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    • I was given a copy of this book, THE ART OF GATHERING: HOW WE MEET AND WHY IT MATTERS by Priya Parker, by a friend, and wanted to share all the incredible insights in this dense book. Priya Parker is described on her official site as a "facilitator and strategic advisor" who is also "the founder of Thrive Labs, at which she helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings...Her clients have included 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 Affairs." This impressive list of clients makes you wonder - how can the advice of what worked or works for a major multinational organization or NGO possibly work for my dinner party or neighborhood get-together?

      Fascinatingly, Parker is able to draw correlations and key learnings from her experiences to give you, the reader, ways to improve ANY and ALL events. In her introduction, Parker shares:

      "Any number of studies support a notion that's obvious to many of us: Much of the time we spend in gatherings with other people disappoints us...The 2015 State of Enterprise Work survey found that "wasteful meetings" were employees' top obstacle to getting work done. We don't even seem to be thrilled with the time we spend with our friends...As much as our gatherings disappoint us, though, we tend to keep gathering in the same tired ways. Most of us remain on autopilot when we bring people together, following stale formulas, hoping that the chemistry o fa good meeting, conference, or party will somehow take care of itself, that thrilling results will magically emerge from the usual staid inputs. It is almost always a vain hope."

      So where do we go from here?

    • Parker starts the book with Chapter One, entitled "Decide why you're REALLY gathering." In it, she outlines:

      "There are so many good reasons for coming together that often we don't know precisely why we are doing so. You are not alone if you skip the first step in convening people meaningfully: committing to a bold, sharp purpose. When we skip this step, we often let old or faulty assumptions about why we gather dictate the form of our gatherings. We end up gathering in ways that don't serve us, or not connecting when we ought to...The art of gathering begins with purpose: When should we gather? And why?"

      In the case of a book club, Parker asks you to look beyond simply just reading a book as a group: "When we don't examine the deeper assumptions behind WHY we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative...when we gather, we often make the mistake of conflating category with purpose. We outsource our decisions and our assumptions about our gatherings to people, formats, and contexts that are not our own. We get lulled into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering - the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall - will be instructive to designing it."

      Parker then shares an example, The Red Hook Community Justice Center, as one that re-imagined a court proceeding as being something restorative for the community, rather than a traditional punitive format, with vastly improved results.

      Parker then discusses Ritualized Gatherings. We traditionally think of these as baby showers, or weddings, but they can be "a presidential debate or a sales conference or a gala fundraiser" which then get "repeated again and again, year after year, and often the elements of the gathering become ritualized." "People come to expect these elements of form and event take comfort in them" meaning that "over time, the form itself plays a role in shaping people's sense of belonging to the group and their identity within that group: this is who we are. This is the way we do things about here." When things change, and the format becomes outdated, this can result in a dissonance where the event form is no longer serving the needs.

      A great example Parker includes are the famous "Page One" meetings at the New York Times, which had to be updated to meet the changing needs of a primarily digital audience. Sam Dolnick, an assistant editor for the NYTimes, is quoted as saying "We changed the meeting as a deliberate way to change the culture and values of the newsroom. We wanted people to think less about print, so we needed the meeting to be less about print. We used the meeting as a way to shift the values and the mindset." As part of that shift, the seating was updated - the big round table removed, seating changed to have top editors on one side, editors from other desks seated on the opposing side, meeting timing shifting to accommodate new deadlines and groups, and even a shift in the meeting structure. Instead of beginning with pitches, now the meeting began with audience statistics, editors sharing what they were working on, and asking specific questions, debating the experience to reflect the "here and now."

      Parker also asks you to "commit to a gathering about Something," as opposed to being a show about nothing (like Seinfeld). She says:

      "These may seem like unreasonable criteria for a meeting or poker night or conference. You may well ask, 'Why does my gathering have to take a stand?' It's not the Battle of the Alamo. I have heard this question before...Forcing yourself to think about your gathering as stand-taking helps you get clear on its unique purpose. Gatherings that please everyone occur, but they rarely thrill. Gatherings that are willing to be alienating - which is different than BEING alienating - have a better chance to dazzle."

      So... how do you commit to something? Parker recommends you start out by being specific.

      In the case of Meetup.com, Parker interviews Scott Heiferman of Meetup who shares that "The more specific the Meetup, the more likelihood for success." Ideally, you want to strike a balance between making something as descriptive and fitting as possible, while not being so specific as to not reach a critical mass of people. Other good tips? Uniqueness - what sets this event apart from other similar events or conferences - and being disputable, which Parker defines as finding a purpose to guide you as you plan and deal with the inevitable bumps that will arise on the way of planning the event. To help you craft your purpose, you're given a chart in the chapter as well!

