Gathering is an essential human activity whether at work, at school, or at home.
Unfortunately, gatherings often fail to achieve their purpose, resulting in lackluster and unproductive moments for both those who participate in them and those who create them.
There aren’t many books exploring the science and the art of how come together yet, which is surprising, considering that we, as humans, are social beings.
That’s why I was thrilled when The Art of Gathering came out last year. I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve talked to or written with recently.
As someone who has dedicated more than a decade of her life on designing food gatherings, I thought: “Finally, someone wrote a book about this topic!”
Whether you are a professional event designer & organizer, facilitator, culture leader, community and employee experience manager, or someone who likes hosting people, you’ll find plenty of ideas. It’s clear, highly approachable, and filled with stories and case studies that back up the author’s process.
In this article, I’ll share why I like this book and report a selection of extracts, which will be extremely valuable for those people who gather and host.
But first, get to know Priya Parker
Priya Parker is a facilitator and strategic advisor, and the founder of Thrive Labs.
She helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings for clients like the Museum of Modern Art, LVMH, the World Economic Forum, meetup.com, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the Union for Concerned Scientists, and Civitas Public Affair.
All this to say that she knows a great deal about gathering people from all different worlds.
What makes this book special
The short answer is that the author takes a stand.
Priya Parker argues that many of the gatherings in our lives are boring and ineffective–which, luckily, they don’t have to be. She walks the reader through her approach to creating meaningful and memorable gatherings, whether for work or play.
She presents many examples to show what works, what doesn’t, and why from work conferences and meetings to festivals, dinners, and funeral ceremonies.
Some recommendations for you if you’re in the gathering space
Meetings, workshops, off-sites, and dinner parties are commonplace at most organizations. This book includes recommendations for all these types of gatherings.
Here are some ideas that I’ve tried and tested, and that work.
#1: Let clients choose spaces and locations that resonate with their deeper goals.
“For a workshop on people trying to find their path forward in life, a twelfth-century monastery in southeastern France set on one of the routes to the Camino de Santiago, a literal path of pilgrimage. For an architecture firm discussing the future of cities, the Hollywood Hills overlooking all of Los Angeles. When a location inspires a client and makes them feel closer to their purpose, it makes my job as a facilitator much easier, as they are already halfway there.”
“So a well-chosen venue might signal to people what your gathering is ultimately about (embodiment). It might nudge people to behave in particular ways that make the most out of this coming together. And a venue can and should do one further thing: displace people.”
“So a well-chosen venue might signal to people what your gathering is ultimately about (embodiment)
Further reading: I’ve written about the importance of choosing a venue that resonates with your vision.
#2: Pay attention to both metaphorical and physical doors.
“Gatherings need perimeters. A space for a gathering works best when it is contained. […] This rule is commonly violated in restaurants. Tables are often set up so that there is no “head” at the table, with chairs facing each other in two rows.
I once went to dinner at a restaurant with five friends. Our table was three square tables pushed together, with three chairs on each side. Throughout the evening, the conversation never really took off. It was difficult to have one conversation, as the person in the middle had to look left and right, as if watching a tennis match, and eventually the table broke off into two separate conversations. The two ends of the table remained “leaky.” It didn’t feel cozy or intimate.
“Gatherings need perimeters. A space for a gathering works best when it is contained.
We should have simply asked the waiter to remove one of the square tables and moved two people to the ends. We would then have had a contained space (through the placement of our bodies) and it would have been easier for us to talk, to share–to come together.”
#3: Carry your guests across a proverbial threshold
“Hosts often don’t realize that there tends to be unfilled, unseized time between guests’ arrival and the formal bell-ringing, glass-clinking, or other form of opening. Make use of this no-man’s-land.
Managing this entry is important because none of us shows up as a blank slate to anything. You have seven meetings in a row, and the fourth one goes badly, and you go into the fifth meeting distracted and spent. You walk into Thursday’s small group at your church after crawling through traffic to get your daughter to basketball practice on time.
“The idea of helping people transition from one state to another is embedded in many rituals of traditional societies. It’s the equivalent of a doctor taking off her jacket and putting on her white coat as she enters her office. It’s the act of Muslims washing their hands and feet before prayer. It can be the removal of shoes before a tea ceremony. The only difference with modern gathering is that the passageway is not prescribed. You need to create it.”
“The idea of helping people transition from one state to another is embedded in many rituals of traditional societies.
What is your biggest insight or takeaway, and how can you turn that insight into action?
I want to hear from you if you’ve read The Art of Gathering. I know that these suggestions require a bit of creativity and imagination but they can make a difference. Play around and let me know in the comments below by sharing as much detail as possible in your reply.
Important: share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments. Links to other posts, videos, etc. will be deleted as they come across as spammy.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!