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

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"Hosts of all kinds, this is a must-read!" --Chris Anderson, owner and curator of TED
From the host of the New York Times podcast  Together Apart , an exciting new approach to how we gather that will transform the ways we spend our time together—at home, at work, in our communities, and beyond.

In  The Art of Gathering , Priya Parker argues that the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive--which they don't have to be. We rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play.

Drawing on her expertise as a facilitator of high-powered gatherings around the world, Parker takes us inside events of all kinds to show what works, what doesn't, and why. She investigates a wide array of gatherings--conferences, meetings, a courtroom, a flash-mob party, an Arab-Israeli summer camp--and explains how simple, specific changes can invigorate any group experience.

The result is a book that's both journey and guide, full of exciting ideas with real-world applications.  The Art of Gathering  will forever alter the way you look at your next meeting, industry conference, dinner party, and backyard barbecue--and how you host and attend them.

320 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 15, 2018

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About the author

Priya Parker

4 books308 followers
Priya Parker is a facilitator and strategic advisor.

She is the founder of Thrive Labs, at which she helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings. She works with teams and leaders across technology, business, the arts, fashion, and politics to clarify their vision for the future and build meaningful, purpose-driven communities. 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.

Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Parker has worked on race relations on American college campuses and on peace processes in the Arab world, southern Africa, and India. She is a founding member of the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. She has been appointed a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Values Council and the New Models of Leadership Council. She is also a senior expert at Mobius Executive Leadership.

Priya is the author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Riverhead Books, 2018). She is passionate about helping people create gatherings in their work and life that are transformative and meaningful for the people in them. She is also the co-creator of the 15 Toasts dinner series format and I Am Here Days. Her TEDx talk on purpose has been viewed more than 1 million times.

Priya studied organizational design at M.I.T., public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and political and social thought at the University of Virginia. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,363 reviews
Profile Image for Jena.
170 reviews30 followers
November 2, 2018
If anyone is familiar with 'The Good Place', it honestly feels like Tahani wrote this in an unironic way.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books962 followers
May 24, 2018
How to Win Friends and Gather People

Everyone needs this book! Whether you’re hosting a birthday party, a major business conference or just looking to improve people skills, these guiding theories on gathering are essential.

Priya understands the magic that happens when people get together for a purpose, and she also understands how miserable it can be without proper planning. Her examples are vast and eye-opening, and she presents her theories with humor and grace.

I rarely read non-fiction, and was hesitant that an entire book on gathering could keep my attention, but it absolutely did. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Shannon Hong.
223 reviews7 followers
July 9, 2018
Transformative. Ha. But I’m serious.

This book reframes the way I think about gathering people and hosting events.

My key lessons:
1. Chill is overrated: meaningful events require structure and direction
2. Open and close with purpose— set the stage and allow guests to reflect in the event itself
3. More is not necessarily merrier, be selective and scrutinizing with the people you invite

My only beef might be with the writing, but it’s definitely made up for by the content
Profile Image for Caiti S.
276 reviews250 followers
November 4, 2018
Marginally better than a similar book I read recently titled Belong by Radha Agrawal. As a professional meeting facilitator, Priya Parker has real experience in creating meaningful gatherings and goes through many examples in the book. The tips I took away have to do with defining a clear purpose for your event, being an intentional host, inviting vulnerability in your guests through priming them prior to the event, and establishing specific rituals around welcoming and saying goodbye to guests.

However, I'm only rating this 3 out of 5 for a few reasons: 1) It seems to be written more for use in a business setting than personal. And the personal gatherings she describes mostly deal with people who don't know each other. There's little exploration of changing existing group dynamics. 2) The book entirely focuses on the responsibilities of the host; there are few specifics for those who might simply be guests. I'm not entirely comfortable in a hosting role at this point, so I would have liked more tips for how guests could contribute to more meaningful gatherings. 3) I got real bored about 80 pages from the end as it became a bit redundant.

