“Parking for your Landspeeder, Sandcrawler, or other transportation vehicle will be provided,” read the invitation to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere.
“Simple as that,” writes Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. “This gathering will be playful, and it is for die-hards who live and breathe Star Wars.”
Yesterday, we looked at how we can intentionally prime the mindsets and behaviors we seek in our guests in advance of our event. Today, we look at how we name our event has a big impact.
“When we invite people to our gatherings, too many of us spend too much time focusing on the wrong details of the invitation,” Priya writes. “Letterpressed versus engraved. Email versus Paperless Post. Black-and-white versus blue-and-white.
“This is what might be thought of as the Martha Stewart approach, elevating the readying of things over the readying of people,” she writes.
Instead, Priya suggests we focus on naming our event: “To name a gathering affects the way people perceive it. The name signals what the purpose of the event is, and it also prepares people for their role and level of expected participation.”
Rachel Greenberger runs a food program at Babson College in Massachusetts. Each week she hosts a weekly meeting for her students. “She didn’t want to call this time ‘office hours’ because it sounded like an obligation as well as a one-way deal: The student comes to the professor for help and guidance,” Priya writes. Rachel’s goal was to help students connect with each other, not just with her. So, she decided to call the weekly hour ‘Community Table.’”
“Over time, the gathering has grown into the name,” writes Priya. “Students now turn up with baked goods as well as notebooks. And in a way she couldn’t have planned, the Community Table idea she began has now been transplanted to New York, where every month entrepreneurs, academics, activists, and students interested in food engage together around a table, giving and exchanging ideas and building a community.”
Let’s say we are hosting a half-day gathering for our team to discuss a new strategy. Do we call it a “meeting,” a “workshop,” a “brainstorming session,” or an “idea lab”? Naming it a “brainstorming session” suggests a heavier level of participation than if we call it a “meeting.”
Priya writes: “In my own work, I don’t call my sessions ‘workshops.’ I call them Visioning Labs. ‘Visioning’ because I am helping people figure out their vision for their work, company, or life. And ‘Lab’ because it signifies experimentation and possibility, which is crucial to the process.
“Simply because of the name, I’ve noticed that people seem to show up differently. They’re more open, since they’re not sure what to expect from a Visioning Lab, and they are curious. These are some of the behaviors I need them to show up with in order to help in a meaningful way.”
What we call our meeting or event helps guests decide whether and how they fit into the world we are creating. “Eve Biddle, cofounder of a creative community called the Wassaic Project in upstate New York, learned this lesson when she introduced an ‘Artist Mixer’ to a residency program she was running,” writes Priya. “People weren’t showing up, so she asked a few artists why. The evening, they told her, sounded ‘too nerdy.’ They were artists and free spirits. The word ‘mixer’ perhaps sounded to some of them like something from the ‘sellout’ lives they had avoided.
“She listened and renamed the evening ‘Happy Hour.’ Attendance shot up. A simple name switch altered people’s sense of who the gatherer thought they were and what she expected of them,” she writes.
The purpose of priming is to signal the tone, mood, and mindset we are looking for. Here is a line from an invitation to an all-night dance party in Brooklyn, New York: “‘As we always say . . . bring your sexy single friends and leave those strollers at home. This ain’t no Park Slope party’—a reference to one of the city’s more family-centric neighborhoods. In this case, a bit of prosaic information is more than that: The relaying of details doubles as the priming of guests to know how to show up,” Priya writes.
The invitation tells them: “This is going to be a rager.”
Reflection: Look at my calendar and consider the meetings and events I lead. How might I change the name of the meeting to increase its power or effectiveness?
Action: Do it.