John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Zephyr CMS. It’s a modern cloud based CMS system that’s licensed only to agencies. You can find them at zephyrcms.com, more about this later in the show.
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Chris Schembra. He is a keynote speaker, Broadway producer, sought-after dinner host, an entrepreneurial advisor whose passion lies in facilitating profound human connection in a deeply disconnected world. So Chris, thanks for joining me.
Chris Schembra: John, I’ve been a big fan of yours for so many years, and you bring such great value to the world through your books and podcasts and teaching. So it’s an honor to be here.
John Jantsch: Well, thank you. I do believe that we have a first on Duct Tape Marketing. I’ve never had a sought-after dinner host, I’m certain of it.
Chris Schembra: Well, you know, you’d go back to the Latin origination of the word “company” to begin with, and it’s “companions.” ‘Com’ means together and ‘panis’ means bread. So the ancient folks somehow got it right, that if you want to do good business together, you should probably break bread around the dinner table.
John Jantsch: Yeah. So many people may not be familiar with your story, which is obviously a huge part of this book we’re going to talk about, Gratitude and Pasta. But maybe start by telling us a little bit about 7:47 and how that was formed and what it is you’re doing there. And really your journey to this point, I guess.
Chris Schembra: My journey, the story for this talk starts in July of 2015. At the time, to set the scene, I was a Broadway producer. I had the jail, rehab, suicide, depression on the resume. We were achieving great things, but somehow one day I woke up and realized theater is not. It was July of 2015. We had just come back from Italy after producing a Broadway play over there. And when we got back to New York, I realized I essentially felt four things. Lonely, unfulfilled, disconnected, insecure. Theater was great, but it wasn’t it. So in that dark period of time, I found myself just fiddling with food in my kitchen and accidentally created a pasta sauce recipe and figured I should probably feed it to people to see if it’s even good or not, and we started hosting dinners.
Chris Schembra: And week after week after week, 18 folks would come to our home and we’d cook them some pasta sauce. We’d delegate some specific tasks. We’d empower them to work together, to serve each other, to create the meal, and a ritual began. And what we observed was by getting people to work together, by creating that safe space, by creating the intention of this connection and energy and all that kind of soft stuff, you’d actually set the stage to have some pretty neat conversations. And at every dinner we would ask the same question. “If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would that be?” And we saw people’s stories come alive.
Chris Schembra: So eventually we realized we were damn good at doing that, and so we built an entire company around the idea of producing dinners and helping people build a community. We have a simple metric for success at every dinner. If less than six people cry, we considered it a failed night. And that’s our goal.
John Jantsch: So how intentional was this? You know, obviously with the lens of hindsight, you can look back and say, “We did this and we did that.” But I mean, how much of it did you just stumble onto? Or why did you even give it so much intention?
Chris Schembra: So for the first half a year, from July of 2015 we just started kind of hosting dinners and no real intention other than I was lonely because I’d just broken up with a girlfriend. My boss, who’s kind of like a partner, he had just gotten married, so all of a sudden, I was pretty much alone. And so it just started as a way to help myself, and then I actually realized it started helping others. And so the only real intention started when I finally left the theater job just to say, “What should I do next?” And the first thing that popped up was the dinner table. So we said, “All right, might as well give this a shot. I don’t know what the shot is, but let’s just keep doing dinners.”
John Jantsch: And you did these for a while. Was there a point where stuff started happening, benefits started accruing for you that you started saying, “Hey, this is not just making me not lonely. This is actually producing opportunity?”
Chris Schembra: Well, I think the first thing to not brush over is that it actually saved my life. My greatest childhood insecurity is that I’m always the last one called to the party. My invite is always somehow lost in the mail. It’s pretty much guaranteed. I’m always being forgotten about. So we orchestrated or architected an experience in which we could create the party and the people could come to us, and that single-handedly saved my life. But then we started realizing that we were, God, we were being… Neat people were coming to the dinner table that we would have never thought we would ever meet. We set a pretty specific and intentional rule. The first time you come, you come alone. The second time you come, you bring your friend. After that, you’re eligible to nominate someone.
Chris Schembra: And so a lot of what I learned from your book, The Referral Engine, we put into the dinner table where, yeah, if you’re inviting someone back for a great experience, they’re going to think about who’s the best person in their life that they can invite. So a network was just growing exponentially.
John Jantsch: Yeah. You, didn’t want to bring a dud, right?
Chris Schembra: No. So we were meeting the best people in people’s lives. If they had one invitation to send out, that was going to a superstud.
John Jantsch: Yeah. So gratitude in general, which really these dinners were based on, is really a hot topic, and certainly in business circles. I mean, you know, obviously it’s always had a place on the yoga blog or something. But now you’re seeing it in Forbes and Inc. And I mean, why do you think that that is?