{ETA} She also says several times that parties/gatherings should have gender balance, and even suggests seating should alternate male and female. I don't understand how this is real advice in 2018.
Profile Image for Jessica Jin.
141 reviews71 followers
July 16, 2021
This is the most important book I have ever read. It has transformed the way I think about what has to go into creating meaningful and impactful experiences out of every meeting amongst friends, lovers, business acquaintances, and overall, what it really takes to build movements. This book reframed the lens through which I look at life, from my interactions in and contributions to groups, to my role in building communities that last. I'm going to have to reread this a few times and will spend a lot of time stewing on this-- I think the art of gathering is a philosophy on life that is going to take tons of practice and a lot of careful thought, and executing it conscientiously is also the best way to honor the time, experiences, and contributions of those you love and work with. I'm super into the thesis of this book and am going to be telling everyone I know that they must read it. It's going to be important for any person who cares about growing meaningful relationships and friendships, and even business leaders who are looking to build authentic and thoughtful organizations which change the world. It's also great for anyone who hates conferences and panels and speeches and is looking for ways to transform the boring traditional spaces and formats in which we create. Please just read it.
Profile Image for jasmine sun.
139 reviews156 followers
September 9, 2019
most books on “people skills” revolve around self-promotion: how to be liked, how to mitigate anxiety, etc.

i never realized how much we’ve lacked advice for making others feel comfortable, engaged, and authentic in social and business gatherings.

this book guides readers through exactly that.
Profile Image for Adrian Hon.
Author 4 books69 followers
August 18, 2021
I began this book as a gracious guest hoping a stimulating party or conference, and ended it hate-reading the final tedious pages. I can't remember the last time I read a book that I mentally tagged as four or five stars, and descended with each chapter further down and down the rankings.

The common critique of this book is that Parker is an inveterate name-dropper who has apparently been to every secret or exclusive event you've heard of, and many you have not. I mean, she is a name-dropper, but that isn't the main problem. I'm a name-dropper too! I've haven't met as many famous people as she has, but I've met a lot, and I've been to a lot of exclusive events. I was a speaker at the main TED conference in Monterey before it stopped being cool; and I've organised a lot of successful events myself.

The thing is, Parker fixates so much on these incredibly special events with incredible special people that she goes to apparently every week that you have to wonder: how is this at all relevant to normal events? True, after recounting her events for Obama or doing this or that for the World Economic Forum or having gold foil placed on her lips at some secret thing by Marina Abramović (of course), she will lamely say, "well, I get that you can't do this amazing shit, but you could always, I don't know, get people to take their shoes off when they come indoors." Well fuck, if that's what you were going to recommend to us poors, why not say that at the start?

Everything in Parker's world seems to be special. Everything is life-changing. Every event ends with tears or hugs. There are a few failures sprinkled in as a seasoning of vulnerability and authenticity, but the book exudes so much "and then everyone clapped" energy that by the end, I was doubting literally everything she said. Are we meant to just take her word for it that all of these events were so successful? I'm not looking for a scientific study here, I just want more than "I did this thing and everyone loved it, trust me." And that's just talking about success in the moment – do we know if the sprinkling of fairy dust she describes in events actually caused real change?

Or maybe, you know, that's not how real change happens. There's a bit where Parker complains about a Bernie Sanders rally that didn't have enough activities during the pre-show. "They could have had some volunteers work as facilitators to get people to sit in groups, or turn to a strange, and talk about why they were there... they could have set up story circles..." etc. Then she says, "They could have used that time to create a movement."

OMFG. Are you serious?! Why the fuck do you think all these people came to the rally if they weren't already part of a movement? When I tweeted this, one Sanders supporter replied, "We don’t need organizers micromanaging us! We used time before Bernie rallies to collect petition signatures on issues such as voting rights restoration, take pics of folks for social media, sign up volunteers, & organically connect to everyone around us."

