The big event is finally here. We have our guests’ attention. “They want to be there. They feel lucky to be there. They might well be considering giving the gathering their all,” writes Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.
1: One way to make an event memorable and worthwhile involves connecting our guests with one another. “One measure of a successful gathering is that it starts off with a higher number of host-guest connections than guest-guest connections and ends with those tallies reversed,” writes Priya.
Connecting people sounds good in theory. But as hosts, how do we actually make this happen? Are we willing to use our authority to make these connections occur? Will we annoy people? What if we go too far? What if we look like a fool?
2: Once, Priya was facilitating a one-day conference on the future of grass-fed beef. The organizers had brought together about 120 ranchers, farmers, investors, beef buyers for grocery chains, and consumer advocates. “But they didn’t all know one another, and in some cases, they had very different reasons for being there,” Priya recollects.
The organizers wanted to build a sense of community from this disparate group. “By the end of the day, we wanted them to feel as though they could pick up the phone and call anyone else in the room,” writes Priya.
So, they brainstormed a goal: What if each participant was able to participate in a meaningful, small-group conversation with at least three-quarters of the other guests?
“Yet the only way I could think of to actually do this was to have them get up and move to a different table after every speaker,” Priya remembers. “It was a hassle, and people often resist packing up their belongings and moving.”
Priya pushed forward anyway.
“After every speaker and every coffee break, I reminded them that it’s hard to build a movement if you don’t know who’s in it,” Priya writes. “So each person had to move to a different table.
“At their new ten-seat tables, they would have a chance to introduce themselves to new people and answer a question relevant to the day or the most recent speaker.”
To deliver on the bigger purpose of building community, she had to be willing to face a few grumbles about moving belongings and not being able to sit with friends.
“I had to operate as a representative of their future selves—happy they met new people, surprised by new connections with people unlike themselves—and actively go against what their present selves demanded,” she recalls.
The results? By the end of the one-day workshop, the gathering was “anything but grumpy,” she writes. “In fact, it had turned festive. A number of participants approached me and said that they had never before felt so connected to so many new people so quickly.
“We had gone through a lot of technical information about the grass-fed beef industry, but we hadn’t sacrificed connection on the altar of our agenda. We believed we could do both. And we did.”
The key takeaway? Connection doesn’t just happen. We have to design our gatherings for the types of relationships we want to create.
3: Another tactic to create connection is to host an “event before the event.” TED founder Chris Anderson invites all of the upcoming TED speakers to a dinner before the conference. “Before the dinner, those speakers are all connected individually to him or one of his colleagues,” Priya writes. “After the dinner, they are connected to one another. They become a tribe that can navigate the sometimes intimidating halls of the massive conference.
“A grueling and intimidating process becomes less scary, and a gathering becomes more intimate,” she writes.
Reflection: Think of an event or conference I attended. What did the host do to connect the attendees?
Action: Look for an opportunity to experiment with Priya’s ideas.