Chris Schembra: I think people are starving for connection now more than ever before, right? We live in a world where 51% of the American workforce reports being lonely in a consistent basis. That’s unfortunately equivalent to the reduction of lifespan of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, seven years off your life. So loneliness and disconnection is quantifiably a multi-trillion dollar health crisis. And luckily, PWC proved that for every dollar you spend on employee emotional wellbeing yields $2 and 30 cents back in productivity. So people realize that we’ve gone too digital, too disconnected, too gobbling up for new clients and all that kind of new stuff, but now we got to go a little bit self, back, we’ve got a self-correct a little bit.
Chris Schembra: So gratitude is important because it’s a subset of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence has been proven that top performers have high EQ. You could have good IQ and you could have good technical skills, but none of it compares to the earning ability of having good emotional intelligence.
John Jantsch: So I want to get into the book and structure of these dinners and really the whole purpose of this is. But I’m curious, I want to back up a little bit. When you would ask people, “If you could give credit or thanks to one person in your life that you don’t give enough credit or thanks to, who would it be,” who do they thank?
Chris Schembra: 25.68% of people give credit and thanks to their mothers. A lot of people give credit and thanks to their fathers, to their grandparents, to strangers, to friends. What we, hear our stories… So if you dissect the question, the gratitude question, we’re not asking you around the dinner table, we’re not asking you what’s your biggest fear? What’s your biggest failure? What’s your greatest regret? What are your 2020 goal? Those are what we call stump questions. You know, screw them. We ask this question to get people to think outside themselves to something from their past that helped them get to where they are today. And by asking them, “Who do you not thank,” you’re actually eliciting feelings of regret and shame. “Why haven’t I thanked my dog? Why haven’t I thanked my third grade teacher?”
Chris Schembra: So you hear a lot of stories of people, personal liberation, people overcoming fear, people looking at relationships in a whole new way. Someone will give credit and thanks to their mother where their mother was a bitch growing up. Their mother literally did not help them growing up. But that relationship and the pressure between those two individuals, that gave them the chip on the shoulder to want to succeed. Right? It’s all these kind of different things.
John Jantsch: So you eventually, or over time, perfected your recipe for this and I’m sure it started adding things and even rules, if you will. And so you outline it in the book as almost like a three-act play. I’m borrowing from your theater background, I’m assuming. So can you… Because ultimately, what you’re doing in this book is saying people ought to be doing this, right?
Chris Schembra: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Jantsch: So can you construct the acts, I guess?
Chris Schembra: Yeah, of course.
John Jantsch: High level version of the acts.
Chris Schembra: Of course. So the thought leadership piece is, if you’re sitting there and relationships is your wellbeing, relationships is your entire life and you’re just bored of the old networking and the old going to conferences and the chicken dinners and all that kind of stuff, let’s do something different. Invite people to your home, get them to cook together, create a safe space for connection, ask some crazy questions, and you’re going to end up knowing more about them and creating more lasting loyalty than you ever have before in your life. So we think of this experience literally as a three-act play, as John said.
Chris Schembra: The first act is just thinking about who you want to invite, why they’re important for your life, where are you going to do it, et cetera. Your work begins the moment they receive the invitation, because it’s very important to keep iterating, reminder emails and details of what they can expect from the experience, so that by the time they arrive, you’ve already done the foreplay. You’ve already done… They come with a bottle of wine in hand prepared to connect, and they’re going to arrive at 6:30 PM sharp. Long gone are the days when you tell people they can arrive when they want and leave when they want. No, you show up at 6:30 PM sharp or you don’t get fed.
Chris Schembra: So act two, you know, act one is the arrivals and the cocktail hour and everybody’s just casually mingling and connecting and all that stuff. Act two begins with the delegated tasks and shared activities. These are actually very orchestrated, very detail-oriented. They get people working together to serve each other, which allows you to sit down and really create a connected experience. And act three begins at a very specific point in the evening. Once you’ve done the work, then you can bring in gratitude. So you ask this gratitude question and that really sets the scene for people to go around answering it popcorn style as a big group format. And that really, really creates some amazing emotion. As we said before, if less than six people cry, we consider it a failed night. It’s all because of that gratitude.
John Jantsch: And the book, by the way, has very detailed, not only what to do, but why it’s important to do it, which I think a lot of people sometimes need. Because I think there’s a background behind, like you just mentioned, the show up at 6:30 sharp. I mean, there’s a very [inaudible 00:14:20] intentional, what you’re trying to create with doing that. So, get the book if you want to know the why behind some of this.
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John Jantsch: Is it your opinion that everybody should be doing this?