This sense of arrogance and being out of touch is threaded throughout the book, and it fatally poisoned it for me. For example:

- She talks about advising a book festival that wanted to weave the city more closely together to start off each session with a two-minute exercise where audiences "can meaningfully, if briefly, connect with one another" by talking to strangers sitting next to them about book or city-related questions. I don't know about you, but I hate that shit. It makes me uncomfortable and believe me, most people aren't making meaningful connections in this stilted smalltalk.

- "What if for your company’s next sales training you assigned employees to each spend the day underground with a subway busker, to build their empathy and connect them with the most extreme version of what they do?" No comment required.

- She praises Patrick Leigh Fermor for being so badass to take his dining table from the shore and into the sea, where the waiter serves them without skipping a beat. What an douchebag.

- Of course she loves playing Werewolf.

- "I took forty-five minutes to do these introductions" for a ten person dinner party she was hosting. HOW?!?!?!?!?!

- "A few years ago, a colleague and I set out to see if we could hack the [World Economic Forum]. Could we create an anti-WEF on the sidelines of a WEF event?" Prime having-cake-and-eating-it, you love to see it. Also, "my mother happened to be on another council at the forum" as you do.

OK but here's the worst thing. She disapproves of the student protest against "sociologist Charles Murray" (aka the discredited, racist, pro-eugenics writer) at Middlebury College. But hey, have you considered lighting a candle at the start of dinner?
468 reviews1 follower
January 15, 2019
This book tested my resolve to complete every book I begin. Part of the problem was the title lead me to believe it was going to be about the social aspects of how individual meet and become couples. Instead it is about how to plan dinner parties and corporate meetings. So OK, I'm interested in a far-reaching spectrum of topics so I'll give it a try. However, I think the author was more interested in name-dropping than imparting knowledge. She also has a habit of stating a rule then going on to break it in her writing. One example of this was when she said to never thank people by stating their roles. She claims this does not honor them and bores the audience. Within the same chapter she thanks everyone associated with the book by stating their role and saying how they helped her. I do not think this topic warrants a book; at best it should have been a whitepaper. My suspicion is that the author has a close friend in the publishing industry who persuaded her to write this. There is no way this book would have ever been published if the author solicited an editor.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
90 reviews4 followers
September 19, 2018
This is probably going to be a book I revisit; I found the lessons pretty invaluable. It reframed gathering for me- whether for a casual dinner, a work meeting, or an event you're hosting. There's an importance of individuals coming together, whether to enjoy life or to create something, that is often lost because we get so used to the routine of meeting for work or for fun. The Art of Gathering is fresh air that can breathe life back into the experience.

Another thing that I loved about this book is the power it places upon people in general. Depending on how an event is structured, you can really travel to new ideas, intimacies, and self-reflection just by using the people you have in the room in an equipped and intentional manner.

Overall this is accessible and very usable-- I've already started putting some of the things I've learned into practice!
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,650 followers
May 23, 2018
Such a great book about all sorts of gatherings--corporate meetings, dinner parties, book clubs. I learned a lot and this book has already affected how I think about my meetings, book clubs, dinner parties, and even classroom dynamics.
Profile Image for Lisa.
136 reviews66 followers
November 27, 2022
I co-host a number of holiday gatherings throughout December for various friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, and I picked up this book in hopes of finding some new ideas and inspiration. Priya Parker is a professional facilitator trained in the field of conflict resolution, and she passionately believes everyone has the ability to gather well. I was a little skeptical at the beginning, because she comes on strong with her passion and her plea for the reader to grasp that "gatherings that please everyone occur, but they rarely thrill." Geez, I just want to have a few friends over to drink some hot toddies and hang out, it seems like a bit overkill to set the intent of crafting a dazzling affair.

