A few months ago, I hosted a dinner for friends that never really got off the ground. I couldn’t understand it: I’d spent hours making a killer mushroom lasagna. I’d scrubbed and decluttered the apartment. I’d toiled over the music playlist.
Yet the whole evening was just kind of…blah. We all made chitchat, but it was a bit labored and punctuated by awkward silences. “I don’t get it,” I thought in a mild panic. “Why isn’t this happening?” After my last guest made for the door—a few polite minutes after dessert—I was happy to proceed directly to my pajamas, relieved it was over.
Why do so many get-togethers leave us feeling vaguely unsatisfied and a little hollow? Priya Parker, a group facilitator with a background in conflict resolution and the founder of Thrive Labs, which helps leaders have more meaningful gatherings, was struck by the same thought. Parker says we focus a lot on entertaining—picking the perfect recipes, setting the right playlist—but don’t really talk about the how of hosting once everyone is in the room.
Her new book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, is about stepping back and setting an intention for every event, big or small—weddings, backyard barbecues, business meetings. She maintains that you don’t need to be an extrovert or have a fancy house to make an occasion meaningful and memorable. All that’s required is a little planning and a few simple changes. I tried Parker’s advice to spruce up my own gatherings—and picked up some game-changing tips that even a novice host can easily put into practice. Make sure your AC or Hvac are perfectly working, specially if you decide to host on Summer days, I personally recommend glacier portable ac.
Commit to a Specific Purpose
Having a clear intention for a party from the get-go will make your gathering less one-size-fits-all or bland. Before you begin planning an event, ask yourself two questions: “Why are we gathering?” and “Why is it important?” Every time you reach a deeper reason, ask “why” again. “Sometimes it takes four answers to drill down to the real objective,” says Parker. “Like if you ask a friend why she wants a baby shower, she may finally say, ‘I guess I’m scared of the actual labor and birth, and I want to be rallied by people who have been through this before.’”
If the answer is, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it,” keep digging. Parker says sometimes we throw weddings, bar mitzvahs, and graduation ceremonies that are so tied to tradition that they don’t represent a person’s life and personality. Ask yourself, “Does this gathering reflect my values? And if not, how can I change it so it does?”
When Parker learned I was planning a dinner for six worn-out mom friends, she drilled me with “why” questions. At first, my answer was, “Because it’s fun to hang out.” Isn’t that enough? But she pressed on, eventually extracting the story of how, when I recently went on a playdate, my friend made me lunch. Since I’m usually the family chef, I was so pleased—and amused, because out of parental habit, she cut my sandwich into quarters and served me carrot sticks. I realized that I wanted to get together because I needed, on a very elemental level, to feel cared for—and I wanted to make my friends feel the same way.
Be Strategic With the Space
It’s said that 90 percent of what makes a get-together successful is put in place before the event—starting with the space. It’s tempting to book a massive venue for your shindig, but bigger is not better, says Parker. When people drift through a cavernous space, they miss one of the most delightful things about a party: the opportunity to bump into someone new and start a conversation. If you’re hosting a large group, build in contained areas for people to congregate. One veteran event planner told Parker that the reason guests often end up gravitating toward the kitchen is that people instinctively seek out smaller spaces as the group dwindles, in order to maintain the density. Gatherings need perimeters, or all the buzzy energy leaks out.