The Art of Gathering

How We Meet and Why It Matters
By Priya Parker

A Book Review

“The Art of Gathering… is for anyone who has ever wondered how to take an ordinary moment with others and make it unforgettable — and meaningful.”

Priya Parker, a professional facilitator, trained in group dialogue and conflict resolution, sees her job as “…to put the right people in a room and help them to collectively think, dream, argue, heal, envision, trust, and connect for a specific larger purpose.” Parker has moderated, facilitated, advised, hosted and/or attended, everything from dinner parties, weddings and funerals, to internal company discussions, racial dialogues, gatherings for state and federal officials, and so much more. These coming togethers have inspired a unique book “part journey and part guidebook.”

Parker takes us on a journey through the inner life and power of a gathering of people together. In fact, she sees each gathering as a unique opportunity for creating a meaningful experience. Parker believes that when we plan a gathering, we often over-focus on the logistics — what we should serve, where the event should take place, who we should invite, rather than why we gather in the first place. Digging into the reason, the purpose of why we are gathering, is what can turn an ordinary event into something exceptional.

Parker sees every detail in a gathering as an opportunity to bring more meaning to it. In taking us step by step through each of the elements that make up a gathering, she enlights us with delightful stories from her own experiences, or from one of the many gatherers she has interviewed. A class for museum educators, a retirement community, a courtroom, a movie theatre chain, and a Tuscan butcher are just a few of the many examples she draws from to bring to life her belief in how even small interventions can make a big difference in how people come away from an event.

Parker begins with strategies for defining and clarifying our purpose when bringing people together. Discovering purpose is central to creating an event. Understanding our purpose in gathering people together becomes a framework of meaning within which we make all decisions about details. Creating that framework helps us avoid falling into old habits of creating events in the same way we so often have done in the past, using formats that don’t apply to today’s particular circumstances, which can lead us to miss the opportunity to create something significant. We must dig deep and explore the reason we gather, one that is “specific, unique, and disputable.”

Many of us who host, sit back once the actual event is in progress. We may feel that it is better to be relaxed, rather than too controlling. Parker challenges that idea: “…who wants to sail on a skipperless ship?” We should govern our gatherings with “generous authority.” The host should oversee their event with confidence and for the sake of their guests; protecting and guiding their guests so other guests don’t send the event in an unplanned direction. “In gatherings, once your guests have chosen to come into your kingdom, they want to be governed – gently, respectfully, and well.” As a host you are responsible for your guests from the moment they walk in the door. If you abdicate that commitment, you open up the possibility that your vision will wander off in another direction.

Once a guest hears of an event, they are thinking about it and anticipating it. Therefore, according to Parker, an event actually begins “at the moment of discovery.” So, from that moment, to the moment they enter your door, you as the host have an opportunity to help shape the way they arrive at the event. Whether its a corporate brainstorming session, where we are relying on our employees to bring their bold ideas, or a holiday gathering where we are bringing together both strangers and friends, Parker offers ideas on how we can prime our guests before they arrive. Preparing our guests can be as simple as sending a relevant article to read, an unusual invitation, or a request to bring something.

Throughout the book, Parker gives us valuable nuggets, as she helps us transport our guests into what she believes should be a “temporary alternate world.” She gently guides us in how we should greet our guests, how we should escort them from the world they just arrived from and into our “small kingdom,” how we can help our guests connect, how to best take advantage of those first moments “when people are at their most ready to be inspired” and the importance of having a thoughtful ending to our gatherings. Why is the ending important? Because, Parker says ..”how you end things, like how you begin them, shapes people’s experience, sense of meaning, and memory,” and a well considered closing offers “…the chance of enduring in people’s hearts.”

I love Parker’s insights on assuring meaningful experiences for our guests. Parker makes clear: successful events require lots of coordination, research, and logistical support. With meticulous attention to detail, and stellar organizational skills, a Virtual Assistant is a tremendous asset in helping you plan an event. Whether researching speakers, venues and vendors, communicating with sponsors and attendees, coordinating printing for event invitations and tackling many more items on your event planning checklist, our Ninjas can help your event be everything you want it to be.

Reach out to the 100Ninjas Team and learn more about how we can help you focus on what you do best.