A few times a year, all of us at OutmarkⓇ pick a book to read together. This time, as we’re looking to think outside the box for pandemic-era holiday celebrations, we dug into Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.
According to Parker, there are several elements that can make your gathering meaningful and memorable, whether it’s a wedding or a monthly meeting with your digital marketing agency. Let’s take a look at some of our top takeaways.
Why are you really gathering?
Parker states that you should “think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.” A bold purpose must be:
- Specific. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.
- Unique. How is this gathering different from others you will host this year?
- Disputable. An indisputable purpose won’t help you make decisions.
- Deliberate. Ask why you’re doing it. Every time you get to another, deeper reason, ask why again. Keep asking why until you hit a belief or value.
Who is this gathering for first?
By practicing good exclusion, you protect the gathering’s ability to fully commit to its purpose. Ask yourself:
- Who not only fits but helps fulfill the gathering’s purpose?
- Who threatens the purpose?
- Who, despite being irrelevant to the purpose, do I feel obliged to invite?
What is the best venue?
Venues come with scripts — people will behave differently and have different expectations depending on the location. So seek a setting that embodies the reason for your convening.
Sometimes just reconfiguring a room is enough to create a sense of specialness and invoke the event’s purpose. One note: Parker says that gatherings need perimeters because a contained space allows people to relax (even a picnic blanket does the trick!).
Practice generous authority.
Design your gatherings for the kinds of connections you want to create. As a host, look within yourself for the courage to be authoritative in service of three goals:
- Protecting your guests – from each other, boredom, and technology
- Temporarily equalizing your guests: “The coat check for their pretenses is you”
- Connect your guests with each other
Create good controversy.
Generative and respectful controversy can make a gathering matter. But a host must set rules and be deliberate in how they manage the controversy. Good controversy is:
- Refusing to let a well-meaning desire not to offend devolve into saying nothing that matters
- Generative—it leads to something better than the status quo
- More likely to happen when invited in but carefully structured
If you’re trying to decide whether to invite good controversy, ask yourself what the gift would be, what the risk is, and if it’s worth it to pursue.
Don’t ghost your guests! Planning a real ending will help shape your guests’ experience, sense of meaning, and memory of your gathering. Begin the ending by looking inward: what was the purpose and what meaning has been uncovered? And conclude the ending by helping your guests transition back into the everyday world with a parting gift, kind words, or a group cheer.