June 19, 2024

the host with the most

taco on a plate topped with bright orange salsa
a taco from houston, texas with two salsa bottles behind it. a lime wedge is tucked gently beneath the double corn tortillas. the taco is done texas-style with meat, cilantro, onions, and a bright orange salsa. there’s nothing like a texas taco! photo by Chris Nguyen.

This post is narrated! Listen below…

I like socializing among many different groups. Some of my friends I’ve met through work. Others I met in school. Still others started out as friends of friends that I made into my own. I also love hosting parties, the bigger the better. At these parties I invite friends from every group. I relish interactions between groups of friends when each group knows me in a different way. It’s fun to see how personalities crackle between strangers who all have at least one thing in common: me!

This freewheeling approach is fun for house parties, especially in one’s twenties. After all, alcohol and loud music helped build friendships I still hold close to my heart. But these tricks are less effective in work settings or among adults who have bedtimes. In this world, a great gathering has to compete with jammies and a comfy bed. My friend Tom recommended to me a book that promised to help. In The Art of Gathering, author Priya Parker explains how to create moments that last.

generous authority

One of the concepts that Parker introduces is one she calls generous authority. Parker writes that generous authority means ruling the party with strength and confidence. The authority becomes generous when we act “selflessly, for the sake of others.” My parties were more akin to releasing a bunch of strangers in a loud living room. Generous authority puts the guests’ needs first to create a fun, controlled experience.

make connections

Parker says that one part of a host’s job is to make connections among the people present. This is not the time to step back from our responsibilities! Friends tend to clump together at most parties and don’t often mingle. Most couples hang out with each other all night. While that might be a great night for those few people, the gathering itself suffers. We risk missing out on the opportunity for connection with people we didn’t arrive with. Use your authority in ways that help people leave your gathering with the feeling that it was time well spent.

My friend Susan, a sorority member who went to a southern college, was an absolute expert in connections. Susan had a knack for introducing her friends to people they needed to meet. She’d start by pulling two people together like we were both five and at the same playground. Next, she’d give each of us the other’s name and a brief sentence about us. Then, she’d go even further by describing something interesting that we had in common. She never failed to spark conversation between strangers. Twenty years later, I still think about her as a host like no other.

protect your guests

Generous authority means protecting guests from their worst impulses. You might think that a guest who spends the night checking their phone is harmless. At some events, you may be right. When we leave people to their own devices (no pun intended), we discard their uniqueness in that space. A generous host helps course correct guests who aren’t considering the group as a whole. In Parker’s book, this means creating rules or agreements. A host might enforce a no-phones policy so that people have no excuse not to talk to each other. They might refuse latecomers after a certain time so as not to disrupt the vibe of the room. They might even exclude some guests so that every attendee fits into the larger purpose of the event.

My husband and I host film festivals at our apartment that they curate with specific themes. These events are lots of fun to host, with plenty of food, laughter, and some terrific movies. Depending on the size of the gathering, they can get raucous at times. My friend Jamie visited us from New York to attend a few of these. He adopted the idea and began hosting a horror film fest at Halloween each year. His invites are always clever and fun to read, even if we can’t attend, but he does not allow talking at his festival! Guests can’t talk unless they’re asking someone to pass the popcorn.

I balked at this rule at first because I’m very often guilty of talking during movies. Usually I’m making a quiet joke for the couple people within earshot. But in reading The Art of Gathering, I realized what Jamie was doing. By stating his only rule up front, he gives guests a chance to opt in or out. Someone who hates hearing people talk during a movie will appreciate the gesture. Someone who can’t shut up when a movie is on know they risk a scolding for breaking this rule. As host, Jamie is controlling the experience so that everyone can have the best time possible.

don’t be a chill host

Hosting an event takes effort. Many people start with the logistics, say a venue they want or a guest list they have in mind. Parker instead recommends focusing first on the guest experience. What purpose does your gathering serve? How do you want people to feel? How can editing down our guest list make the event more meaningful to the people we invite? Parker makes the case that if we’re going to put in all this effort to host an event, we should want people to have a good time.

One of my favorite events I’ve ever hosted is a taco truck crawl. I’ve done this in a few different cities and it’s always gone well. The first occasion was years ago in Houston. I gathered a dozen or so friends in the early morning and set out for breakfast tacos. I planned out a whole day’s worth of tacos around the sprawling city.

For a solid eight hours, we drove from truck to truck ordering each chef’s special taco. Chorizo, egg, and cheese from our first spot. Barbacoa with spicy red salsa from another. The vegetarians in our group ate bean tacos, pupusas, and tortas right alongside us. We closed out our day with tacos de mollejas, also known as grilled sweetbreads. These were from a truck nestled in the middle of a huge farmers market near Houston’s outer loop. Across the street was a Mexican bakery that sold pan dulce and crisp, sugary churros. For hours we ate, hung out, and drank beer from the cooler in my trunk (don’t ask). It remains one of my fondest memories and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I think that’s what all gatherings should be about. Our guests give us hosts their time and their trust. We honor that relationship when we give them the best experience possible.

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photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space