We recently caught up with Sarah Harmeyer, Founder and Chief People Gatherer at Neighbor’s Table, for her best tips on how to host your own neighborhood gathering. Sarah, who has hosted over 3,500 neighbors in her Dallas, TX backyard, now travels the country hand delivering custom-built community tables, often staying on hand to help neighbors host their first gatherings. Check out the interview below!
Tip 1 Start with the Right Mindset
When guests attend an event in my backyard, they often say how meaningful it is. Nine out of ten times, guests rave about the people that gather. My goal is to help each other see the very best things in each of us, and offer a space for connection.
I can provide a great meal or even decorate a pretty table, but it always comes back to people experiencing each other.
- Plan ahead so you can be present.
- Start with humility and friendliness.
- Do more listening than talking.
- Be earnest about learning names and something about your neighbors.
- Tell people what you hope they experience at your event.
- Encourage interactions and suggest putting phones away.
Tip 2 Break the Ice
Whether you’re hosting a neighborhood block party for fifty or meeting five people in a Neighborhood Favorite coffee shop, it helps to have a few ice breakers on hand to get neighbors who may not know each other to loosen up, start talking, and find common ground.
- Provide name badges / stickers and markers.
- Make the rounds not only introducing yourself, but introducing neighbors to one another.
- Play music as people start gathering. It can help with conversation.
- If hosting a larger group, put conversation starter questions on the table for people to pick up.
- If your group is 30 people or less, try to have one group conversation at some point in your gathering.
Tip 3 Assign Party Tasks
We tend to feel more invested and less awkward when we are able to contribute in some way – big or small. From planning to cleanup, invite neighbors to be a part of the experience. Some tasks might include:
- Greeting people as they arrive.
- Leading the ice breakers.
- Creating a kid zone.
- Sharing a toast.
- Keeping beverages stocked, glasses filled.
- Serving food and dessert.
- Loading the dishwasher.
- Emptying trash and recyclables.
Tip 4 Make It a Potluck
When you don’t know your neighbors well, make it a potluck and ask them to bring a dish with a story. It invites creativity! Maybe it’s a Lebanese dish your family always shared at holidays, the cupcakes you had the night you were engaged, or the easy dish you always made in college. It’s a fun way to get people talking and to learn about each other! My tried and true is tacos with all the fixings – a can’t-go-wrong-favorite in Texas! Chili and cornbread is another easy one for a big crowd.
We all have an internal desire for connection. It’s what we long for, not even realizing it sometimes. Somehow the act of sitting elbow to elbow around a table, sharing a meal, is something that can bind us. We listen more, and talk kinder there.
Tip 5 Get the Word Out
I’ve had neighbors over for cookouts, backyard concerts, holiday parties, and many other reasons to gather. I’ve even had leftover wedding cake from my sister’s wedding and invited people over to have a slice or two! Nextdoor is a great way to get the word out about what I’m up to with my neighbors.
- Create a theme or purpose for your neighborhood gathering along with a fun name (e.g. Coffees with Neighbors, Portsmouth Polar Bear Potluck, New Neighbor Happy Hour).
- Post an event on Nextdoor (here’s how). It’s a great way to put out a neighborhood-wide invitation with all the details. I often use an attention-grabbing photo and include a website or video link if I want to share additional info.
- Share the event link via Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter, and email.
- Whether you run into a neighbor walking the dog or riding the elevator, good old word of mouth works great, too.
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This Neighbor’s Table became a first grade girls craft table this weekend at a Mother/Daughter cookie exchange! We love seeing all the ways our Neighbor’s Table family creates moments at the table. Besides lots of sugar and laughter being shared, they had special guests stop by – their teachers! Teachers are basically celebrities at this age, so you can imagine the FUN! ?: @egoolsby210
A huge thanks to Sarah Harmeyer for these great ideas. Share your tips and stories in the comments below – we’d love to hear! Interested in a Neighbor’s Table of your own built by Sarah? Learn more at neighborstable.com.
At Nextdoor, we truly believe that cultivating kindness and creating meaningful connections result in strong and vibrant neighborhoods. That’s why, in 2020, we will be hosting #PoweroftheNeighborhood gatherings and meeting neighbors around the world. Read more about what we’re up to in CEO Sarah Friar’s recent Note to Neighbors, and apply here to win a neighborhood gathering of your own