How to Host a Mastermind Dinner for Women
One of the things I love doing each year is experimenting with different kinds of events. The first event I ever hosted for myself was a facilitated conversation with snacks and wine. It was SUPER great for me to host a small event to test out a different event concept.
Recently, I posted that I wanted to host more women’s dinners — small group, mastermind-style, with people who are interesting, trying exciting things, and moving the needle forward on important issues. And immediately after I posted it, I felt a sort of vulnerability hangover. I was worried about whether or not anyone would say yes, whether it was even a good idea…and when I feel like that (aka down on myself and giving into the “vampires” in my head).
Which made me realize that if I, a seasoned, event-hosting veteran, who has a community of consistent event attendees has a vulnerability hangover when I put my event offer out there, then there must be other event-hosting newbies who feel that way as well.
So I wanted to put this list together of how exactly I’m going about creating this smallish, 12-person dinner…because at the end of the day, hosting an event is simply a process. You really just have to follow the steps, one by one, and eventually, you’ll have an incredible event. But sometimes it can be daunting and your “nervous brain” can get in the way. So if that happens, stick to this process and I promise you, you’ll come out the other side with a totally meaningful and well-planned event.
Please note, this is assuming that you’ve already figured why you want to host this event. If you haven’t, that’s the first step!
Brainstorm and reach out to 2-3 venues who could potentially host you
For this event, I knew that I wanted to host 12 women for a small dinner party, which meant that I had a general idea of the framework for the event. So my first step was to brainstorm a few restaurants that could accommodate that amount of people. The important criteria for me was:
I wanted it to be a private room or space where we could have conversations without the restaurant being too loud.
I wanted it to be in a space that was beautiful so that it could be shot by a photographer (and so that I can use the content for blog posts, Instagram, and to start using it to build my content archives)
I wanted the event to be somewhere that would seat us all at one long dining table. I knew that feeling like I was hosting people in my living room was important.
I knew my budget was about $50 for food and beverage for guests, so I had to pick a place that could fit within that budget.
After I made a list of the above criteria, I started reaching out to venues that I knew and loved…because why make it hard and do hours of research when you can make it really. dang. easy. and use places you’ve already heard of and/or visited (PRO TIP: don’t make it hard when you can make it easy!). I sent them each a quick email, telling them my tentative date, times, and amount of people, budget, and the rough vision I had for the event. Easy!
Create a rough agenda
Immediately AFTER I had emailed my venues, I created a REALLY rough agenda (on the back of a scrap piece of paper…because #whateverworks), that included my vision for this event. I knew I wanted people to arrive and have a glass of champagne, so that went in the agenda. I knew I wanted them to be seated all around a dinner table, talking about what they are proud of themselves for, what they needed more in their lives, how they could be supported…so that went into the agenda. I knew I wanted to make a toast, so that went into the agenda. And I knew there NEEDED to be lots and lots of time, space and connection. So I added an extra hour more than I thought I need to add to provide the space needed for people to connect. Here’s what it looks like:
5:30pm - 6:00pm Cocktails and arrival
6:00pm - 6:15pm Welcome by Lauren
6:15pm - 6:45pm First course is dropped (individual salad plates). Discussion topic: What is success right now?
6:45pm - 7:15pm Second course is dropped (family style dinner). Discussion topic: What needs support right now?
7:15pm - 8:00pm Dessert course (family style cookies and brownies). Discussion topic: Where do I need to let go?
8:00pm - 9:00pm Hang out, drink champagne, talk about business, end of event
See! Easy. And feel free to copy my recipe above (it’s basically the same format I use for every single dinner I’ve ever hosted).
Create an invitation list that is double the amount of people you can host. Rank them in priority order.
So the next part, after the agenda was created, was to create a list of about 25 women who I would want to attend this event. Why 25 if I’m only inviting 12? Well, the reason here is two-fold:
Not everyone will be able to come. So, if I’m not scrambling last minute if someone says NO then I can quickly invite someone else from the list.
If I ever want to host this event again, I already have a list that I can pull from, and I’m not starting the brainstorming process all over again.
Creating an invitation list can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. If it was my first event, I would just look directly at the people that I wanted in my circle, and I definitely WOULDN’T overthink it. Who can I learn from? Who is just starting out and needs community? Who do I admire? All those people go on the list.