But her persistence paid off, and she eventually won me over. This woman knows her stuff. Parker starts by laying out her arguments on why most of today's gatherings could use a rethink, most notably that people begin to attach meaning to the meeting's form and fall into the habit of 'we're doing it this way because this is the way we always do it.' She then walks the reader through the importance of each component of a gathering, from the "moment of discovery" (when the guest learns of the gathering) to the closing remarks, as well as the suggested host preparation and behavior for each section. Parker addresses a broad range of gatherings, from high stakes meetings among political leaders to industry conferences to extended family gatherings.

Some of the advice in the book is either well known (introduce your guests with thoughtful details…even Bridget Jones knows that one 😆) or somewhat obvious (aim to make your guests feel honored and attended to). Overall though, I learned a lot from Parker, and I walked away with a lot to think about. She clearly explains her reasoning on why she suggests various tactics, and she provides relevant specific examples from her extensive personal experiences of hosting and facilitating groups.

I got what I was looking for from the book, and I have some new things to consider and/or try out as I head into the holiday party season. As an added bonus, I'm pleasantly surprised by how thought-provoking and enjoyable I found this book to be. This one is a worth a read if you regularly host any type of gathering (dinner parties, large conferences, etc., or even weekly team meetings) and want a few ideas or suggestions to enhance the experience for your guests.
Profile Image for Bloodorange.
718 reviews196 followers
January 25, 2022
I was looking for some tips on better hosting, and found an unexpected critique of modern corporate and non-corporate culture, with useful tips to boot.

This book made me realize that:

- We meet - for weddings and business meetings alike - using obsolete formats developed in other times, for other customs and needs.
- Space determines the flow and energy of the meeting and how people respond during the said meeting.
- It is a good idea to host a multi-phase meeting in several areas, as people will be able to focus and remember the stages more clearly later on.
- People who are invited as 'appendages' to other people most often do not only not contribute to the energy and purpose of the meeting, but they sick out the energy and purpose, deflecting the attention of someone who could really contribute from the goal of the meeting. Eliminate them (the author calls them "Bobs") mercilessly, even if this means losing an important guest.
- Similarly, a meeting loses momentum and can extend into eternity if we try to be nice to everyone and give everyone the chance to speak their mind.
- A host has the power to shape the meeting, and should not be afraid to use it. Fear to impose anything on the guest out of fear of not letting them "chill", or not looking "chill" enough, is a curse of modern times.
- Ephemeral rules can make sense in the world when people observe all sorts and levels of etiquette (zasady efemeryczne vs. etykieta).
- People to be entertained are more important that vegetables to be properly chopped or invitation fonts to be chosen; pay attention to guests rather than details of the party (the Martha Stewart approach, in which people are secondary to the party itself).
- Rites of transition help participants leave their worries behind and get immersed in the experience. (The Abramovic method)
- Don't start with logistics/ announcements, this kills the mood.
- Don't end with thank yous - let these be the penultimate thing you do.
- Find your own "magic trick" to end the meeting.

Yes, this is overwritten, but it made me rethink the family meeting I am soon to organise, and the way I teach my classes.
Profile Image for Kaveh.
98 reviews13 followers
August 26, 2019
This book was one of the most utter nonsense I have read for a long time. I fell for the title, thinking that the book will present some expert analysis of how human beings interact in social settings, instead, it was a mechanical, boring, mundane, and complete bullshit recipe for event planners. The only reason that I kept reading this book and ultimately finished it was my fascination in just how much a social gathering can become awkward and boring by following the rules offered by this book.

The first and biggest problem of this book is the lack of a clear scope and audience; yep! that's right and it's ironic given how obsessed the author is with having a purpose and a plan for everything. The book offers some rules (and that's an odd word for social gatherings, where spontaneity is the key to joy and creativity) for gatherings and it keeps jumping between social and professional gatherings. There are clear differences between these two and the author doesn't bother to distinguish between them.

There is so much emphasis on exclusion, planning, and structuring everything about gatherings. According to this recipe, every time you have people over, you have to determine the topics that you will be discussing with your guests, you have to assign their seats, and have a screenplay for every guest and every conversation while exercising your host authority (no kidding! the author thinks hosting means practicing authority). Jesus Christ... this is a comic book.

