The Perfect Summer Picnic Table

What did I picture when I thought of my great summer conversations?

When I think of summertime, relaxing, leisurely conversations with friends and family, I think of backyard gatherings as well as refreshing summer drinks. My perfect summer picnic table incorporates the drink factor – literally!

The inspiration for my conversation comes from the pictures below. A trough in the middle of a picnic table….who thought of this brilliant idea?

picnic table1.png

I have studied the “how to” instructions online and have determined this would be a relatively easy weekend project. Imagine the great conversations that could be had around this table! It would be the talk of the neighbourhood!

What conversations do people want to have this summer? Will they all fit around my picnic table?

Part of the reason that I love working for Dialogue Partners is because we have amazing conversations with interesting people, we partner with great clients and we get to push the P2 boundaries in many of our projects. In a recent DP project, we heard from many voices in the initial planning stage that we needed to hear from “regular people.” Endeavouring to meet the needs of project participants, we brainstormed how we might best reach these “regular people”. The idea of using a “synervoice message” or “robocall” was brought up and investigated as a method of raising project awareness and reaching out to the broad public. After weighing the pros and cons and thinking through the process, we determined it would be a great technique to use for the project.

So back to my picnic table for a moment. How many people could I fit around this table? Six adults maybe? Four adults and two children? Two adults and four children? Seems about right. What about 353 people? Not a chance! I couldn’t even get that many people in my backyard!

Well friends, that’s how many calls I got in the first three hours of the robocall going out. 353!!! We had set up a local number for the project and forwarded it to my cell phone. The volume of call-backs was a huge surprise to our team and an even bigger surprise to me as I had just walked in the door from baseball practice, fixed a bedtime snack for my kids and was about to get showers started. My husband leaped into action as I frantically holed myself away in the office attempting to answer calls and explain the project to those who wanted more information.

I heard a mixed reaction from citizens. A very mixed reaction! A few of the conversations and voicemails (a small percentage) cannot be repeated. Here’s a breakdown of what I heard:

1. I missed your call and didn’t recognize the number. Who are you and what do you want?

2. You want to hear from me? I am so grateful that you called and I have input I’d like to share.

3. Why should I talk to you? The organization is going to do what they want anyway. Don’t call here again.

4. Can you explain more about the project to me? I’m interested in participating but I’m not sure how.

In those three hours of madness I spoke to close to 40 people and listened to hundreds of voicemail messages. At one point, the song “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto” popped into my head and I was giggling to myself all alone in my office at 11:00 PM.  We now refer to this experience as “Robomania.”

Robomania continued for the next three days. We fielded another 500 phone calls and worked quickly to call the people back who wanted more information about the project and/or wanted to leave their input. The phone calls are still trickling in at about 30-40 per day and we have caught up on the backlog. We’ve been reflecting on Robomania as a team…what worked well, what we would improve and the tips and tricks we would keep in mind for the future.

I thought about my picnic table and my Robomania experience and imagined what it would be like to have those 353 people at my table. The mix of emotions, of perspectives, of life experiences, of experiences with the organization. What a motely AND FANTASTIC crew they would be! But really, this is what we wanted. This is what we hope to achieve in P2. We want to hear all of those voices. Every single one.

The man that cursed and swore. The lady who had a brain aneurysm and was so thankful for a way to participate in this important conversation. The man who was visually impaired and overjoyed that we had called him. The senior who I walked through finding the project website on her computer. They all needed to be heard.

I can’t forget about the drink trough – the highlight and feature of my fancy picnic table! What would those 353 people want to drink? And more importantly, would I be able to purchase in bulk at Costco?

I’m sure their drink orders would be as diverse as their perspectives but I think all of us enjoy a refreshing summertime lemonade so I’d choose to serve this Strawberry Lemonade Vodka as my signature cocktail (or mocktail) as well as stocking the drink trough with wine and beer.

Strawberry Lemonade Vodka



1 cup Sugar
1 cup Water


1 pint Fresh Strawberries, Hulled
1 cup Fresh Lemon Juice (about 8 Lemons Should Yield 1 Cup)
1 cup Vodka
6 cups Cold Water, Or As Needed
Sugar To Rim The Glasses

Fresh Strawberries Or Lemon Slices, For Garnish

Make a simple syrup by combining sugar with water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat until the sugar in completely dissolved; swirl the pan occasionally. Let cool.

Once the simple syrup has cooled, puree strawberries in a food processor or blender with ½ cup water.

In a large pitcher, combine strawberry puree, simple syrup and lemon juice. If using the vodka, add it to the pitcher and stir to combine, along with as much ice as desired.

Add 4-6 cups of cold water. The amount of water you use will depend on your tastes, so add as little or as much as you want to achieve desired sweet/tart balance.

Rim your glasses with sugar before pouring, then garnish with fresh strawberries or lemon slices.


To those 353 people who reached out to us on Robomania night, I thank you. I thank you for the experience, for the laughs, for the emotions and for the views you shared with me. If I could fit all of you around my picnic table I would. I’ll be sharing my (yet to be built) picnic table with this other motley crew instead.

Boys summer.jpg

Cheers to a wonderful, relaxing and refreshing summer!


Erin Pote