Conversation on the Menu

When there is something important to say, best to pair it with a meal. We have all lit a candle, poured a glass or put out some biscuits to set the scene for a conversation that we would like to unfold in a certain way. Often the best conversations were not planned – surprises, taboos and serendipity challenge us with new thoughts that make a conversation memorable. No one wants to talk about the same old stuff. So how to plan for the spontaneity?

Some people are setting up these conditions, to make spontaneous conversations come to life. By using the metaphor of a menu, fresh conversations are being born.


Conversation Meals

Theodore Zeldin, the English philosopher and conversationalist, has seen his theories put into practice by the Oxford Muse who has put conversation on the menu. The Muse organises Conversation Meals at which you are seated in pairs with someone you have never met, or know only very vaguely. You are each given a Menu of Conversation that looks like a restaurant menu, with starters, fish, grills, dessert etc, but instead of descriptions of food dishes, each heading contains topics to talk about, 25 in all. A Muse introduces the meal and explains how to proceed and the rules of what is more than a game. Each of you chooses a topic, and when you have finished discussing it, the other chooses a topic and so you go through the Menu. That normally takes two hours, yet have known it to last up to seven hours. Check out the menu at:

The Taste of a Topic

In bringing people together to talk the atmosphere helps shape the experience. Recently, I organized a teambuilding at a brewery, a boardroom buffet and cook your own lunch workshop – each culinary experience set the tone. Do you want people to “do it themselves”, “feel well treated” or “stretch their limits”? Food or a gastronomic metaphor is an excellent way to set the scene.

Make Your Own Menu

Think of your next conversation, would it be designed as:

  • A degustation of fine wine?
  • The harvesting of fruit?
  • A plate of smelly cheeses?
  • The distilling process?
  • A three-course meal?
  • The making of a layered cake?

If your next team event is a layered cake, could it be a stack of conversations?

  • Staring with a conversation on “what is our foundation as a team?”
  • Then stack on a discussion on “what are we striving for?”
  • Cover that with dialogue on “how will we get to our vision?”
  • And then the cherry on the top, describe “what will success look like?”

Stimulating Ideas & Building Futures