This is my study guide for this book, folks: read the advice offered by the author and do the exact opposite! My advice to the author? CHILL OUT!!! (she kind of mentions she doesn't enjoy the "chill" culture, but we're both entitled to our opinions). Chill and enjoy hundreds of yeras of human cognitive evolution and their ability to interact and create out of no screenplay.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,628 reviews415 followers
February 24, 2021
I love how practical this book was. My idea of hosting usually involves providing more food than my guests could possibly eat...a carryover from working with teenage volunteers on a weekly basis. But this book's challenge to think about the purpose of gathering really struck a cord. I want to host a dinner party! (Never mind that I still don't own a kitchen table...or couch...or chairs...)
Absolutely coming back to this one.
Profile Image for Marina Ha.
18 reviews8 followers
July 10, 2018
I learnt about this book from Debbie Milman's podcast "Design Matters", where Priya shared many details about her work in conflict resolution, facilitation, provided the background for the book, her writing process, etc. I absolutely enjoyed the podcast, but as a result, I thought the anecdotes in the book were repetitive of the interview, and had I not listened to the podcast, I would have enjoyed the book more.
Profile Image for Kaila.
836 reviews103 followers
July 27, 2022
A monumental occasion is happening for me this Saturday - I'm getting married! Ahh! I'm a project manager by temperament and training and I have taken the planning seriously. I'm at the point now, a mere 4 days away, that everything is out of my hands and it's going to work out. Or it won't. But we don't talk about that to a bride 4 days away from her wedding.

This book came recommended to me by a friend who thought it would help in the wedding planning process. And boy howdy do I appreciate that friend. This book is awesome. I was afraid it was going to focus on work meetings, but though they are mentioned, it's really about gathering of all types. Anyone who is at all social could use this manual. It goes over things like why hosts tend to focus on logistics (wow don't @me cause you know PMs want to focus on logistics), why closing out a gathering is as important as beginning it, and how to bring in depth by bringing out vulnerability.

There are some things that I knew by instinct, but seeing them put into words has helped me understand why certain gatherings felt off or why talking about work is slowly killing my book club. And, of course, it is going to help with the wedding. I guess that is why weddings can feel so stressful - if everything goes smoothly you only get one. So you really want to get everything right. Reading this made me feel more prepared.

I'm considering starting a wedding planning business (put all these rusty PM skills to use, you know!) and I will make this recommended reading for every bride.
Profile Image for Joaquin Garza.
546 reviews651 followers
November 25, 2019
Si como yo a ustedes les frustra el desempeño de cuanta reunión van a parar, este libro es fundamental. Pero fundamental en serio.

Yo le tenía ganas a este libro desde que supe de su existencia y más desde que vi la TED talk de la autora. Porque es un tema que ni siquiera voy a decir que me llama la atención: es un tema en el que quiero trabajar profusamente. Porque, verán... llevo ya un cierto tiempo arqueando una ceja (cuando no gritando por dentro) cada vez que me encuentro con reuniones ineficientes. Reuniones, juntas, fiestas, eventos sociales, similares y conexas. Juntas de trabajo que no llegan a nada y que me hacen hacer un esfuerzo sobrehumano por poner atención. Bodas que, de acuerdo a la tradición contemporánea están llenas de rituales con mucho significado pero que olvidan de involucrar a los allegados de los novios en ese significado. Fiestas donde la música para bailar se puso antes de tiempo o el alcohol se sirvió tarde. Reuniones familiares que aburren y terminan haciendo que la mitad de la gente se vaya antes. Entonces creí que el antídoto estaba en la metodología que Parker nos propone.