Chris Schembra: No, I don’t think… I think that there is well… I’m going to put pressure on it. I think that you can really screw up a lot of your relationships if you do something like this with the wrong intention. If you look at this as a tool to calculate conversion and ROI and greater referrals and than, you shouldn’t. If that’s how you look at life, you shouldn’t look at this like that. You shouldn’t even touch this dinner. This dinner is built for the people who genuinely want to help the people in their life transform. When you can have 18 of your closest friends or colleagues or partners or clients, whatever, come together, put their phones down, don’t worry about what you do, but just come to connect. If you do that with this intention, the rest will follow. So it’s got to be giving first, and then comes the referrals.
Chris Schembra: So it’s not for the people, it’s not for the sharks that are takers. It’s not for the people who just want to walk around saying, “What do you do and how can you help me?” I think networking means the people that you meet have something to give you. Connecting means the people you meet, you have something to give them.
John Jantsch: In the course of doing this I’m sure you’ve experienced a little of everything. I mean, have you experienced some cases where people just weren’t a fit? They weren’t there for the right reason. They didn’t understand it. They were awkward. They were uncomfortable. I’m sure you’ve seen everything.
Chris Schembra: So there are times, now that it’s become a business, there are times when I get to bring people, but the majority of the times are when our clients bring their people. So our clients are pulling together 18 partners or investors, et cetera. And so I can’t always control who walks through that door. Someone could walk through that door after having the worst day in their life. But that’s why we’re such sticklers for people following this model, this system, because it really, if you do it right, it really takes the ego out and it levels the playing field and it allows even the worst chips on the block to come have a connected experience. So we used to focus on curation. Now we just focus in on the experience.
John Jantsch: You mentioned a couple of times, and I know in the book you have even diagrams of seating charts and things of that nature. You’ve mentioned like 18 people. That’s a lot of people that have in one place. That’s a lot of people to feed. That’s a lot of people to seat. In your estimation, is that the number it takes or could you do a dinner for eight kind of thing?
Chris Schembra: You could definitely do any interpretation of this book that you want. And it’s a great question. We found that the size of 18, there is a great power in that community. So you’re a person, you’re sitting at the dinner table with 17 other strangers, and then this short little guy from South Carolina asks you a question about gratitude. Well, if there were only four people in that group and you’ve just already met everybody and you work together, it might be too small of a group for you to be as vulnerable as you want to be. And so when it’s 18, as opposed to 12, as opposed to 24, when it’s 18 is just perfect that you probably haven’t met the people across the table, but it’s small enough that you can share what you want to share and they’re going to listen.
Chris Schembra: And so if you had 24, it’s just a little too big. If you had 24 people, you can’t spend two to three minutes per person going around the table answering that question. So it’s just that perfect number.
John Jantsch: So where are you going with all this?
Chris Schembra: So ultimately over the course of the next 20 years, our goal is to continue diving into the space that taking care of your emotional wellbeing, taking care of the relationships in your life by bringing emotion into those relationships will ultimately be good for personal and professional development. So over the next couple of years, we’re just focusing in on creating experiences. We’re known for our 18 person dinners. We’re known for our 800 person dinners. We’re known for going in and giving keynotes, et cetera. So this year the book comes out, and that’s the first type of product. Within the next two to three years we’ll come out with online courses helping really teach these principles and letting people be part of an online community to mastermind together. Over the next five to 10 years, we’ll come out with executive coaching to really be able to treat these founders on a personal one on one level. But so yeah, it just slowly continues as a little coaching and training company that is focused in on helping create connection, because that’s what’s missing, I think the most in this world.
John Jantsch: I thought for sure it was going to be gluten-free pasta was going to be first.
Chris Schembra: You know what? But the interesting thing is, John, when we have people come to the dinner table who come in saying, “I never eat gluten. I hate gluten,” but they’re not celiac. They just dislike gluten. But when they have fresh homemade pasta, it does more for their heart to indulge and connect than the negative it does for the belly to eat gluten.
John Jantsch: Yeah, yeah, totally. I was just throwing that out randomly anyway. I’m not a gluten hater. So, Chris, where can people find out more? I know there’s a website to Gratitude and Pasta, but where would you invite people to come and find out more?
Chris Schembra: Yeah, gratitudeandpasta.com is the main link, and through there you’ll get to learn a lot about the book and all the press that’s come out. And Forbes Magazine, as of the day that we’re recording this podcast, has just named that as the number two book of 2020 to spark human connection. So you can go purchase it on Amazon and write in with any thoughts, questions, or concerns.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, thanks. It was great to catch up with you again, Chris, and hopefully we’ll run into you soon some day out there on the road.
Chris Schembra: I appreciate it, John. Thanks for having us.