When we used to have in-person conversations and meetings, we were more practiced in the art of conversation.  We were more focused on getting conversations started with introductions. And we were more patient and cognizant of the power of starting slowly and building up to the heart of the conversation through small talk to get everyone in a comfortable head and heart space. These icebreakers let us get to know the others in the room and relax and feel comfortable. 

Ice breakers often disappear when we have online meetings or group calls. However, dialogue is the foundation of strong relationships. How we start is key to the conversation. When starting a conversation, especially when not in person, it’s important to give people a chance to hear you and get comfortable with the sound and tone of your voice. If you’re facilitating group calls, give some time and space for everyone to say hello and introduce themselves, and connect them personally to the other people on the call. 

Because I’m often leading these conversations, people on the call get used to my voice but not everyone else’s who is attending. Yet research is a collaborative art, and there are other people on the call who often ask their own questions.  To keep the conversation from feeling disruptive when a new person contributes, I like to have everyone on the call introduce themselves at the beginning of the call, even if they plan to listen only.  When a new person enters the conversation, they need to take a moment to enter well. That means start by saying hello. Let them know who you are and how you are connected to the conversation, and then ask your question or make your comment. That way they have a chance to refocus on you and get used to your voice. Contrary to popular belief that it takes up too much time, it actually saves time over the course of the conversation.

Some people call this small talk. Small talk is anything but small. It’s warm talk, connecting talk, setting the stage for a great conversation. Small talk is anything but small.