Lo que no me imaginaba era que el enfoque de la autora iba a hablar no sólo a mi inquietud con reuniones ineficientes, sino prácticamente a lo que podríamos llamar mi "heart's desire". Con un deseo innato de juntar a la gente más importante para mí, gente de todas mis historias y vivir juntos momentos excepcionales. Algo como lo que la gente de mi generación llama "Squad Goals". Pero cuando llegaba esa oportunidad yo estaba corriendo con la logística y estresándome por el hielo o cosas así. O tratando de llenar la reunión de un concepto que fallaba espectacularmente en hacer mella en la gente.

Por eso me impresionó la metodología y las ideas que propone Parker. Digamos que me llegaron bastante. Porque para ella, una reunión es ante todo un ejercicio de llenar de propósito a un grupo de personas, de llevarlas a un mundo nuevo y diferente y de transformarlas. No importa si es nuestra reunión departamental de la semana. No importa si es un entierro. No importa si es una despedida de soltero o el despliegue de objetivos del año. Parker escribe una metodología que es integral, que hace sentido y que no le importa disparar tiros contra la tiranía de la etiqueta (en serio) o contra el enfoque normal de preocuparse por detalles y decoraciones antes de preguntarse siquiera por qué la gente está ahí.

Mucho muy recomendado si tienen ese deseo de hacer importantes y llenos de significado los momentos que comparten con la gente. de absolutamente todo tipo.
Profile Image for Brittin.
52 reviews4 followers
January 28, 2021
Ok ya’ll I have to be honest, I struggled with this book. When it started I thought it was super privileged and pretentious. But I ended it teary eyed and yearning for all the gatherings I partake in to be this meaningful. It was there, just took me a while to get there. I will say as much as I ended up enjoying it, I think what kept me from enjoying it at first was the writing and story-telling. I think the stories could have been played into more - spent more time with the stories to articulate the larger point. Not something I would have picked up on my own, but something I will definitely keep in my back pocket as I plan, organize and host.
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
950 reviews42 followers
July 19, 2021
The Art of Gathering is a fresh, fascinating look at how to hold gatherings (from meetings to weddings) that are memorable and worthwhile. Her steps will help you decide the purpose, invitation list, and order of events for your gathering.

I particularly liked the way the author encourages hosts to be more bold in their control of gatherings. That’s a novel bit of advice, and the author is quite compelling in her presentation of it. I find myself quite eager to try this method out!
Profile Image for Abe Chang.
354 reviews26 followers
May 28, 2018
fascinating and thought provoking not just for people who organize conferences and meetings, but also just regular people who want to have more than lackluster dinner parties or family gatherings. ranted about this to 3 people already and can't wait to apply these principles to my next gathering.
Profile Image for Stacey Reimann.
39 reviews
December 21, 2021
I am not the audience here, nor is anyone who has at least briefly thought about the people they love to spend time with and how they choose to spend that time. I also feel like she tries to speak to a sweeping range of groups, but appealing largely to neoliberals attending business meetings and corporate conferences, just about anything then also applied to activists/radical gatherers feels quickly moot. A bit too preachy, and a bit too peachy. I will say, not having yet gone to social work school, the frameworks for facilitation and the anecdotal examples sprinkled throughout were helpful, but those highlights came through in her conversation with Krista Tippett. Save your time/money and listen to this: https://onbeing.org/programs/priya-pa....

A few final thoughts:
-Still pandemic applicable even while so timely released in April 2020
-Would recommend to your fav girl boss
-LOL of course her husband is Anand Giridharadas and of course she mentions him incessantly throughout
-This was literally a passage (not Parker's words but she "loves this list"): "ALWAYS do placement. Always. Placement MUST be boy/girl/boy/girl, etc. And no, it does not matter if someone is gay." Please do not invite me to your dinner party.

Did not finish
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
589 reviews10.4k followers
April 23, 2020
I liked this though I often stopped paying attention in my listening. I think I would revisit sections as I host future gatherings. The author is smart and has clearly put a lot of thought it gatherings (as it’s her work) which I appreciated. I was able to reflect on my own gatherings. I sometimes felt like the book could have been two separate books. One on professional gatherings one of personal gatherings. Not because the advice is different but the events are so different.

