The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. (2018). Priya Parker. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 320 pp. $28. ISBN: 9781594634925, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/319055/the-art-of-gathering-by-priya-parker/9781594634925/.

Jessica Pfeiffer, EACPHS Office of Student Affairs, Wayne State University, [email protected]

Priya Parker is a strategic facilitator who focuses on creating meaningful, purpose-driven communities and transformative gatherings. Trained in conflict resolution, she has worked across several disciplines with activists, educators, business leaders, philanthropists, and politicians. In her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, she outlines how to organize gatherings of all sizes to be both relevant and memorable through personal stories and real-world applications.

Parker begins by explaining ways to understand the true purpose of a gathering and provides practical tips for doing so; she then dives into the ‘who’ and ‘where’ of an event. When discussing the ‘who’, she emphasizes that exclusion is not necessarily a bad thing as the guest list should be just as purpose driven as the event itself. As she describes, there is a way to exclude kindly to activate diversity among the group. She also goes on to explore the size of gatherings and shares her magic number of guests for various events in order to reach established goals. The ‘where’ of the gathering is equally important, not only its physical size, but also the concept of keeping certain situations on neutral territory, such as a business merger. She later touches on the idea of physically moving rooms during different parts of the day for longer events, such as conferences or workshops. This can reinvigorate attendees by giving them a new environment.

After logistics, Parker takes a deeper look at elements related to the gathering such as how to be generous host and authority, engaging guests prior to the event, developing a proper welcome, facilitating realness, creating good controversy, and preparing an intentional closing. For example, she sends out a short questionnaire to all attendees prior to an event in order to guide her itinerary based on the responses. This not only engages guests prior to attendance, it also includes them as active participants in the planning process. Additionally, she facilitates realness by encouraging guests to keep their best self out of her gathering. By this, she means that most often individuals tend to build themselves up in new situations; however, she would rather guests have a sense of vulnerability to speak about what is real. Instead of talking about a new successful program just launched, talk about one of the challenges and ask for feedback to find a solution. Parker also believes in good controversy to stir up dialogue. She is against the no religion or politics in conversation rule and believes these topics are acceptable with an open-mind and mutual respect for everyone in the group.

As advisors, we often plan events and programs meant to increase involvement, ease the transition to college, explore major and career opportunities, embrace inclusivity and diversity, and recruit prospective students. By implementing just a few of these concepts, we can create unique experiences that encompass our institution’s mission and bring out the full potential of students. Furthermore, many advisors are involved with professional organizations and the planning of annual conferences. These tips can provide professional growth by sparking new ideas for innovative experiences that advisors can bring to the table at those planning meetings and take back to their home institutions. 

Parker’s philosophy on gatherings aligns with the NACADA core value of inclusivity by emphasizing the importance of diversity and openness. Her thoughts on how to foster good controversy and interesting conversation supports a core objective of higher education to advance the knowledge of students. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters details how advisors can practically apply NACADA’s conceptual core competency on how equitable and inclusive environments are created and maintained. It provides advisors with a guide to transform ordinary events into meaningful gatherings for both students and colleagues.

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