“Gathering is a sacred act. You’re asking people to spend their time with you in a specific way. It is an art, and it’s a way to actually ask what is worthy of our time.”
In 2018, I was introduced to Priya Parker and her book The Art of Gathering. It gave me a framework to think about why we gather and a ton of new ideas.
I wrote It Always Starts With Why and considered gatherings I’d recently hosted and attended—big and small; public and private; business and personal.
The memorable ones—be it a wedding, non-profit fundraiser, client conference, or evening with friends—always evidence a clear WHY.
Today, as we discuss when we’re going back to the office, resuming business and leisure travel, and hosting in-person events, gathering is the focus of nearly every conversation.
But in starting our phrases with WHEN, are we missing the bigger question?
Assuming health and vaccines ALLOW us to gather in person, SHOULD WE?
I return to Priya. Her advice? That we ask ourselves these questions.
What did you most miss when COVID limited our gatherings?
What did you not miss?
What did you learn or newly create during this time that you wish to take forward?
I most missed new experiences shared with or through the eyes of others. I also miss spontaneity—a new place, idea, or friend I stumble upon that becomes a favorite story. I miss the bonding moments stemming from shared mishaps.
I don’t miss the required hassles—time spent getting ready, commuting, airline travel. Most of all, I don’t miss the expectations for needing to physically be somewhere.
During COVID, we learned different ways to gather—Zoom weddings, virtual fundraisers, a client meeting via outdoor walk. What I learned anew is that it’s not just about the actual gathering—the event with a specific start and end time. It’s everything that happens around it. Gatherings are just one part of building relationships.
A community may gather, but not every gathering is a community.
Like many, today I find myself becoming even more discerning about gatherings I attend—especially in-person. That raises the bar for my hosts. And for me when I am the host.
Whether we’re encouraging remote teams to return to the office or hosting a meeting or event, we have to have a compelling answer to “What does this gathering accomplish that won’t happen otherwise?” The second question is “What are we doing around the gathering to maximize its purpose?” In other words:
In addition to having a compelling WHY, we need to think about the HOW.
My recent gatherings have me thinking a lot about the HOW. When I see unique ones, I’m the most grateful attendee. I’m seeking to be an even more thoughtful host.
I challenge you to do the same. Here are some recent examples and what they teach me about the future of gathering.
1. Take risks & be uniquely you
“We believe that live human-to-human engagement should be at the center of any marketing strategy.”
That’s the philosophy of event marketing start-up Circa. So when they shared that their newly-purchased bright purple Circa-branded hot air balloon would launch at Albuquerque’s 2021 International Balloon Fiesta and invited me to fly in one of the early morning launches, I was pretty excited.
Naming their 10-day event Circa Elevate, Circa invited 17 event marketing leaders to join them in this one-of-a-kind hybrid event. It felt luxurious to be hosted when my entire career has involved being a host. Circa also engaged us in their mission, inviting us to share our perspectives on the future of events. We were interviewed in the cool morning air prior to lift off, and later floating 2000 feet above the ground.
Luckily, I had five days of viewing daily Circa Elevate media clips via social media prior to my own flight. The virtual excitement broadened Circa’s reach, but it also connected our small community of fliers before, during, and after the event. As one of my new friends Dana Pake shared on LinkedIn following her Circa Elevate experience, “I leave smarter, connected, and inspired.”
Circa skillfully executed their guests’ collective response to the future of events—thoughtful, curated, connected experiences.
2. Embrace our hybrid future
Hybrid events that mix live and virtual audiences are one of the COVID gems that I believe are here to stay. They’re inclusive, efficient, cost-effective. Many non-profits who’ve moved fundraisers to virtual or hybrid formats during COVID report raising record amounts.
But catering to online and live audiences in an equal way takes care and attention.
Learning that several supporters of San Francisco-based global girls education non-profit SHE-CAN had similarly moved to Santa Fe, I hosted a viewing party around SHE-CAN’s virtual annual fundraiser. Our group of 10 included our spouses and friends. We enjoyed wine, East African-themed dishes, and viewed SHE-CAN’s high-energy program from the TV in my living room. When the program cut to our Santa Fe gathering for a cameo, my new friends really stepped it up!
SHE-CAN actively encouraged hosted in-person gatherings. They sent a swag box pre-event to each of my attendees. They sent me festive party favors. They used a virtual event technology that made it easy to drop into the five selected viewing parties during the course of the program—including ours. Wisely, each host practiced with SHE-CAN to make sure all would run smoothly.
Was it extra pressure as a host to coordinate guests, food & drink, technology, and event messaging? Absolutely. But my new friends and I had a blast, SHE-CAN surpassed their fundraising goal, and we inspired a slew of future SHE-CAN party hosts.
3. Pregame is everything
If gatherings are just one part of building relationships, the key to a gathering’s success is what happens pre-event. A clearly articulated purpose for the gathering is always paramount. But in our new era of deeper discernment for what’s worth our time, transparency and connection should be evident from the onset.
While Evite and Facebook make event logistics like calendaring and directions easier, I’m a fan of using plain old email as a means of communicating with and connecting guests prior to our event.
For example, for a recent weekday breakfast gathering I hosted at my home for another non-profit partner, I made it clear that all attendees are vaccinated, that the virtual event we’d link to was a fundraiser, and shared the names of all attendees. My goal is for each guest to feel fully comfortable walking in the door.
I also want them to be excited to learn and connect with one another—so much so that I don’t just list their name, but hyperlink to their LinkedIn profile and write a one-line descriptor which I believe will connect them to other attendees.
Yes, it’s extra work. But I’ve long followed this hosting practice. As a guest, it’s fun to walk in knowing you’re going to find an old friend in the room; it’s also easy to follow up with a new one. Guests always tell me they appreciate the gesture. In this instance, they shared excitement to gather with what felt like the “who’s who of Santa Fe.”
Just as every gathering should close with a meaningful closing, so shall this post.
We are human, so we will continue to gather. With gatherings temporarily paused, we now view them differently—as guests, as hosts. WHY we gather matters. But so does HOW.
To the discerning guest, connecting is why we gather.