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The Art of Gathering as the CWBA

If you’ve had a conversation with me in the last few years, chances are you’ve heard me rave about the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. Subtitled “How We Meet and Why it Matters,” Parker’s thesis is that the most important aspect of any gathering – whether it’s a meeting, wedding, birthday party, or networking event – is a clearly defined purpose. Why are bringing people together?


Too often, event organizers skip this step and jump straight to things like agenda items, venue, catering, and entertainment. Parker writes, “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. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

Parker’s principles of gathering align perfectly with my theme for the year – Intend to Thrive. Before we do anything, we should step back and make the time to examine what we want to accomplish. Approaching event planning with this kind of intention leads to gatherings that sparkle and a community that thrives.


Here are a few ways CWBA has embraced the art of gathering this year.


Lobbying for Laughs – the Annual Public Policy Fundraiser



The purpose of the Lobbying for Laughs event was to inspire people to support the CWBA’s advocacy work. We wanted to put on a program that was educational, moving, engaging, and fun. And – since this was a fundraiser after all – we needed to encourage attendees to support us by opening their wallets. We could have put together a standard panel discussion, but we knew this event required something different. We engaged the help of a professional auctioneer Auction Diva Shelly St. John, and we spent many hours brainstorming and refining what the program should look like. Shelly emphasized the importance of moving quickly so we would keep the audience’s attention. As we were discussing how to balance that with wanting to give each speaker sufficient time at the mic, Public Policy Co-Chair Chelsea Augelli mentioned that when testifying before the legislature, witnesses are given three minutes to speak.


From there, the idea was born! We would host a mock legislative committee hearing! Each speaker would have three minutes to “testify” about what the CWBA’s advocacy work has meant to the community and to them personally.


I also got to invoke my favorite chapter heading from The Art of Gathering – “Never Start a Funeral with Logistics.” When I gave my opening remarks, rather than making housekeeping announcements and rattling off a list of sponsors, I got into character right away. I introduced myself as the Chair of the House Committee on the Interests of Women and Children and called the special legislative session on House Bill 1891 to order. After talking about the importance of the “bill” (the CWBA’s advocacy work), I thanked the “bill sponsors” (Public Policy Co-Chairs and CWBA staff) and the “fiscal note sponsors” (our event sponsors) before handing the mic (and a large inflatable gavel) over to “primary bill sponsor” (Emcee and Auctioneer Shelly St. James) to moderate the “witness testimony” from the esteemed panel. We heard from two committee volunteers, a CWBA Past President, a former legislator, and a coalition partner, and it was fantastic. This also set the tone for the live auction and paddle raise that immediately followed the program, allowing attendees to connect the importance of our work to our need for their financial support.


The event was held at ComedyWorks and we finished the night with standup comedy performances. The choice of venue and including a comedy show signaled to our attendees that this was a not-so-serious FUNdraiser. An important reminder that, although the work we do is serious, it’s not sustainable to do this work year after year without some lightness and laughter.


DEI in the Workplace CLE & Networking Social



The DEI in the Workplace event hosted in collaboration with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and other bar associations included an educational program and a social gathering. The CLE panel focused on the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace, including its financial and creative benefits along with the benefit to employee morale by creating a sense of community. When we adjourned to the social component, rather than the typical free-for-all, the gathering was carefully structured. Everyone’s nametag had a color, a number, and a shape. During each of three rounds, we found others whose nametags had the same color (or number or shape) as ours and we were encouraged to determine two things we all had in common and one way that each of us were unique. The conversations I had were so fun and the topics discussed were much more varied than an average bar association networking event.



This was a great example of Parker’s concept “purpose is your bouncer.” When planning a gathering, you must make choice after choice. Harkening back to the purpose at each decision point provides a filter for determining each detail. When organizing this event, the DEI Co-Chairs identified the sharp purpose of highlighting the value of diverse and inclusive workplaces. The social gathering after the CLE panel directly aligned with that purpose by facilitating meaningful connections that highlighted our differences and gave us the opportunity to identify commonalities and acknowledge our shared humanity.


Friendsgiving


CWBA’s inaugural Friendsgiving event was designed to connect law students and lawyers in a low-key, casual setting. It was limited to 50 attendees – 15 DU students, 15 CU students, and 20 attorneys. We all gathered in the upstairs of First Draft in RiNo and got to know each other while snacking on a Thanksgiving-themed menu. In addition to being a wonderful evening, it was a great example of two art of gathering principles: “priming” and “the kindness of exclusion.”

“Priming” is the idea that the gathering begins as soon as your guests know of its existence. The name “Friendsgiving” signaled to would-be attendees what kind of vibe to expect – small, casual, intimate. The invitation further communicated just what kind of gathering this would be:


“A little nervous to attend? Don’t know anyone? No problem! Friendsgiving attendees will receive a token that matches an attorney with two students. Your challenge is to find your matching group.”


Nearly every law student I talked to (and some attorneys too!) said that they have been nervous to attend our events in the past and that this one seemed like an easy, welcoming place to start. And the matching tokens that were handed out – friendship bracelets. Adorable.



“The kindness of exclusion” may feel contrary to so much of what the CWBA aims to achieve – a welcoming and inclusive community. But in fact, thoughtful exclusion at an event can actually foster an inclusive environment. As Parker writes, “If everyone is invited, no one is invited.” Attendance was intentionally limited to create a small group with a thoughtful balance between lawyers and law students from each school. Had the event been billed as “open to all, law students welcome,” we likely would not have seen those students who needed the small, low-key event as an entry point to the CWBA. “By closing the door, you create the room.

 

In a post-2020 world, where a Zoom option is the norm and everyone is reevaluating what activities are worth their time, the creation of meaningful gatherings feels more important than ever. Whether you’re currently planning a meeting, a networking event, or a holiday gathering, I encourage you all to take a moment to step back and ask yourself “why?”


xoxo

Emma


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