3 Things speakers can learn from ‘The Art of Gathering’ by Priya Parker

As I write this it’s May 2020 and the conference landscape has shifted to virtual, with varying degrees of success. I’ve been recommending ‘The Art of Gathering’ to speakers and conference organisers alike, along with Priya Parker’s excellent new podcast ‘Together Apart’.

The reason for this is that she brilliantly takes us right back to fundamentals, about why we gather as humans, and how to create truly meaningful events. (The podcast takes this thinking into the design and facilitation of virtual events, and shares a really fascinating range that we can learn from.)  

I highly recommend reading and listening. These are three of the many points that stuck with me from the book.


‘Specificity sharpens the gathering because people can see themselves in it.

‘Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.

This is useful to think about both in the design of the gathering, and the design of our talks.


‘We get lulled into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering—the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall—will be instructive to designing it. But we often choose the template—and the activities and structure that go along with it—before we’re clear on our purpose.’

Being clear on the purpose of the gathering, and where we fit into this as a speaker, needs to remain a constant focus. This will help us to avoid simply trying to replicate venue-based events online. Following previous conference formats is not enough to make it work.


‘Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backwards from that outcome.’

Again, in all that goes into organising an online conference or event, and preparing for that as a speaker, it can be too easy to get caught up in the technical details (the technology, the staging, the ticketing, the schedule) and lose sight of what change you really want to make.

Other fascinating concepts in the book include: the role of the host; heat and stakes; the opening and close. It is so thought-provoking and useful. And the ‘Together Apart’ podcast shares excellent virtual examples that we can learn from.