    • If you're trying to hold an event to multitask or be "chill," it is going to be impaired from the outset.

      Parker explains that multitasking puts your goals at odds with each other, while modesty, a desire to appear "chill, cool, and relaxed about your gathering" is at odds with successful events.

      As Parker states:

      "Gathering well isn't a chill activity. If you want chill, visit the Arctic. But modesty can also derive from the idea that people don't want to be imposed on. This hesitancy, which permeates many gatherings, doesn't consider that you may be doing your guests a favor by having a focus."

      By giving yourself a focus - a purpose - you use that as your bouncer to help determine what is a fit for the event, and what isn't.

      See Patrick Swayze in ROAD HOUSE for a great example of a bouncer. Parker explains:

      "Make purpose your bouncer. Let it decide what goes into your gathering and what stays out. When in doubt about any element, even the smallest detail, hark back to that purpose and decide in accordance with it."

      Speaking of bouncers: who gets on the guest list?

      "Inviting people is easy. Excluding people can be hard."

      But is being selective about a guest list mean... or actually good? Parker elaborates further:

      "Here is what the skilled gatherer must know: in trying not to offend, you fail to protect the gathering itself and the people in it. I have learned that far too often in the name of inclusion and generosity - two values I care about deeply - we fail to draw boundaries about who belongs and why."

      Parker shares several examples of how a group that's defined and focus actually empowers the participants to be their most true selves - selves that might not be welcome or even possible to share in a more porous, open group.

      "When you exclude, the rubber of purpose hits the road. When you're hosting a gathering with others, as opposed to hosting on your own, you should spend time not only reflecting on the purpose of the gathering but then also, ideally, aligning on it with the other hosts. Why are we doing this? Whom should we invite? Why? To put it another way, 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."

      Parker shares the inspiration of Nora Abousteit and her late father Osman Abousteit, the founder of Giessen, Germany's first students-only bar, Scarabee. By enforcing the bar to be for college students only, Abousteit set the bar up for success - a success it is still experiencing today - with the student community.

      So then how does one begin to exclude generously? Parker gives the questions she uses as starting points with clients:

      "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 obliged to invite?"

      A big concern people express about thoughtful exclusion relates to diversity. However, by following these guidelines, Parker explains that you're actually creating an environment where diversity can flourish even more:

      "When I talk about generous exclusion, I am speaking of ways of bounding a gathering that allow the diversity in it to be heightened and sharpened, rather than diluted in a hodgepodge of people."

      And one great example? Judson Manor in Ohio, a retirement community where music students who are willing to volunteer their time giving recitals, spending time with residents, and providing art and music therapy are able to live rent-free. The result has been a win-win for both retirement home residents and the music students who are both able to benefit: but the program does have to curate so that only students who are truly committed to giving back to the community participate. As Parker states, "The tightly bound program transformed it from a service program into a relationship between young artists and aging ears." This took a good idea to a great one.

    • Parker then tackles the subject of group size. How many people at a gathering is ideal to maximize results?

      Parker lists her magic numbers as being 6, 12-15, 30 and 150.

      Groups of 6 are perfect for small and intimate storytelling. Groups of 12-15 are still small enough for trust, but big enough to support a skilled moderator. Think the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table.

      Interestingly Parker states that "12, give or take, is the number beyond which many start-ups begin to have people problems as they grow."

      Fascinating, right?

      For groups of 30, the vibe becomes more festive, regardless of whether the event convening everyone is meant to be a party. And lastly, 150 is a number that may be familiar to you as Dunbar's Number, the number above which you cease to feel like a "tribe."

      Parker then brings up how incredibly important VENUE is to determining the success of a gathering, event or meeting. Space can set up mood, can help maximize results, can help people feel more connected. Conversely, the wrong type of space can set up an event for failure.

      A great venue can event bring strategic displacement, or breaking people out of their habits: "waking people up from the slumber of their own routines."

      Why eat on land when you can eat in the ocean, as British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and his friends did in Kalamata in Greece in the 1940s?

      Why not use an object such as famous photographer Platon's box to encourage your viewer to be displaced, and thereby connect them to a new experience or energy?

      Then, once you've determined the best venue and the best displacement, think about perimeter, area, and density.

      As quoted in the book, event planner Billy Mac provides a chart to help you determine the ideal density of the event to optimize for success. Looking for a Sophisticated cocktail party? Ideal ratio is 12 sq. ft per guest. Looking for a Lively Into the Night / Dance party? 6 sq. ft per guest should suffice. You get the idea!

    • We mentioned this earlier with the penguin photo, but Parker emphasizes time and time again the key principle: Don't be a chill host.

