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What I'm reading: The Art of Gathering

What I'm reading: The Art of Gathering

Think about how many meetings you attend now, compared to pre-lockdown – are they more or less productive? Are your meetings more or less focused, and do you get what you need from them?

Priya Parker is a master facilitator and an expert in international conflict resolution.

In her 15 years of helping leaders and communities have complicated discussions, what she noticed was that in the set-up of many meetings, whether they be social, work or government, the focus of the project was on the format.

Before lockdown, I got the chance to put a lot of Ms Parker’s simple techniques into practice, and found the ideas in her book The Art of Gathering provided me with the confidence to try and do things differently.

  • Purpose: We gather for so many good reasons, but the paradox is, we do not always focus on the ‘why’? Every meeting should have a bold, strong purpose – do not conflate ‘category of the meeting’ with ‘purpose of the meeting’, it’s more than an agenda.
  • Ushering: The concept of how you move people from the hubbub of their day-to-day life into the right mind-set for your meeting. Remember, the meeting starts from the moment you invite people to join. You can set rules as part of the invite so people are clear as to what they are signing up for.
  • Do not be a chill host: I will admit I have been at many of events, and taken part in leading them, where the easy option is to be a chill host. The conversation gets dominated by loud individuals or those people whose question is a soliloquy. What you need is a host who exercises ‘generous authority’ – do not let individuals dominate, be generous in ensuring everybody is heard, and create rules that support the meeting purpose.
  • Cause good controversy: How do you break the artificial harmony that we all like to keep, and can we engineer it in a way that it operates within a set of rules? That gives people confidence to explore a healthy conflict, to support getting closer to the purpose.

Since the coronavirus pandemic put the world into lockdown and all our normal event gatherings on hold, Chris Anderson, chief executive of Ted Talks, held a virtual conversation with Ms Parker where she explained how we can take advantage of gatherings that are unique to this current moment of social distancing.

You can listen to the talk here:

Robert Cochran is senior take-to-market specialist at Scottish Widows