Nora Abousteit loves to throw a party.
1: “She hosts and attends more gatherings than most people I know, and she hosts more generously and seriously as well,” writes Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.
Nora is an entrepreneur who lives in New York City. “Born in a small town in Germany to a German mother and an Egyptian father, she has spent her career building communities of people who make things by hand. The founder of CraftJam, an organizer of social crafting events, [she] gathers in doing this work, and she gathers in her personal life.
“A lot. She is, you could say, an extreme gatherer,” Priya observes.
Nora thinks nothing of hosting forty people in her home multiple times every year. “She co-hosts large dinners on the eves of conferences around the world,” Priya notes. “She hosts regular brunches for anyone who happens to be in town on a Saturday.
“Her home has an open-door policy, and she hosts friends of friends, even if she has never met them, to give them a temporary sense of belonging while they navigate a new city.
“In all she does, she incarnates generous authority—protecting, equalizing, connecting.”
2: As host, Nora takes her role of connecting her guests seriously. “At one party she hosted, as friends streamed up the stairs to the main room, she stood at the top with a big smile on her face, welcomed each guest, and told them that she loves nothing more in the world than the people she loves meeting one another,” Priya writes.
She told each guest they had one job they must do before dinner: Make two new friends. “And because she’s so authentic and explicit about it, people make an effort to talk to new people, in part because she’s given them the social cover to do so,” Priya notes.
When hosting, Nora uses her authority “to protect her guests in ways small and large,” writes Priya. She tells guests they must arrive on time for her formal seated dinners. “People warm up together,” Nora told Priya. They get to a certain point, and there’s a certain kind of energy, and it’s a collective experience.”
If two friends are in a corner ignoring the rest of the group, Nora will seek them out and suggest they “catch up on your own time.” She is looking out for those “whose chance of having a good time depends on other people being open to conversation with a stranger,” Priya writes.
Another way Nora helps to connect her guests is by priming them to take care of one another. She assigns a “Water Minister” to make sure everyone has full glasses of water and a “Wine Minister” to keep the wine glasses full.
At one dinner, she invited her guests to “serve each other and not worry about getting served themselves.”
Nora plays to her Egyptian heritage when greater warmth is required and to her German heritage when greater order is required. “That night, the guests, a bit startled but also intrigued, began lifting bowls of quinoa salad to serve one another,” Priya notes. “She had nudged people into relationships of care, even though many of them had just met.”
3: Priya shares an email that Nora wrote offering suggestions for throwing a successful gathering.
“A: YOU ARE THE BOSS. Hosting is not democratic, just like design isn’t. Structure helps good parties, like restrictions help good design.
B: Introduce people to each other A LOT. But take your time with it.
C: Be generous. Very generous with food, wine, and with compliments/introductions. If you have a reception before people sit, make sure there are some snacks so blood sugar level is kept high and people are happy.
D: ALWAYS do placement. Always. Placement MUST be boy/girl/boy/girl, etc. And no, it does not matter if someone is gay. Seat people next to people who do different things but that those things might be complementary. Or make sure they have something else in common; a passion or something rare is best. And tell people what they have in common.
E: Within each table, people should introduce themselves, but it must be short. Name, plus something they like or what they did on the weekend or maybe something that can relate to the gathering.
F: For dessert, people can switch, but best to have it organized: tell every other person at the table to move to another seat.”
Priya reflects: “I love this list for how it distills the ethos of generous authority. In almost every instruction two things are embedded: compassion and order.”
Reflection: When I next host an event, how might I best use my “generous authority”?
Action: Do it.