UPDATED: on my second read of this book I loved the book more and still got so much out of it!
Profile Image for Farhan Khalid.
404 reviews97 followers
November 29, 2021
The first step to bringing together people in a meaningful way is committing to a bold, sharp purpose

Opportunity for your gathering to be a source of growth, support, guidance, and inspiration

Your reason for gathering should take a stand, it can’t be everything for everyone

Specificity matters in gatherings

Use thoughtful exclusion

In attempting not to offend anyone, you compromise the entire gathering

6 people: conducive to intimacy, high levels of sharing and storytelling; not ideal for diverse viewpoints

12-15 people: 12 is small enough for trust and intimacy and for a single moderator; good for diverse opinions

30 people: feels like a party as there is buzz and energy but too big for a single conversation

100-150 people: natural size of a tribe; everyone can still meet everyone if effort is made; usually gets broken into small subgroups but still a good gathering

Everyone on a guest list should help fulfill the purpose of your gathering

Venues should serve the purpose

Make it easier for people to be inclusive

Try sending an article, a heartfelt note, or asking guests to participate in a discussion beforehand

The spirit and expectations guests show up with sets the tone for the entire event

The key is to get people speaking in stories and experiences, not in abstract ideas

A moment a story works is usually a moment of vulnerability — George Dawes Green

It’s always better to be authentic and nervous that shallow and overly rehearsed

Goal is to get people to reveal their real selves, not their best selves
Profile Image for Allison.
216 reviews22 followers
May 11, 2020
Such an incredible read! Parker and husband Giridharadas are SUCH a power couple (Winners Take All is another one of my favorite reads in the last few years). I started this book at the beginning of quarantine, and I was struggling to get through even a couple pages at a time. I picked it back up a few days ago, 2 months into quarantine, and I took copious notes on each chapter. The book's structure is set like a gathering itself, with Parker cheekily placing the book's acknowledgements within the last chapter instead of at the very end (abiding by her advice to never end a gathering with logistics or thanks).

I'm taking away wisdom and inspiration on how to create gatherings in my personal life (would love to use 15 toasts at my birthday this year) and professional life. This book helped me name the anxiety I experience about hosting events, since my friend group is rather disparate. Parker showed me how to have generous authority as a host, and how to create vulnerability and intimacy for people when they are surrounded by strangers.

this woman is SO WISE. I recommend her podcast Alone Together, which she recently started to discuss alternative gatherings during covid.
Profile Image for Annie.
869 reviews837 followers
January 10, 2023
This is an invaluable book for everyone. We all gather (meetings, conferences, lunches, dinners, happy hour events, parties, and weddings). The author gives many examples of how these gatherings can go wrong (not stopping a conference at the designated end time) and how to make the gathering more meaningful (wrapping up with closure for the participants). There is a lot of excellent advice for handling awkward situations (like after a dinner party, thanking the guests for coming -- creating an ending so guests wanting to leave feel comfortable doing so; then offering to have a nightcap in the living room -- allowing the remaining guests to have intimate conversations as a smaller group). A great takeaway from this is don't start or end an event with logistics (e.g., amenities, ground rules, and acknowledgments) -- they can come after the beginning or be second to the last item. Start with something exciting and end with an appreciation or closure to the event.
Profile Image for Linda Hart.
733 reviews139 followers
November 9, 2019
2 stars=it was ok. For a business leader, sales manager, or organization president, there may be some really valuable helps, but I suspect there is little new here for an experienced or already successful professional meeting facilitator. For a homemaker- church goer -club member- empty nester - socializer like myself, I think a great party planner or game book might be more stimulating. However I did glean a few ideas I may possibly put to use in order to increase attendance and/or involvement at the next social event I'm in charge of . . .
Profile Image for Lisa.
605 reviews20 followers
November 16, 2018
I appreciate the thoughts here and the principles for being intentional. The lower score is because it could have been an article. I just skipped all the illustration stories and it was a fast read.
Profile Image for Matthew Jordan.
71 reviews58 followers
December 25, 2021
Kinda changed my life??? So many interesting lessons and ideas, very few of which actually have anything to do with the practical advice given in the book. The main thing I took away was: there are way more decisions involved in gathering people than you might expect, and the more time you put into those decisions, the better your gathering will be. In other words: thoughtfulness is palpable. The best gatherings involve an immense amount of thought, care, and consideration, even if those things are not actually noticeable. In fact, the best gatherings should simply feel effortless, and you shouldn't even notice the thought that went in because you're too busy having a good time.