If you’ve hosted an event or two, then I’d want you to start considering the makeup of your audience. How do I build in diversity of experience? How do I create an atmosphere of welcome-ness? How do I help create content and questions that challenge attendees to be a better version of themselves? How do I make sure that no one in the room has met each other before, so that it is a truly unique experience?
These are the important questions when it comes to building an invitation list, and the more you do events, the more you’ll understand how crucial it is to building a great community of people who are engaged, excited, and energized to be there.
Consider hiring a photographer.
In the past, I definitely haven’t been the person who is strategic about their social media and content. Instead, I’ve just know really beautiful and talented photographers and they’ve all be SO excited about collaborating on events that we’ve done together, and it’s been extremely beneficial to have archives of photos of gatherings.
If you’re a service-based business, or content is important to your marketing strategy, I HIGHLY recommend hiring a photographer to shoot the event, because you’ll get at least 50 really beautiful images in a variety of scenarios AND you barely have to do any art directing, since events are so interactive by nature.
I usually like to have a photographer come for 3 hours (one hour for setup, detail shots, and my own headshots, and then the first two hours of dinner), and then I ask them to only lightly edit the photos (since I’m all about REAL images, instead of highly manicured ones).
If a photographer isn’t in your budget, see if you can have a friend or a volunteer come to help you and take iPhone photos. Having some photo evidence is better than none!
Choose the menu to support the point of the event.
You’ll notice in my agenda above, I have the first course as a plated course (so that people can get down to eating immediately, and we can move straight into discussion as soon as the salad course is finished. I don’t EVER plan content while people are eating because if someone is talking to the full group, it makes it REALLY hard for others to eat and feel comfortable doing so. Thus, I like to make the first course short and sweet, and I don’t even ask questions until after everyone is finished eating it.
Then, I like to have some discussion. It allows people have a sip of wine or La Croix, it lets them relax a little bit, they can listen to the discussion going on around them and they don’t need to feel pressured about the next part of the meal.
After that, I usually have the main course as a family style meal for two reasons:
Usually family style has something for everyone and it makes it a little easier to protect people who have allergies or food preferences (protein, vegetable side, starch side, etc.). I usually try to make all meals “build-your-own” which means that we’ll have allergens on the side and people can add those things to their dish if they want to.
It encourages people to share, discuss, ask for help, serve each other, and overall makes the meal a little more interactive than it would have been otherwise.
Whatever your preference (whether it’s allowing everyone to order off the menu), it’s always nice to have a little bit of a curated menu experience, so I highly recommend putting some thought into how the menu will help your agenda (or hinder it!).
Host your guests (even if that means hiring some help)
So this one seems like a big DUH, but as an event planner, I find this a REALLY difficult challenge! I want to make sure all the event pieces are put together and confirmed…which means I’m often taken away from hosting my guests because I’m picking up trash, bussing plates, feeling like I need to stay on top of the EVENT things.
However, you can probably call a staffing agency (or pick a friend that loves you) to help for less than $15/hour depending on where you live and then you’ll be freed up to connect, interact, host, and generally be the “gatherer” of the people there (which is your MOST important job). If it makes you feel more comfortable, you don’t even need to talk a ton, or have some incredible presentation prepared…you simply need to be in the headspace of asking the right questions to people, and directing the conversation in a way that makes people feel that you really SEE them.
And in order to do that? You can’t be focused on picking up the trash.
Follow up with them post-event to share contact information.
This one is SO important, and possibly the crux of any community that grows — you have to keep in touch with your attendees. Share photos after the event, ask them to post on social media and tag you, share the photos and tag them, and make sure you give everyone’s contact information (as long as they consent to having it shared).
One of the things that I don’t do super well is maintaining the community after the event has been hosted. However, there are a few important things you can do right away after the event:
Send an email immediately after, thanking everyone for attending. Share relevant contact information OR next steps for people who want to continue on in your community (usually, I just ask them to let me put them on my email list).
Follow up a few weeks later with photos from the event and ask them to share the photos on Instagram
Follow up after a month or two and ask them to reconnect…tell them what came from the event, how they’ve changed and grown, and what action steps they took post-dinner (this is also a really great way to gather testimonials so you can host the event again).
Have you ever hosted a mastermind dinner? If so, what worked for you? What didn’t work? Comment below and let me know!