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Matthew Necci, partner at Halloran Sage, leads the June Sip Session at Spaces in West Hartford.

A sip of wine, a sip of beer, a sip of an idea. It’s perhaps the best way to describe the difficult-to-explain Sip Sessions gatherings happening around the state.

“Sip Sessions came about as a result of us discovering some things in our work with organizations,” says Sip Sessions mastermind Brent Robertson, co-founder and partner of Fathom, a strategy and creative consultancy which began as a digital branding and marketing company 15 years ago.

The keystone idea of the monthly sessions, during which thought leaders facilitate group conversation based around a topic, is to shape your own future, not merely navigate the path already in front of you. Mostly held around the Hartford area, the sessions are free but registration is required and they usually fill up. Everyone is encouraged, but not mandated, to bring a beverage to share. “It’s a way to taste a new experience,” Robertson says. “And that’s why we encourage everyone to bring and share not just a beverage, but themselves.”

Of course not everyone present imbibes, and Robertson says the intent is not to reduce people’s inhibitions. “There are other things at work that have people take their walls down.”

I attended a Sip in April at the Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford led by Suzi Craig, senior director of strategic partnerships and policy at Mental Health Connecticut. (The session leaders, topic and venue change each month.) People who arrive early grab a drink and engage in small talk, and it’s immediately clear Sip Sessions has a group of regulars. About half of the 75 or so in attendance are repeat sippers.

Craig is also a yoga instructor, and her topic is “Let Your Body Talk, and Tell Your Mind to Take a Walk.” She mentions a report in The New England Journal of Medicine that states 80 to 90 percent of our health symptoms are related to stress. After addressing the group for a short time, Craig has everyone in the room close their eyes for a breathing exercise intended to strengthen the mind-body connection. We then break into groups of four for more breathing and a discussion of the thoughts that cropped up.

The big payoff is the full-group discussion at the end. It begins with more glancing around than hand-raising, but once it gets going it’s a snowball rolling downhill. Profound, personal, motivating and moving — people share deep anxieties, how they lose sight of what’s important, how they struggle with the work-life balance. It’s a room of seemingly accomplished and successful people of all ages who aren’t above dealing with the same worries and mental obstacles as anyone else. “We often think that we have to come to a conversation with all the answers,” Craig says. “Yet I think if you come to the conversation curious, wanting to know what other people think about something that you’re interested in, then it can lead into new directions.”

Sarah Laub, the executive director of West Hartford Chiropractic, frequently attends Sip Sessions, including a particularly impactful one while she was in the middle of a divorce. The leader that day spoke about when good enough is good enough. “This concept was extremely helpful and timely because my divorce was very complicated on many levels,” Laub says. “At some point, thanks to this lecture, I had this ringing in my head, sometimes good enough just has to be good enough. And that helped me settle things and be done with it and move on with my life.”

Robertson says Sip Sessions are the anti-TED Talk, and that the best things are learned through experience. “You can read 1,000 books on swimming and it makes no difference until you get in the water.”

Sip Sessions lineup

Here are the topics and speakers on tap for the rest of the year. To attend you must register at Locations vary and are announced shortly before each event.

Aug. 14: Inspiring activism — AJ Johnson, senior pastor at the Urban Hope Refuge Church in Hartford

Sept. 18: What can happen when empathy becomes a bigger part of your life — Jenn T. Grace, founder/CEO of Publish Your Purpose

Nov. 13: Did you bring a knife to a gunfight? — Karen Senteio, CIO of Verve Coaching, at Upward Hartford

Dec. 11: Be selfish to be selfless — Byron Lazine, CEO of One + Company

Dec. 18: Society 5.0 — Ripi Singh, founder of Inspiring Next, and Brent Robertson, partner at Fathom

This article appeared in the August 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.