45 pages 1 hour read

Priya Parker

The Art of Gathering

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (2018) is a series of chapter-length essays that provide a guide to organizing effective gatherings as well as a persuasive argument for thinking about them as tools for social transformation. As a highly experienced group facilitator, advisor, podcast host, and expert in conflict resolution, Parker brings a specialist’s insight to her topic. At the same time, she organizes and presents the book as a practical, hands-on guide to help everyone from business people to community leaders to groups of friends organize purposeful gatherings. The Art of Gathering touches on a huge range of event types, from funerals to political summits. In addition, it incorporates an array of anecdotal evidence from Parker’s own experience as well as from numerous experts in professional fields including business, community organizing, entertainment, politics, and more.

This guide uses the 2018 ebook edition published by Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House. The book’s first chapter, “Decide Why You’re Really Gathering,” lays out what Parker considers to be the most fundamental part of a successful gathering: its purpose. No gathering can be effective without a well-defined, specific purpose. Purpose, as Parker defines it, is distinct from category. While a gathering might have an obvious category, such as dinner party, business meeting, or networking event, its purpose should describe what is unique to that gathering—what makes it unlike any other.

In the next chapter, “Close Doors,” Parker makes the potentially controversial claim that gatherings should not be as inclusive as possible. When organizers choose a select group of guests/participants with care and intention, and exclude those who are not relevant to or will detract from the gathering’s purpose, then there are greater opportunities for the attendees to engage meaningfully with that purpose. Acknowledging that this perspective goes against common practice, Parker argues that being exclusive also allows for a greater effective diversity of voices within a gathering, since those who might dominate or take away from its purpose will not be present.

The third chapter, “Don’t Be a Chill Host,” challenges another commonplace recommendation. Instead of assuming that the host’s role is to stay out of the way and let a group magically congeal, Parker urges organizers to take an active role in leading gatherings. Parker deems this generous authority, since it is always conducted with an eye toward improving the experience of attendees and upholding the gathering’s purpose. In the chapter that follows, “Create a Temporary Alternative World,” Parker introduces the concept of pop-up rules. Whereas the traditional guidelines of etiquette restrict behavior, are fixed, apply to all situations, and set groups apart from others, pop-up rules apply only to the context of a gathering and are meant to encourage broad participation.

In the fifth chapter, “Never Start a Funeral with Logistics,” Parker provides some practical tips on effectively opening a gathering. She advises organizers to start with a gesture or activity that encapsulates the gathering’s purpose, rather than procedural information or generalized introductions. Parker continues these practical tips in Chapter 6, “Keep Your Best Self Out of My Gathering,” which introduces a technique she invented: 15 Toasts. This activity encourages participants in a gathering to share honest, personal insights on a theme relevant to the event’s purpose. Parker describes how she has successfully applied the 15 Toasts technique to gatherings of all kinds and sizes.

Chapter 7, “Cause Good Controversy,” argues that introducing disagreement and debate into a gathering’s discussion can actually result in a meaningful engagement with the event’s purpose, contrary to the general rules of etiquette. Parker concedes that controversy is not necessary or appropriate for every kind of gathering, but for those attempting to solve a problem or resolve an issue, it can be a powerful tool. In the final chapter, “Accept That There Is an End,” Parker advises that closing a gathering carefully is as important as opening it with intention. An ending is the last opportunity to affirm and seal a gathering’s purpose. The chapter provides additional practical tips for doing so, such as not ending with logistical details or a long list of thank-yous.