Weirdly, the ideas in The Art of Gathering fit very nicely into the ideas in What Money Can't Buy. The latter book is all about the idea that when things become financial transactions, something is lost. Cash gifts are less meaningful than handmade ones; paying someone to write a wedding speech defeats the purpose. In some ways, The Art of Gathering carries the same message: the main differentiator between good gatherings and great ones is not the expensive decorations or food, but the thoughtfulness and care that the host puts in. I feel like I want to write a book specifically about this idea, namely that the work & thoughtfulness is the thing that makes something special. Like, the thought and effort behind the gift _is_ the gift. It's like: human attention is such a scarce and precious resource. The fact that someone spent their time and attention on you—whether in giving you a gift or in bringing you to their gathering—is precisely what makes that gift or gathering meaningful.

This is all rather vague. What, exactly, does it mean to organize a thoughtful gathering, according to Priya Parker? Well, it means first and foremost to have a very clear purpose for your gathering. Why are you bringing these people together? Is it just to hang? To celebrate an event? To collaborate & conspire? To mark an occasion? To take part in a shared interest? To bring together people who don't know each other before? Why? What should people feel when they arrive? When they leave?

Thinking through these questions can take you from "hanging out with some people" to "creating a space to express gratitude, reminisce, and reflect on the changes that have happened in our lives over the past year". From "I have a vague feeling I wanna hang out with science communicators in Toronto" to "now more than ever it's important that people invested in the public communication of science are able to share knowledge and hardships, because boy it's tough out there".

The purpose doesn't even have to be that sentimental or serious. But thinking through the specific purpose of the gathering can help you answer a zillion other questions: who should I invite? Who should I _not_ invite? (Parker talks a lot about "generous exclusion"—making careful decisions about who to include and who not to include, because their presence might detract from the gathering's purpose.) Where should this take place? What time of day? On what frequency?

The key point is that once you have a clear purpose, you realize that there are tons of design decisions & questions you need to answer. Exceptional gatherings are the ones that think through these questions explicitly. It's a huge amount of work! But that work will be felt...even if it doesn't feel like "wow, this took a lot of work"...this is a paradox I wanna write about more.

There's one other idea in here that I keep coming back to: it's that the absence of rules and structure can be exclusionary. If you just bring people together without a clear set of guidelines, then they will either separate into cliques, or in a more formal setting, operate according to rules of conventional etiquette, which can be exclusionary to those who aren't in the know. There are stories from communes & hippie communities where, in the absence of bureaucracy or formalized rules, the most charismatic people end up soaring to the top of the pecking order and monopolizing the social space. Rules, by contrast, put everyone on a level playing field.

This idea kinda shook me. I am a person who by nature doesn't really like rules. I don't like to be told how to act. I don't like structure. I just wanna vibe, hang out, and talk to the people I wanna talk to. But The Art of Gathering totally changed my perspective. I now realize that, for instance, playing a game is a deeply inclusive activity, relative to just sitting and talking. I realize that the more explicit you can be about the "hidden curriculum" of hangouts, parties, and classrooms, the more you give everyone the opportunity to participate.

Oh also: I read this book after I had already spent the prior 3 months planning a 200+ person gathering. Goofed bigtime there. I gotta start proactively reading books when I'm doing things.

Stay tuned for my book on how the work you put into something is what makes that thing impressive/valuable!!
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