Essentials in Planning for Impactful Gatherings: A Facilitators Toolkit

By Sharon Krohn, MCC

In preparing to chair a professional conference, I recently read an insightful book about the strategic event planning – Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.  Whether you are a leader arranging an important meeting or retreat, or facilitating a dinner event for an important client, Parker’s approach to gatherings can help craft experiences that will be meaningful and memorable.

Here are six takeaways to use in planning and facilitating events, large or small:

#1 – Decide why you are really gathering

Before beginning with logistics or arrangements, it is essential to determine the purpose of your gathering.  Be clear and specific. The purpose is your filter through which you can pass all decisions that the gathering requires.

Naming the event clarifies how your guests will perceive the purpose and prepares them for the level of expected participation. If you are hosting team in developing a new strategy, consider calling the gathering a ‘brainstorming session’, an ‘idea lab’ rather than ‘meeting’.

#2 – Develop a purpose-driven guest list

Decide which guests to invite and which to leave off the list, with an eye to serving the purpose of the gathering.  Be judicious about who will help achieve the purpose. Consider:  if guests are not fulfilling the purpose, they are detracting from it.

#3 – Consider the size of the gathering

Consider the size of the gathering and the venue to serve the purpose.  If you want to create intimacy where all can participate in one conversation, consider a small gathering of 6-8. A group of 12 is small enough to build trust and intimacy but large enough to host a diversity of opinion. Groups of 30 feel like a party.

#4 Prework is valuable.

Providing some prework to the attendees helps sets the stage for event – A question to ponder, an article or Ted Talk to consider.

#5 Don’t be a chill host

As Parker wisely observes, “Once your guests have chosen to come into your kingdom, they want to be governed — gently, respectfully, and well. When you fail to govern, you may be elevating how you want them to perceive you over how you want the gathering to go for them. Often, chill is you caring about you masquerading as you caring about them.”

Set your purpose, ground rules, and agenda and gently but firmly enforce this throughout the gathering. Generously introduce your guests and connect them to each other. Build a sense of community.

#6 Gatherings need effective closings.

All good things must come to an end.  An effective closing is essential. Parker highlights two final elements of an effective close:  Looking inward and turning outward. Looking inward is taking one last moment to reflect on what just transpired and to bond the group one last time. Turning outward is about preparing the guest to part from one another and retake their places in the world.

Often, I end gatherings with a closing circle. I love using poetry for the looking inward moment, to cap the experience and inspire refection, and then as a turning outward moment, ask the members of the group to share commitments about what they will do differently moving forward.  Parker suggests that guests might write commitments or pledges to their future selves on a self-addressed postcard to be mailed out by the organizer.  What a beautiful party favor with long term resonance.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters reminds us of something all good facilitators know:  90% of what makes a gathering successful was put in place before hand and that effective preparation always pays off.




Sharon leads amazing offsites.  Contact her today to discuss your own gathering needs.