You know how you always read about that perfect dinner party—the one where you have your dream team sitting around the same table? Usually Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Jesus, and Gandhi are on the short list of attendees.

Well, two years ago, I attended the most amazing dinner that changed by thinking. This was due in large part to the attendees, of course. But what was unique was the format. It was called a “Jeffersonian Dinner,” and the goal is to create a loosely structured exchange of ideas around a central theme. I came away convinced that this is the best way to enjoy a dinner and take full advantage of the backgrounds and wisdom of the attendees. So if you have the desire to create a special evening for you and people you want to get to know, here’s how to do it.

1. Make it happen

Take the initiative by deciding that you will organize the dinner gathering. It won’t happen unless you take ownership. I want to give a shoutout to Bill Rigler at Naropa University, who pulled this together, at the inspiration of Naropa’s board chair, Jerry Colonna, and president, Chuck Lief.

2. Choose 10 interesting people to invite

Brainstorm around 10 people you think would be interesting to have at your dinner table. They should be people with different backgrounds who are interesting to you but whom you know little about. I casually knew two of the 12 people at our dinner but had never broken bread with them nor had a particularly deep discussion. I was a bit apprehensive about what might occur. You may have experienced this sentiment before. What do you talk about with folks who are new to your universe?

3. Select and share the topic

The format solves the prior dilemma because attendees receive a topic in advance, along with a rule stating that they may talk only to the group, not just the person sitting next to them. This rule is the beauty of the format, as you end up having an engaging discussion while getting to know everyone at the table. Our topic: Who was the most effective leader you have encountered and why? I am incredibly passionate about both this topic and the leader who influenced me, so I was thrilled to share my story with the group.

Finally, pick a spot where you can sit around a table in a setting that allows you both to hear and be heard by everyone else at the table. We had a private room at a wonderful local restaurant, but having this at someone’s home would be fabulous, too.

Try it and be amazed!

Jane Miller

Author Jane Miller

Jane Miller is CEO of ProYo Frozen Smoothie, CEO and founder of—a career advice website—and author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success). She has 30 years of executive and management experience at PepsiCo, Rudi's Organic Bakery and other companies.

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