQ) plus Good People (GP) plus Good Food (GF) = Fulfillment (F)—a gathering that helps you feel filled and fulfilled!

Good friends ask great questions, as do good leaders, teachers, and parents. Posing good questions, I believe, is an art worth cultivating, especially today when everyone is an aggregator and curator of information. Good questions create focus and add the savory flavor to the recipe.

For example, for my ultimate party, I’d follow this recipe:
GQ = What’s the “good life,” NOW? (What do you need to “unpack” and “repack”?)
GP = Parker Palmer (and others)
GF = Frog’s Leap wine and healthy snacks
F = Feeling connected, less isolated

What about you? Who would you invite to your “ultimate virtual dinner party”? What would be your recipe?

Today, we’re all going to give up on the physical proximity we’re used to, but if we’re to pull through this thing together, that doesn’t mean giving up on our social connectivity.

Zoom is free and can be downloaded at

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

Enrich Your inbox

with timely, relevant leadership insights

Join more than 15,000 others and subscribe to Linkage Leadership Insights: your resource for leadership development-related topics that matter to you, from the advancement of women leaders to diversity and inclusion and purposeful leadership. Plus, get all the latest Linkage news delivered to your inbox.

Related Posts

All Insights

Start Your Journey

Speak with a Linkage expert today