      (above image from BATMAN AND ROBIN)

      Parker explains that Chill is "the desire to host while being noninvasive." But she explains "Chill is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings...I want to convince you to assume your proper powers as a host...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 need to own your role, and the gravity involved with it, in order to make sure your guests are as comfortable as possible. When you own your Generous Authority as a host, you're making sure that things go smoothly and well.

      Parker brings up as an example of Generous Authority, in that of:

      "Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED conference, walking onstage in Monterey, California, holding a pair of scissors. He walked towards Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, a speaker, friend and longtime attendee who, despite his familiarity with [the event's] norms, had violated its policy forbidding neckties by wearing one that day. Generous authority, in service of the larger gathering and its values, compelled Wurman to approach Negroponte before he could start his talk and theatrically cut off much of his tie. Which he did."

      Generous authority keeps hecklers from taking control. It keeps an event focused and protected. Think the Alamo Drafthouse removing people who talk from a movie: that improves the experience for everyone.

      Another great principle of Generous Authority? Equalizing your guests. You can do this in many different ways.

      In the case of President Obama, he "noticed that men were far more likely to raise both their hands and be called on in public question-and-answer settings. So he started an experiment. Whether addressing students at Benedict College, workers in Illinois, or even his own press corps, he would insist on taking questions in a 'boy, girl, boy, girl' fashoin. If no woman stood up with a question when the women's turn came, Obama would wait until one did."

      The moral of the story? "You don't have to be the leader of the free world to equalize your guests. You just have to be aware of the power dynamics at your gathering and be willing to do something about them."

    • And what happens if authority turns...ungenerous?

      No one wants to be an event tyrant, or throw a terrible event. But Parker explains that "The host most likely to succumb to ungenerous authority is the one who fears losing control. It is this obsession with knowing how events will play out that we often make them go poorly for the guest, for the sake of calming ourselves."

      You have to fight that urge to timidity, or excessive navel-gazing. Parker shares the example of an overly-indulgent liquor brand event that started out with the intention of engaging influential people to support the brand. Instead, due to ham-handed event hosting, it becomes a nightmare that results in exactly the kind of backlash that they weren't looking for. It got people talking, and not in a good way.

      So how can you make rules that guide an event without stifling it?

      Parker discusses etiquette, and how it differentiates from popup rules. Etiquette we think of as being something that you're taught - manners, politeness. And "If the standards of etiquette are fixed, imperious and exclusionary, pop-up rules have the power to flip those traits on their head, creating the possibility of more experimental, humble, and democratic - and satisfying!- gatherings." One such example is the Diner en Blanc, an international phenomenon that despite its many rules, actually creates a more egalitarian and diverse experience. By having such defined structure, this event empowers its guests to meet each other more richly.

      The actual process of inviting your guests allows you to prime your guests for an ideal experience. Parker discusses how "The window of time between the discovery and the formal beginning is an opportunity to prime your guests. It is a chance to shape their journey into your gathering." And, importantly, 90% of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand. So that process of both preparing the basics of what you need, but also preparing your guests for the type of experience you are looking to build collaboratively, is key.

      A common example of this is allowing your guests to contribute to your event. "Asking guests to contribute to a gathering ahead of time changes their perception of it. Many of us have no trouble asking guests to bring a bottle of wine or a side dish, but rarely do we consider what else we might demand of them in advance." Food for thought, right?

      Each gathering is a social contract. So you, as the host, are crafting this contract and framing it from the initial moment you send out invitations to the goodbyes at the end.

      Parker brings in a lot of inspiration and strategic examples to illuminate these points, such as Third Rail Projects, an NYC-based experiential theater company that uses passageways and doorways to "frame" an experience for their audience strategically, as seen in the above from their show The Grand Paradise. Introductions help create a psychological threshold: "in everyday gatherings, it can be as simple as lighting a candle or making a welcome announcement or pouring every guest a special drink at the same time. But the final transition between the guests' arrival and the opening is a threshold moment. Anticipation builds...a magical kingdom exists, and you are invited inside."

      There's so much more in this book - launching an event! Politics! Logistics! When to say thank you and deliver general housekeeping stuff! 15 Toasts! Vulnerability (*see: above photo of Brene Brown)! Stranger Quotients! Controversy!

      But I don't want to spoil all of it.

      If you plan events, or are even interested in making the events you attend more meaningful, it's worth your time to check out this book.

    • I absolutely love the topic, though am such an introvert hahaha.. But this brings me memories of an article about someone with great hosting skills!

      At the dinner, Clooney set black, designer luggage bags in front of each of them. He prepared a speech, telling them all how much they meant to him, and how grateful he was that they each let him sleep on their couches when he was a struggling actor.

      When they opened their luggage, they each found a pile of $20 bills that totaled up to $14 million.