If you're a marketing professional, you've probably attended your fair share of business dinners. Most of them are awkward and nothing to write home about. By all accounts, The Digital Fork is quite the opposite: a closed door, senior-level, invitation-only dining experience developed by marketing industry expert and veteran Jeff Ragovin. If you're lucky enough to get a seat at the table, you'll be rubbing shoulders with some of the best and brightest marketers in the industry.

The dinner series brings together digital savvy marketing executives to eat, network, and  discuss the future of digital. Ragovin's one-of-a-kind dining experiences leaves guests craving more.

Here's what any professional can learn from The Digital Fork:

#1: Executives are People, Too

Imagine taking a bite of caviar while discussing everything from your favorite Netflix show to how AR will become integrated into consumer shopping. Plenty of high-level brand marketers under one roof, but with none of the stuffiness of a typical networking event. Ragovin spends a lot of time "curating the perfect group of people" so that by end of a Digital Fork dinner, everyone has gotten to know everyone else in the room. By creating an environment where people feel at ease when talking to one another, it makes it that much easier to form lasting connections.

#2: Size Matters

At The Digital Fork, attendees find themselves in a private dining room with typically 12 and no more than 15 other like-minded individuals who are working on similar projects and often experiencing the same challenges. In this way, the dinners feel intimate, special, and safe, giving guests a unique opportunity to really open up and create meaningful connections. Most networking events feel that more is always better. But in fact, some events that are kept small allow you to make deeper connections.

#3: You Don't Have to Sell to Be Successful

Unlike other marketing events, there's absolutely zero selling or pitching at The Digital Fork. Although the night is funded by Ragovin's company Social Native, a company that connects brands to their consumers for a new source of high quality content creation, he promises not to talk about his own work at all. "If you just be yourself, everything else comes naturally," says Ragovin. "You don't have to sell. That's what it all comes down to." Why can't you have a dinner with amazing people and no agenda? It turns out, you can - and that's a breath of fresh air for anyone who comes to an event with this type of ethos.

#4: Less Idle Chitchat

The primary goal is to facilitate valuable conversation. To do so, Ragovin brings together industry experts to discuss marketing trends, perspectives, and predictions. Snapchat vs. Instagram stories? How can brand marketers cut through the digital clutter to stand out? What's your favorite app? Or, if you could have any one superpower, what would it be and why? Not every question has to be industry-related - but ultimately, everyone is there to learn.

#5: Take Hosting Duties Seriously

From the moment guests walk through the door, Ragovin is there to greet them with a contagious energy. He always kicks off the evening by asking attendees a question that's meant to illicit personal feelings, stories, and/or experiences. Throughout the night, Ragovin makes it a point to ensure everybody has a chance to make their voices heard.

Digital Fork dinners are usually organized around a particular topic. But, as Ragovin says, "People aren't coming to Digital Fork to sell their business or get a job; they're coming to learn." It's important that the host encourage people to share their experiences and act as an emcee of sorts to make sure that conversation doesn't lag.

#6: Be Inclusive

Most of the time, a brand marketer gets invited to a dinner, and, not wanting to be impolite, feels obligated to attend. Once there, it's not uncommon for that person to talk only with the people sitting next to him. Ragovin believed there was a way to make this type of dinner experience better for everyone involved. As a result, he set up The Digital Fork in marked contrast to typical dinner parties: instead of encouraging chitchat between individual guests, Ragovin moderates the entire discussion. As somebody who has moderated more than my fair share of panels, I can tell you that it's an underappreciated art in and of itself. But Ragovin does a great job in keeping the conversation flowing like wine, making everyone feel like lifelong friends by the end of the dinner.

#7: Find Points of Collaboration

Just because you're not selling doesn't mean that attendees shouldn't get business value out of your event. One unspoken goal of The Digital Fork is to take these social and professional connections and turn them into successful business ventures. Conversations around the table usually spark fresh thinking and interesting insights, which generate worthwhile partnerships and initiatives. Some people have done co-op marketing campaigns because of meeting at The Digital Fork.

Last summer, Aaron Paine was helming social media and digital strategy for Polaroid; at The Digital Fork, he wound up clicking with a few people who had upcoming product launches. One of them was Victoria Secret PINK. Polaroid had a pink camera, which prompted Paine to ask the obvious question: "why don't you team up with us?" The two brands launched a collaboration, helping PINK launch a new bra. Sometimes developing a collaboration takes a long time, but this "cut through the red tape" very efficiently, without much involvement on the part of the legal team.

It's not like partnerships are forced. "You're cool, I'm cool, let's work together," is the way that Paine saw the nascent partnership.

#8: Food Matters

When you're throwing a networking dinner, the last thing you want is for your guests wanting to think of an excuse to head out early to grab some real food. It wouldn't be a salon dinner without to-die-for food. For the past two years, Ragovin has hosted his exclusive dinners at some of the hottest new and old restaurants across the country, including Quince, Vaucluse, Republique, and Smyth & Loyalist. The dinners are complete with passed apps and a five-course tasting menu, paired with craft cocktails, champagne, and wine. At The Digital Fork, the food is treated like an art, not a necessity.

#9: Leave Them Wanting More

The dinner doesn't end after the last course is served. The event spurs lasting connections, friendships, and collaborations. In today's digital-first world, it's more important than ever for marketers to work together to navigate the ever-changing consumer climate. "This was truly the best dinner I've attended," said David Jacobs, Senior Marketing Manager at Intuit, after attending one dinner. "I look forward to connecting with everyone soon."

Published on: May 16, 2018