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3 Unexpected keys to planning successful events


Georgi Fadejev

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/12/24

We all plan events! A few invisible changes can help you craft a more enjoyable and memorable get-together to build community with purpose.

Almost all of us plan events. Whether it’s a birthday party for your kids, a holiday dinner for your extended family, a board game night with your friends, or a retreat or Bible study at your parish, you’ve probably planned some kind of get-together recently.

Even though we do it all the time, planning events can be pretty stressful. From practical logistics to emotional quandaries, there are so many moving pieces that go into event planning. 

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you might want to check out a recently released book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I would recommend it to those who plan events frequently, perhaps if you work at a church or school. But really anyone could enjoy it since we all plan events sometimes.

I read it recently at the recommendation of my younger sister who is planning her wedding for this spring. It’s not your typical event planning book: There was no advice on menus, decorations, or seating arrangements to be found. 

Invisible ingredients that make a gathering great

Instead, The Art of Gathering looks at the invisible, magic ingredients that make for a great event, things like choosing the details carefully and beginning and ending events with a clear sense of purpose. 

As the author explains, “Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.”

If you’re wondering what are some easy ways to improve your own events, check out these three pieces of advice I took from The Art of Gathering.

Lead events with authority

This one was the biggest lesson for me! As a hostess, I used to try to be “laidback and chill,” but this book helped me understand why stepping back too much actually makes it harder for guests to relax and enjoy themselves. She explains that hosts should lead events, so that guests don’t feel that they have to take charge themselves:

Exercising your authority once and early on in a gathering is as effective as exercising your body once and early on in your life. It isn’t enough just to set a purpose, direction, and ground rules. All these things require enforcement. And if you don’t enforce them, others will step in and enforce their own purposes, directions, and ground rules.

Obviously this doesn’t mean being a dictator, but simply taking charge of the event you’ve planned to make sure it accomplishes whatever purpose you had in mind in a way that everyone will enjoy. She goes into a lot more detail about how to pull this off in the book.

Be deliberate about the details

From the venue to the schedule to the invitations, Parker encourages hosts to think carefully about what each component of an event communicates.

Regarding the choice of venue, for example, she writes the following:

What many hosts don’t realize is that the choice of venue is one of your most powerful levers over your guests’ behavior… A venue can and should do one further thing: displace people. Displacement is simply about breaking people out of their habits. It is about waking people up from the slumber of their own routines.

There is something beautiful about envisioning an event as taking people out of their routine to the brief magic of of an alternate reality. The event is almost a mini vacation for attendees.

This kind of thoughtful planning is a loving gift we can give to our guests, lifting their spirits and reviving their sense of purpose.

Think outside the box

My final lesson from the book was to embrace creativity and the unexpected in event planning. As Parker writes, “People have to take chances in order to do something extraordinary.”

A great example of thinking outside the box comes from a youth minister I know who wanted to build community and friendship among husbands and fathers at his local parish. He found a very creative way to do it: He began organizing a monthly card game night.

The event became very popular, and sure enough, the friendship and camaraderie of the group skyrocketed. The entire parish benefits from the community that he developed because of a willingness to think outside the box and build up Catholic brotherhood in a creative and unexpected way.

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