Thinking of hosting a salon for your company? It might be just what’s needed to spark some new ideas and connections within our outside of your organization, but most people aren’t sure where to start, what their goals should be or how to curate the experience. We asked our salonista-in-chief Susan MacTavish Best, founder of The Salon Host and POSTHOC Salons, for her tips on how to get the most our of corporate salon hosting, and she always begins with the simple axiom of asking “why?” By constantly checking in about why we’re doing something, we ensure the final product is aligned with the intended purpose. Salons build community by inviting conversations that don’t happen within the confines of an average work day, so what do you hope those conversations will achieve?
In terms of scheduling, Susan strongly recommends hosting a salon series over a one-off for the simple reason that community cannot be built in a single event. The magic of salons is that the conversation continues long after the evening is over, and what you’ll find is people can’t wait to have a forum where they can drop their guard, open up and get curious about something. New ideas and connections are a byproduct of that curiosity, so giving it a platform to come out and play on a consistent basis tends to create a very positive feedback loop amongst anyone who has the privilege of attending. The format of the salon can be virtually anything you could imagine, but below we’ve put together a list of Susan’s top go-to formats for companies and non-profits interest in hosting.
Interview the Organization’s Founder(s) – trace the thread of your organization’s origin story from conception all the way up to present-day by interviewing the founder or founders to learn how their life story led them to want to start the company. We suggest asking open-ended but very specific questions, such as: have the organization’s goals evolved since launch? If so, how? What was the founding team like and how has it scaled? What was the most challenging part about getting the company off the ground? Any regrets?
Interview the CEO + Other Executives – trace the why behind the organization’s mission and strategy by interviewing members of the executive leadership team either one at a time or in groups of four or less. Depending on what the organization does, it might make more sense to have dive-deep discussion with just the CEO to start, or perhaps if it’s a creative company, the Creative Director might be a better candidate. Regardless of how you approach it, we recommend looking both backwards to where the company came from and forwards to how it’s taking that vision into the future, as well as opening up the conversation for Q&A from the audience towards the end. What does the organization look like in 3 years? What about 10? How about 20 years from now?
Interview Authors or Other Experts About Workplace Culture – what makes an organization great to work for? This single question may be more relevant than it’s ever been in as 33 million people voluntarily left their jobs between April and November of 2021 alone, an all-time high for the United States. What kinds of workplace culture translate to the highest quality of life for employees? What are the most common bad-habit-pitfalls organizational cultures tend to fall into? How do those habits get broken?
Interview Experts in Your Organization’s Field – whether the focus is market trend analysis or cutting-edge research, a salon series is a great opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives from leading industry experts. Do some research and make a wishlist of experts who fit the bill, and don’t be afraid to aim high! You might be surprised to learn just how excited your company’s dream guest speaker is to be invited into a conversation with informed colleagues who are uniquely interested in their area of expertise.
Ask Employees For Topic + Guest Speaker Suggestions – to generate some vested interest in your organization’s salon series and get some relevant ideas flowing, why not mine your organization’s most valuable resource, a.k.a. your employees?! The best ideas don’t always come from the top-down, and at the very least you’re liable to generate some fascinating data in the process of asking the individuals who make up your organization what they would like to talk about.
Regardless of the chosen format, we recommend opening up the floor to audience questions for the last 15 or 2o minutes of each salon discussion. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let the running time of the interview and big group conversation go for much more than an hour! The best conversations typically branch off from the big group discussion, so beware of tiring out your audience’s curiosity. This ensures the conversation your organization is inviting continues to evolve and hopefully inspire everyone who attends.