Alison Roman knows how to create a memorable meal. Some of the lessons she’s acquired from having people over for dinner and publishing bestselling cookbooks can also be applied to meeting planning.
Earlier this week, I got the chance to hear Alison Roman, bestselling cookbook author and New York Times and Bon Appétit columnist, discuss her latest book, Nothing Fancy. If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s known for making delicious but unfussy food that has even gone viral (see #thestew).
As I was sitting in the audience listening to her talk about having people over for dinner (please note that she doesn’t call it “hosting a dinner party”), I couldn’t help but draw parallels to meeting planning. Here are four things she talked about that I think are also relevant for association meeting planners to keep in mind:
Be flexible with the seating. Roman, who lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn, says there are times when your guests outnumber your available seating. In those cases, rather than sweat it, she often changes the nature of the party. For example, she’ll do more of a standup dinner party or sit-on-the-floor dinner party. Or some people will sit on the couch, while others might chow down while leaning against the kitchen counter. She says moving away from the mindset that everyone must have a seat can help create an environment that’s more conducive to conversation. As meeting planners, consider different seating options that may help attendees get to know each other and interact.
Ask for help. Roman is the first to say she isn’t shy about asking for help, whether that’s having her friends take out the trash when they’re leaving, washing dishes and pots as she’s cooking, or picking up a lemon or a roll of paper towels on the way over. If you feel like you’re falling behind or drowning in a list of meeting-planning to-dos, remember to lean on your colleagues. I’m sure they’ll be eager to help you, just as you would them.
Make the most of a tiny space. You might think Roman’s small kitchen would drive her crazy given how much cooking and recipe testing she does. However, she says the tiny space makes her super-critical about what she actually uses and ensures she stick to the bare-bones necessities. As meeting planners, don’t let a small space scare you off. Instead, consider how you can turn it into an area that would be useful to attendees, whether that’s a simple meditation room or a place to hold one-on-one meetings.
Assemble the right team. Roman gave a lot of credit to the crew—from the photographer to the prop stylist—who helped her create Nothing Fancy. “Making a cookbook is truly a collaborative process,” she wrote. “It takes a group of dedicated, flexible, fun, energetic, creative, and fabulous people, and I feel lucky that I get to work with the best ones.” That same team mindset is sure to deliver the best experience for your attendees too.