The Art of Gathering

Thank you for allowing me to take up some time in your day! Please continue reading to find a summary and notes from the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. 

This book contains practical tips and tricks to host a successful event. With all of us being in the employee event and engagement space, the book aligns with the pain points some of us experience daily. Through this book, we hope to learn new ways to create meaningful and impactful events in our own lives and better understand the foundation of gathering well. 

🤔🤔 Chapter 1: Decide Why You’re Really Gathering

TLDR: Commit to a purpose. Make your gatherings purpose specific, unique and disputable. Make this purpose your bouncer.  

  • The first step in convening people meaningfully is committing to a bold, sharp purpose. When should we gather? And why?
  • A category is not a purpose (i.e. birthday).
  • Many of the ritualized gatherings in more intimate spheres such as; weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduation ceremonies, etc. have been repeated overtime such that we become emotionally attached to the form long after it accurately reflects the values or belief systems of the people participating in it.
  • Ritualized gatherings are never ritualized at the beginning. The initial idea emerges to solve a specific challenge. A structure is designed to bring people together around that need. Then that gathering gets repeated again and again, and often the elements of the gathering become ritualized. People begin to attach meaning not just to the meeting's purpose but also to the meeting’s form. 
  • Over time the form itself plays a role in shaping people's sense of belonging to the group and their identity within that group.
  • When the need begins to shift and the format is solving for an outdated purpose, we can hold onto the forms of our gathering to the detriment of our needs. 
  • Forcing yourself to think about your gathering as stand-taking helps you get clear on its unique purpose. Gatherings that please everyone occur, but rarely thrill. Gatherings that are willing to be alienated have a better chance to dazzle.
  • Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focussed and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses. 
  • Specificity sharpens the gathering because people can see themselves in it. However, if you get really specific then there won't be enough people, so there's that balance between being not too tight of a fit and not too loose of a fit to draw out a sense of togetherness. 
  • Uniqueness is another ingredient. How is this meeting or dinner or conference unique among other meetings, dinners and conferences? One meeting, one Moment in your life that will never happen again.
  • A good gathering purpose should also be disputable. A disputable purpose, on the other hand, begins to be a decision filter.
  • Two kinds of internal resistance surface when attempting to create a meaningful gathering purpose; multitasking and modesty
  • This modesty is related to a desire to not seem like you care too much - a desire to project the appearance of being chill, cool, and relaxed about your gathering. 
  • This hesitancy, which permeates many gatherings, doesn't consider that you may be doing your guests a favor by having a focus. 
  • Having a purpose simply means knowing why you're gathering and doing your participants the honor of being convened for a reason. And once you have that purpose in mind, you will suddenly find it easier to make all the decisions a gathering requires.  
  • Practical tips to guide the creation of a gatherings purpose: 
  1. Zoom out
  2. Dig deeper
  3. What larger problem might this help solve
  4. Reverse Engineer an outcome 
  5. When there really is no purpose do a simple casual hangout, or give people their time back

🚪🙅 Chapter 2: Close Doors

TLDR:  By closing the door you create the room. Closing doors requires a who and a where. Good exclusion activates diversity. Aim for 8 to 12 people if you want a lively but inclusive conversation as a core part of your gathering. People are affected by their environment, so host your gathering in a place and context that embodies the reason for convening and offers displacement (with the influence of perimeter, area and density).

The Who 

  • The guest list is the first test of a robust gathering purpose. The desire to keep doors opened and to not offend is a threat to gathering with a purpose. 
  • You will begin to gather with purpose when you learn to exclude with purpose. When you learn to close doors.
  • The kindness of exclusion. If everyone is invited, no one is invited - In the sense of being truly held by the group. By closing the door you create the room.
  • If inclusion is the purpose and identity of the gathering, a porous boundary is fine. A skilled gatherer must know: in trying not to offend, you fail to protect the gathering itself and the people in it.  
  • The purpose of a gathering can remain somewhat vague and abstract until it is clarified by drawing the boundary between who is in and out. Thoughtful exclusion, in addition to being generous, can be defining. It can help with the important task of communicating to guests what a gathering is. 
  • Questions to exclude well:
  • Who not only fits but also helps fulfill the gathering's purpose? 
  • Who threatens the purpose? 
  • Who, despite being irrelevant to the purpose, do you feel obligated to invite?
  • Who is this gathering for first? 
  • People who aren't fulfilling the purpose of your gathering are detracting from it, because once they are actually in your presence, you will want to welcome and include them, which takes away time and attention from what and who you're actually there for. 
  • Gathering doesn't have to be narrowing a group to the point of sameness. Over-including can keep connections shallow because there are so many different lines through which people could possibly connect. Excluding thoughtfully allows you to focus on a specific, unexplored relationship. 
  • Groups of 6 are conducive to intimacy, high levels of sharing, and discussion through storytelling. Groups of 12 to 15 are still small enough to build trust and intimacy while offering diversity of opinion. Groups of 30 start to feel like a party. Within groups of 150, intimacy and trust is still palpable at the level of the whole group, and before it becomes an audience 

