The Biggest Little Word to Ask Yourself Before Holding a Meeting

Priya Parker

Pre-COVID, nearly 3 out of 4 people considered meetings a waste of time, according to a Harvard Business Review study. And some of the most successful leaders in the world, such as Richard Branson, famously avoided them.

But now that many people are returning to the office, we have an opportunity to approach them differently by letting one big little word drive them.

That word is “Why?”

If you’re holding a meeting, think first: Why are you having it? What is the real purpose? If you are networking, ask yourself: Why are you? What is the outcome you desire?

This is the wise advice of Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, who argues that many gatherings in both our professional and personal lives are lackluster and unproductive. But they don’t have to be.

“The biggest mistake we make when we gather is we assume that the purpose of our coming together is obvious,” she says.

Consider a wedding, for example. The purpose may seem obvious: to get married. But you can go to City Hall for that, as she points out. So, to design a meaningful gathering, you need to think about your real purpose of having a public event. Answering that can take your attention off planning the details and more on creating an experience.

The same holds for a staff meeting.

“So often, we inherit a form, and we try to perfect the form,” she says. “We forget to ask, ‘Why do these people need each other, and for what purpose? How might you bring people together, based on that?'”

Drawing on her experience as a facilitator, she recommends: “Don’t worry so much about shaping things. Shape people. Shape the psychology of a group.”

A New Approach to Networking

In Colorado, two entrepreneurs regularly attended a networking event that never seemed to lead to anything, Parker said. So, after considering their why—or what they wanted to get out of meeting other people—they came up with a novel approach called The House of Genius.

They bring together a group of 15-18 wide-ranging minds and three business presenters once a month.First, the three presenters share their business and a key problem they face in a rapid-fire fashion. Next,eachattendee offers questions, insights, suggestions, or introductions that may assist the presenter.The “genius,” they say, is in the collaboration.

“I love this example in part,” says Parker, “because networking, which is a meaningful connection around a shared purpose, is an outcome. It’s not the form.”

It all began with asking: “What is our purpose? And what is a form that can help us get there?”

Priya Parker spoke at the 2020 Texas Conference for Women. This article is based on her session: “Let’s Get Together, How to Gather Even When We Are Apart.” You can learn more about Priya Parker’s work on her website.