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by Elizabeth Spiegel AE

The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters, by Priya Parker

We humans gather a lot. We get together for dinner parties, school reunions, weddings, funerals, workplace bonding activities … and conferences. Gatherings can be boring or invigorating, frustrating or uplifting, lacklustre or productive.

Parker is a professional organiser with advice for anyone who organises — or attends — a gathering and wants to spend their time effectively. She doesn’t offer task lists, but rather asks us to think about why we’re gathering and what we want to achieve. Even when the event is as small as having a few friends around for dinner, she argues that it will be more memorable — in a good way — if we have taken the time to consider, in advance, our purpose, our guest list, how we will open and close the event, how we can keep our guests engaged. 

She encourages the use of explicit rules, despite — or perhaps because of — having spent three years as a teenager, attending Junior Cotillion in Virginia. She describes the experience as one where she learned ‘random knowledge of how old rich people want you to behave’. The rules of etiquette assume a monoculture, so when you work with diverse groups, it makes sense to clearly set out rules like ‘turn up on time’ or ‘leave your phone switched off’. 

The copy I’ve been reading is from the library, but I’m about to purchase my own, since it’s a book I expect to revisit many times. 

I really wish I had read this book two years ago, and I’d encourage the organisers of future conferences to read it, but even if you never organise a gathering more significant than coffee with a bunch of friends, you can draw something valuable from it. 

Make your next gathering matter.