Crafting Meaningful Moments: A Blueprint for Intentional Gathering in 2024

Organizations plan virtual and in-person events at the beginning of the new year. You might be someone working in a role at a nonprofit or are part of an association. If so, I don’t have to tell you that events have been challenging the past few years.

You may want to host a retreat but don’t know if anyone will sign up, or you think it would be great to offer a virtual summit, but if you provide it for free, how will you ever cover your expenses? These are all great questions to consider, but I’d like to ask you a few questions before we do. Why are you thinking about events? (Besides that, I’ve just brought this to your attention.)

Many of my clients want to host events inside their online communities or plan to host a conference this year. The average cost for a small business to host an in-person conference is around $15,000 — $50,000, according to this 2022 article. Even a tiny virtual event could cost you $2,500 or more when considering the expense of software, marketing, setup, promotion, sponsorship, registration pages, assistants or volunteers, and more! (And your time counts as an expense.)

But hosting an event doesn’t have to be a big deal. And it doesn’t have to be this costly. You do need to consider who you’ll invite and why. In Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet And Why It Matters, she describes more intentional and intimate meetings.

“We get lulled into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering — the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall — will be instructive to designing it. But we often choose the template — and the activities and structure accompanying it — before we’re clear on our purpose,” Parker says.

You’ll need a strategy for a successful event before, during, and after the event. This isn’t just logistics; I’m talking about how to host a gathering that matters to you and them. (the guests)

“Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses,” Parker says.

Next time you approach the idea of an event, consider a few factors like the time you must dedicate to planning, reaching out to speakers, marketing, and the guest experience. Think about how you want to feel during the event. What would you like the participants to experience?

Create an experience they will remember for years to come.

Have you been to an event that you remember years later? How was it memorable? What brought you there at that time? What did you experience?

During an intimate gathering in January 2020, I invited friends to my home in Harrisburg to experience a day of self-care. I imagined what I wanted to feel, experience, and enjoy during this event. I thought about the purpose of this event — to share resources around finding calm.

The day began with a brief meditation led by a good friend, a yoga instructor, and a practitioner. We got to know each other and participated in fun activities, including learning about essential oils and how to self-soothe our pain.

Ultimately, we laughed with the yoga leaders who encouraged us to be loud. It was one of the most memorable events I’ve ever organized. It didn’t cost more than $100 (plus my time, energy, and effort), and that’s because I wanted to provide gift bags upon leaving the event.

Not only did I spend a decent amount of time thinking about the event’s structure (the order and timing of different activities), but I also thought about how to fit these people comfortably inside my tiny apartment. I knew I planned to keep a flow through the four-hour event.

Ultimately, this event worked because it was a small group (7–10 people stopped in at different times), and I provided snacks and breaks for those who could only stay for a short time. The people I invited were either close friends or people I knew would be interested in this event.

This kind of gathering is more intimate and valuable, so having a direct list to send an email or invite over a phone call might have led to a better experience for the guest. Many clients I’ve worked with in the past few years, myself included, have spent much time trying to market on social media. I’ve learned that the best events are ones in which we feel excited about or motivated to participate, especially if that means we can talk about our challenges, successes, and memories.

This year, the best events will be smaller or provide an option for various experiences, including large conference halls, small meeting rooms, and a way for people to sit and enjoy coffee, tea, or a beverage in person or virtually.

Parker says the “magic number” for an intimate gathering is around eight to twelve people. “Smaller than eight, the group can lack diversity in perspective; larger than twelve, it begins to be difficult to give everyone a chance to speak.” Consider ways to use this strategy online when bringing groups together.

Ideas for engagement for events online or offline

Another aspect to consider when planning an event is thinking outside the box regarding engagement strategies. Let’s try to do better than asking someone, “How are you?” because lately, that’s a loaded question.

Parker gives a few suggestions, “What if, instead of just introducing the theme of “a good life,” we asked each guest, at some point in the night, to give a toast to “a good life,” whatever that phrase means to them? … Another idea: What if we asked them to start their toasts with a personal story or experience from their own life?” Maybe that’s too much to ask of your guests, but I think many of them would love to share stories from their lives instead of discussing the work they do to pay the bills.

Another tip from Parker: “Studies show that audiences disproportionately remember the first 5 percent, the last 5 percent, and a pivotal moment of a talk. Gatherings, I believe, work in much the same way. And yet we often pay the least attention to how we open and close them, treating these elements as afterthoughts.”

I’ve participated in many events and some miss great opportunities to connect with attendees before or after an event. This year, think about how to invite a specific group of people for an clear purpose, and exciting reason to gather, for a shared experience that will offer them a chance to be a part of something special.

Are you hosting events? Let me know what you’ve found helpful!

If you have any questions or comments, email



Deb Schell, Author and Community Strategist

Community Strategist, Author, Podcaster, Designer. Find Calm Here, where community strategy meets intentionality.