Rethinking networking to focus first on connection, then on building community
Entrepreneur Elizabeth Eichhorn began the journey toward creating authentic connections after attending, as she describes it, one too many unsatisfying networking experiences. As the owner of a food production business and a decade-long hospitality employee, she knew how to create spaces where people were sharing time with each other – but the ability to create intentional (and real) connections were lacking. The idea of networking, as least as she knew it, was ineffective and disappointing. So she decided to create something better – more fulfilling, real and valuable.
After it’s launch three years ago with 6 people sharing a meal together at a local restaurant, Elizabeth knew she was onto something. And Ampersand Dinner was born.
“This word ‘network’ was really important to grow your business and what it was you wanted to then do in the future, but I was so disappointed when I found out that networking really meant a quick conversation and an exchange of cards.”
At its core, Ampersand focuses on creating safe spaces – a basic human need – where participants first begin to build a connection and then attempt to create community. Since her organization was founded, Elizabeth and her team have pivoted programming to support corporations and their teams. By teaching the core tenants of connection and engagement – beginning with asking good, meaningful questions – individuals are able to truly network with one another, moving beyond the surface back*and*forth that’s often experienced.
Ampersand’s strategy is centered around dinner among participants, believing that food is life-giving. These networking meals capture the value of hospitality and create environments dedicated to building real, authentic communities between attendees.
The heart of this work for Elizabeth? Encouraging folks to ask deep questions – often avoiding work related topics (which can be tough!) – that invite real answers. She also advocates for the intentionality of language, understanding the importance of the words we choose. And she believes that we can apply these ideas and core principles to our board rooms, living rooms and classrooms.
“If we start asking each other better questions, we can actually have a better connection with one another. And if we can do that over food, that’s an even better connection.”
Changing the narrative of how we engage with each other can have a significant impact on the relationships we build, the communities we foster. And the Ampersand Dinner team is dedicated to this work.
But they’re just getting started. Most recently, Elizabeth launched a Leadership through Hospitality training program to train others to host Ampersand Dinners in their own towns — spreading the impact of this connection-based work. Her goal is to move through entire communities and groups of people, reimagining what it means to build connections, relationships and engagement.
“We’re going to change the world, one conversation at a time.”