Do You Know Why You’re In The Room? (You Should)

Look at your calendar real quick. 

I bet you have stuff scheduled today, and several things this week, that involve being in a room, real or virtual, with other people.

Some of those meetings are obviously work-related, because they happen in a conference room or conference call.

Others are pretending to be fun (drinks!) but are really work-related meetings in disguise (sorry, salt rim, you’re fooling nobody).

And still others should be just fun things, and yet, if we’re being honest, are really super boring.

Yet, we still gather. In rooms, with each other, and always will.

Question is, do you know why you’re there? In that room, at that moment? Does anyone?

Priya Parker is a professional facilitator. She’s trained in group dialogue and conflict resolution, and has spent 15 years studying it. Her book, which is fantastic, is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, and I saw her speak at a conference called How Design Live this past spring. She blew my mind. I bought multiple copies.

She says there’s a reason why most meetings are boring at best and frustrating at worst, or even our social gatherings and “fun” events often suck: Because we don’t really know why we’re there.

Parker says, if you’re not totally sure the purpose of the meeting, BEYOND the category (“status update,” “birthday party,” “networking event”), then you should really seriously consider not doing it until you know.

And if you think you can put some good people, even big personalities in the room, and let charisma take care of the rest, good luck. Because no.

“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering,” she writes. “And we forego the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

A good purpose for a gathering must be, as she says, specific, unique, and disputable.

When I read that my jaw dropped. Yes yes yesss! I’ve been screaming about this for years. Your purpose, whether you use it to drive a meeting or your brand messaging, is the same:

It has to be unique to you, and it has to be something that someone else might disagree with.

That’s why “supporting women business owners” and “helping people grow their assets” are not interesting—because they’re too vague and acceptable. Blah.

Parker says we mistakenly look to logistics to give meaning to events: Chefs, caterers, florists, etc. We have it backwards: The decisions on logistics should flow FROM purpose. Not the other way around.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You don’t start with the assets—website, a brochure, a podcast, a TEDx talk.

You start with purpose. That’s the heavy lifting—and most people just don’t do it.

Most people do what has always been done, and they stay just this side of doing something meaningful. They settle for what checks the boxes on productive (or, worse, makes them “feel” productive and they are not always the same thing).

If you’re going to do something that matters—call a meeting, throw a party, give a talk, craft messaging that actually connects with someone—it’s requires a unique and disputable purpose.

And some kind of risk. Because that’s what it feels like to do something only you could do.

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