The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

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Published: 5/15/2018
Every day we find ourselves in gatherings, Priya Parker says in The Art of Gathering. If we can understand what makes these gatherings effective and memorable, then we can reframe and redirect them to benefit everyone, host and guest alike. Parker defines a gathering as three or more people who come together for a specific purpose.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

Key Insights

Every day we find ourselves gathering in some way, whether at work, to grab a drink with friends, or even as part of something like a book club. But do you know what it means to gather? Do you know what it takes to make a gathering exciting or even potentially meaningful?

While there are many things that may go into making a gathering happen, do you truly understand why gatherings are so important? In The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker goes into detail about the importance of connecting with other people and ways to design a gathering that allows for better connections.

How The Art of Gathering will help improve your next gathering

Not only do you learn more about why it is okay to remove people from your invite list, but also ways to improve the overall experience.

You will learn why it’s better to not let a guest serve themselves at a gathering and even how to end the night in the best way possible.

This is a chance to really go deep into why gatherings matter and how they are an important part of the overall human experience. And by better understanding how gatherings work, you can also learn how to make them better than ever.

Key Points

  • Gatherings are important to the human experience, even if we don’t give them enough thought

From childhood, we gather together, whether as a family, with friends, at school, or even at our place of work. From the very beginning, gatherings are more than just a way of life, they are actually a huge part of our lives.

However, there are many gatherings that end up being underwhelming. Some are even rather uninspiring.

Even as there are differences between personal gatherings and professional ones, the one thing that remains the same is how often they remain lackluster and disappointing.

What often ruins a gathering is having an organizer who doesn’t put a lot of thought into the way guests will engage with each other. And even when an organizer or host does look for help with putting together a gathering, they often are only looking at the overall mechanics of making it work and putting it together, rather than how it can bring people together in a thought-provoking way that is also interesting or even meaningful.

  • The first step to a great gathering is having a clear purpose

This might seem like an obvious step, but if you really look at many of the gatherings you attend, you might notice that they all seem to follow a very ritualized formula. And typically this formula does not leave room for the gathering to have a clear purpose.

When planning a gathering, it is best to think about the why over the what. Basically, the first thing you want to do is determine why you are having this gathering.

Once you know exactly why you are holding a gathering (what the purpose of the gathering really is), then you can make the decisions necessary to organize and plan for it. This includes the first step of planning - determining who gets an invitation.

  • To build a meaningful gathering, you may need to exclude some people

Most people have heard the expression, “the more the merrier.” And while this is something we learned as children, it is not necessarily something that works in adulthood.

When we are working on a guest list for a gathering, we are often thinking about who we are including. However, there comes a point in time when it is also important to decide who not to include, even if that is an uncomfortable thought.

While one may think that by excluding people you limit the diversity of the group gathering, but what often happens instead is that you are able to bring together an interesting mix of people.

The key to being a good host is being willing to sometimes make “slightly uncomfortable decisions.”

  • When hosting a gathering it is better to be authoritative over being laid-back

In life, there are many who see being more laid-back as being a good thing. This can lead to people being hesitant to telling other people what to do.

The problem with being a laid-back host who is unwilling to tell people what to do, is that it seems that you are abdicating your responsibilities. This can lead to your gathering being less interesting, engaging or fun than it could be. Instead of being a hands off host, it is better to embrace your ability to be in charge of the gathering.

Even with an authoritative host, it is also important to be selfless, as you are also working in the interest of your guests.

By acting with authority and working to make the most out of the gathering for your guests, you can actually help them gain actual value from coming together.

  • Rules can be a liberating experience at a gathering

Sometimes people look at rules as being a bad thing, however, this is not fair. When done right, rules can be a great way to create gatherings that are meaningful, playful, and even potentially creative.

Rules can encourage a feeling of belonging, as well as the ability to bond with others. At times, rules can be a way to encourage people to interact with each other, thereby pushing to overcome any awkwardness that might come from approaching a new person.

On top of encouraging new behaviors, rules can also change the way people do everyday things. While we usually rely heavily on technology for things, gatherings, especially those with certain rules, can force us to interact with the people around us in person.

For many people, rules are a chance to force us to focus on one specific thing, rather than allowing us an infinite number of choices. This can ultimately be a rather freeing experience.

  • Let your guests know what to expect and make sure that they are honored upon arrival at your gathering

Once you know the purpose of your gather, who to invite, and what rules should be put into place, it is all about how to get things started.

It is important to remember that guests will form an impression of your gathering before things even begin. Make sure your guests know what to expect from you and your gathering.

On top of setting the expectations from the start, it is also important to start your gathering off by honoring your guests. This includes making them feel welcome and like they belong there.

Honoring your guests can be as easy as knowing everyone’s name before they even walk in the door, decorating a table for a simple lunch, or even introducing your guests to each other in a unique way.

A meaningful introduction can be an encouragement of authenticity. Plus, it can also make it easier to remember people you never met before.

  • Gatherings can be designed to let people be their authentic selves

At gatherings, we often try to present our best self, and in many ways that means not being our most authentic selves.

There are a few different ways you can get guests to be real and authentic. One way is to ask your guests to tell a personal or interesting story. This usually leads to stories that are emotional, risky, and even allow us to be vulnerable.

Another option is to reveal who you are. If you want other people to get personal, you have to be willing to do the same thing. When you are willing to take the lead, other people will usually follow.

  • Find a way to end your gathering with a bang, rather than a whimper

The end of a gathering is just as important as the beginning, because it is the final memory you have of the event. It can shape the way you remember the entire gathering.

It is important to not let a gathering end with a whimper. Instead, you almost want to create a type of “last call” situation that lets people know things are wrapping up and they should tie up any loose ends with people they have been interacting with.

Thank everyone for coming to your event and let them know that they can leave whenever they are ready, while also letting them know they do not need to rush out (depending on if this is true or not of course).

Ending a gathering in the right way can make sure that they are remembered for the right reasons - a good time that ended with a bang.

Summary

Gatherings can often feel lackluster, while also feeling like they have no true purpose. However, by breaking free from the standard routines and rituals of a typical gathering you can create an event that exceeds expectations.

Having a purpose, encouraging people to be their authentic self, and embracing your own authority, can all be ways to create the perfect gathering.

As a final note, Priya Parker also pointed out that hosts should remember that location matters too. And being creative with your location can also help to make any gathering special as well. By paying attention to location, hosts can also help focus the purpose of their gathering, bringing everything full circle.

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