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Talk of the Town: How to Host a Successful Salon

When it comes to having an opinion and finding an audience to hear it, humans have been looking for the a good venue since the dawn of time.

This post is in partnership with Pepsi Refresh Project

When it comes to having an opinion and finding an audience to hear it, humans have been looking for a good venue since the dawn of time. One effective way rumored to have started in 16th century Italy was to hold salons. These intimate forums were a meeting place for people to gather and discuss topics ranging from poetry and literature to politics and philosophy. Salons picked up steam in the drawing rooms of France in the 17th and 18th century when people gathered to talk about the most exciting issues of the day. In the 21st century, discussions are still going strong around the globe, be they salons or their modern day descendants: book clubs, knitting groups, poker games and supper clubs. Here’s how to get one started—and running strong.


Kathy Hamill was intrigued when her mother introduced her to salons in the 70s. Flash forward to 1998, when Hamill and her husband got the itch to start a salon in their Elgin, Illinois home. Explains Hamill, “It was an alternative entertainment form to things that are on screens.”

To get the word out, they ran ads in local papers. The night of their first salon, they expected a handful of people. Thirty-seven complete strangers arrived. “We sat on the step and bit our nails for a few minutes,” Kathy recalls.

Thirteen years later, their member roster has grown to more than 230, with people arriving from as far away as Ireland. Their numbers now expand through word-of-mouth, which they found to be the most effective advertising. The salon’s members are a diverse group of all ages and walks of life. Hamill credits this diversity for the salon’s success. “Many salons perish because they’re too homogenous.”

Elgin Salon’s structure is simple. Alerted by Hamill via email, the group meets every six weeks. Elgin Saloners discuss everything from fear and courage to ideal political systems and effective aphrodisiacs. “Subjects that are a little idiosyncratic, funny or odd usually work best,” recommends Hamill. And though there’s a stretch of three hours set aside for these discussions, guests tend to linger late into the night chatting. Hamill doesn’t mind. “I’m really glad I followed my whim,” she says. “The salon has been a joy and increased our circle of friends.”

Got a few ideas to share? Chances are, there’s a salon within driving radius. An easy search on Meetup, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites, can turn up a wealth of opportunities like Mindshare LA and Conversation Café. Looking for something more intimate? A book club might be just the ticket…

Book Clubs

Chance encounters and tenuous connections. That’s how easily Fiona Thompson says Book Clubs can come together. Years ago, she joined a reading group in Los Angeles. Upon moving to Portland, Oregon, she decided to seek out a new group with which to share her reading interests. Resources from the newspaper and library turned up groups, as did Goodreads, which also provided tools for starting a group. Thompson ultimately settled on a group recommended by a neighbor. Of her book club love, Thompson says, “For me, it’s a creative outlet and a night out with all my girlfriends.”

Thompson credits structure for the success of the book clubs she’s attended. She’s found having a group email list along with an appointed secretary to corral the troops integral. Most often, meetings rotate between members’ homes, with the host choosing the book to be read that month. Dinner is generally part of the mix, often coordinated with the read. As for adding a dinner guest to the mix, more than 24,000 authors are registered through Goodreads alone. Why not invite one to dinner? What better way to get a conversation started?

Read more about how to get involved in your neighborhood in the GOOD Guide to Your Community.

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