15 Toasts

If you’re planning a get-together, the place you meet should match the purpose of the meeting. People act and interact differently in different spaces. So begins a great new book, The Art of Gathering; How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker.

Before you meet, at home or at work, make sure you’re clear about the purpose of your meeting and who needs to be there. If you don’t get that down, the rest of this doesn’t matter!


  • If you want to get a great conversation going, send out a note to each attendee prior to meeting to get them thinking about an idea.
  • The start of any gathering sets the tone for the whole time together. Priya suggested an unheard of thing for business meetings – don’t start with logistics, a long list of house rules, and vendor thank-yous! Just start your meeting and work those in throughout.
  • “Protect, equalize and connect your guests” at the start and throughout your time together. Honor each guest with your presence.
  • Once you’re gathered, close the doors to keep the energy in the room.
  • Make sure your set-up allows everyone to be part of the conversation and take out any unused chairs.
  • If you want to change the focus of the gathering part-way through, change rooms to help shift the conversation.

Priya offers a great idea from a series of gatherings she runs called “15 Toasts.” The premise of this is to gather 15 people and ask them to each share a story around a common theme. And each story should end with a toast. The trick to this, she says, is to create a space where attendees feel safe enough to share stories that aren’t all positive and light.

You can help that along by going first and setting an example.

Themes Priya has used include:

  • A good life
  • A stranger
  • Faith
  • Happiness
  • Collateral damage
  • Escapes
  • Borders
  • Fear
  • Risk
  • Rebellion
  • Romance
  • Dignity
  • Self
  • Education
  • A story that changed my life
  • Beauty
  • Conflict
  • Tinkering
  • Truth
  • America
  • Local
  • Fellow traveler
  • Origins
  • Courage
  • Vulnerability
  • Gifts given and received

Imagine an evening of stories around any one of those topics. Fun!

Then, at the end of the gathering, close in a way that leaves everyone with a final moment. You might gather in a circle one last time to thank everyone for coming and sharing. Or just gather to say a simple good-bye. Or be silent for a moment. Whatever you do, close the evening.

Today, I’ll close this gathering of minds with a poem by John O’Donohue, as recommended by Priya.

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


Our most recent gathering was my daughter Sam’s wedding. It had a great build up (pre-parties, rehearsal dinner). The location was a horse arena that was nicely sectioned so we all fit without a lot of room to spare. And the event had a great start, middle, and end with lots of dancing in between for everyone to connect. Nice job, Sam and Andrew!

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