The Where

  • When you choose a venue for logistical reasons, you are letting those logistics override your purpose, when in fact they should be working for it. 
  • Figuring out the venue is about deciding how you want to nudge those chosen few to be the fullest versions of themselves and the best guests. 
  • For starters, seek a setting that embodies the reason for convening.
  • The Château Principle. People are affected by their environment. Choice of venue is one of the most powerful levers over your gas behavior. A savvy gatherer picks a place that elicits the behavior she wants and plays down the behavior she doesn't.  
  • A venue should offer displacement. Displacement is simply about breaking people out of their habits. 
  • Perimeter. Gatherings need perimeters as it's easier for people to talk, to share and to come together. A contained space for gathering helps create the alternative world that a gathering can achieve. Perimeter is about claiming that mental space and making it yours, comfortable and safe. 
  • Simply switching rooms for different parts of an evening’s experience will help people remember different moments better. You go on a journey and there's a narrative together! 
  • Area. The size of a gathering’s space should serve your purpose.  
  • Density.  Divide the square feet of your party space by the number to get your target number of guests. 

❄️🙅 Chapter 3: Don’t Be a Chill Host

TLDR: Chill is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings. If you’re going to create a kingdom for an hour or a day, rule it with generosity. Rely on generous authority to protect, equalize and connect your guests. 

  • The problem with chill is hosts assume that leaving guests alone means that the guests will be left alone, when in fact they will be left with one another. Many hosts seem to imagine that by refusing to exert any power in their gathering, they create a power free gathering. This pulling-back creates a vacuum that others can fill. Those others are likely to exercise power in a manner inconsistent with your gathering’s purpose.
  • What happens when hosts abdicate leadership? They hand the opportunity to take charge to someone else. This pumps guests full of confusion and anxiety. 
  • It isn't enough to just set a purpose, direction, and ground rules. All these things require reinforcement. And if you don't reinforce them, others will step in and enforce their own purposes, directions, and ground rules. 
  • Generous authority is imposing in a way that serves your guests. Generous authority is using power to achieve outcomes that are generous, that are for others. The authority is justified by the generosity.
  • Be generously authoritative in the service of three main goals:
  1. To protect your guests - involves elevating the right to a great collective experience above anyone’s right to ruin that experience.
  2. To equalize your guests - most gatherings benefit by leaving titles and degrees at the door. The coat check for these pretenses is you. If you don’t hang them up, no one else will.
  3. To connect your guests - connection doesn’t happen on its own. You have to design gatherings for the type of connections you want to create.
  • One measure of a successful gathering is that it starts off with a higher number of host-guest connections than guest-guest connections and ends with those tallies reversed in the guest-guest favor. 
  • Avoid ungenerous authority which is running your gathering with an iron fist, and doing so in a way that is in service to yourself above all else. 

⌛🌎 Chapter 4: Create a Temporary Alternative World

TLDR: Gatherings should transport guests to a temporary alternative world. Ditch etiquette in favor of pop-up rules that are suitable for your gathering and your guests. In the war against technology interrupting a gathering, imposing restrictions can be liberating as it cuts down the need to be in so many places at once. The proper use of rules can be monumental in changing guest behavior and making a memorable and inclusive experience. 

  • Pop-up rules are perhaps the new etiquette, more suited to modern realities. 
  • Rule-based gatherings, controlling as they may seem, bring new freedom and openness to gatherings.
  • In an etiquette-based gathering, the ways of behaving flow from your identity and define who you are. In a rules-based gathering, the behaviors are temporary.
  • Etiquette can serve a purpose to maintain pleasantness and politeness and good behavior. But sometimes as a particular etiquette code grows entrenched in a culture, it crowds the possibility of other ways of behaving that might be more appropriate for certain moments.  
  • Whereas etiquette can foster a sense of repression, gathering with rules can allow for boldness and experimentation. 
  • Etiquette allows people to gather because they are the same. Pop-up rules (a rules-based gathering) allows people to gather because they are different - yet open to having the same experience.  
  • The proper use of rules can help you get so much more out of a gathering because it can help temporarily change behavior. 
  • It’s rare for groups of people to do things together for a sustained amount of time. We all carry with us the technical capacity (a smartphone) to be anywhere, to check out of the present time or space. This means we could always be doing anything. So the active choice to do one thing and to do it with a fixed set of people is significant. 
  • That’s the point and the magic. In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction can actually be liberating. 
  • The Law of Two Feet states that at any time during a gathering you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go someplace else.

⚰️📈 Chapter 5: Never Start a Funeral with Logistics

TLDR: All gatherings begin with expectations. A gathering starts the moment guests learn about your event. Between the time guests are made aware of the event and the event commences, put effort into keeping event excitement high by priming attendees and framing your event according to its purpose. When it’s time for the event to begin, usher guests into the world you’ve created and open up the gathering, but stay away from logistics first as this can drain the excitement. 

  • Any gathering begins the moment guests first learn of it. The window of time between the discovery and the formal beginning is an opportunity to prime your guests.
  • The purpose of priming is to signal the tone and mood you’re going for at your gathering. 
  • The 90 percent rule states 90 percent of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand
  • Priming for your gathering can be as simple as a slightly interesting invitation, as straightforward as asking your guests to do something instead of bring something. 
  • If you do ask anything other your guests, hold their hand from the moment you first let them know about your gathering
  • The invitation is just the beginning. Once the invitations are out be conscious of the moments prior to the event commencing where you can sustain excitement.
  • Priming matters because a gathering is a social contract, it’s in the pregame window that this contract is drafted and implicitly agreed on.  
  • A social contract for a gathering answers the question, “What am I willing to give - physically, psychologically, financially, emotionally, and otherwise - in return for what I expect to receive?
  • A part of priming your event is framing the event. This is where your unique and specific event purpose comes into play. 
  • Between priming and preparation comes ushering. Usering refers to managing your guests' transition into the gathering you have created. 
  • One way to help people leave their other worlds and enter yours is to walk them through a passageway, physical or metaphorical.
  • After guests are ushered into your event it’s time to launch. The opening is an important opportunity to establish the legitimacy of your gathering because attention is at its highest at the outset. 
  • Tips to opening your gathering well:
  • Don’t start with logistics or any type of housekeeping items, focus on the purpose of your gathering.
  • Avoid the cold open. The cold open is the practice of starting a TV show directly with a scene as opposed to opening credits.
  • Honor and awe your guests. Do this by placing your guests above you. 
  • Fuse your guests. Turn your group of attendees into a tribe.
  • Go above and beyond. Within your opening, try to embody the reason you felt moved to bring this group of human beings together.

🙅🙅 Chapter 6: Keep Your Best Self Out of My Gathering

TLDR: The best gathering happens when people can be their most authentic selves. Sometimes the bad things are much more interesting and liberating to share than the good things. Creating an environment where people can be vulnerable requires you as a host to be vulnerable yourself. This ask of openness can be primed at the invitation and can be reinforced through specific and meaningful rules that disappear once the gathering is over.

  • Realness can be designing within your gathering through meaningful and specific rules
  • Aim for the sprout speech not the stump speech. 
  • When sharing speeches at a gathering avoid the stump speech which is the pre-planned, baked spiel that people have given a thousand times. Instead opt for a sprout speech which is the most interesting and fresh part of the tree. 
  • Throughout your gathering push to learn about people’s experiences over their ideas. This fosters a greater sense of connection between guests. 
  • A meaningful gatherer does not fear negativity, instead, creates space for the dark and the dangerous to be shared in a safe space. 
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s often easier to get people to share when they are in a room full of strangers. 
  • To get people to be their most authentic selves, the invitation matters. Invite people to leave outside the door those parts of their lives and work that are going great. Everyone is interested in the parts they’re still figuring out. 
  • Early in the gathering, you, the host, need to go there yourself. If you’re hoping your guests are more real, you need to be real yourself. 
  • When it comes to risk management, as the host you’re asking everyone to participate, but letting people decide what and how much they want to share.

🌪️✅ Chapter 7: Cause Good Controversy

TLDR: Good controversy can make a gathering matter, but good controversy doesn’t just happen. To make good controversy happen, make it explicit and ritualize it. Invite in good controversy when the gift it brings outweighs the risks. 

  • Do not not talk about sex, politics and religion. 
  • Good controversy is the kind of contention that helps people look more closely at what they care about, when there is danger but also real benefit in doing so. 
  • The goal of harmony over everything else makes a gathering dull. The goals of harmony burrows its way into the core of the gathering and becomes a kind of pretender purpose, hampering the very thing the gathering was supposed to be about. 
  • Good controversy is much more likely to happen when it is invited in but carefully structured. One way to achieve this is to move controversy from implicit to explicit by ritualizing it. 
  • Good controversy is only to be added to a gathering when the benefit of doing so outweighs the risks and harm. 

✔️🔚 Chapter 8: Accept That There Is an End

TLDR: Accepting the impermanence of a gathering is part of the art. If you struggle to know when the natural end should be, initiate a “last call” in preparation for your closing. A strong closing that acknowledges and recognizes your guests requires looking inward to turn outward. 

  • Most hosts allow the clock to determine when a gathering is over. 
  • Closing matters. Great hosts like great actors understand that how you end things, like how you begin them, shapes people’s experience, sense of meaning and memory. 
  • The first step to closing a gathering is to accept that there is an end. 
  • Just as before opening your event there should be a period of ushering, so with closings there is a need to prepare people for the end. This is not so much ushering as last call.
  • A last call is not a closing; it’s the beginning of an outbound ushering. 
  • A strong closing has two phases, corresponding to two distinct needs among your guests: looking inward and turning outward. 
  • Looking inward is about taking a moment to understand, remember, acknowledge, and reflect on what has transpired and to bound the group one last time. 
  • Turning outward is about preparing to part from one another and retake your place in the world. 
  • Just as you don’t open a gathering with logistics, you should never end a gathering with logistics, and that includes thank-yous. Find a way to honor your guests in a meaningful way.