I’m a self confessed foodie, and so I’m always interested to hear about anything people have eaten. However you may be surprised to know that asking about food can be a great way to get more from your meeting participants.

Typically, in an online meeting I’ll ask people to post in the chat as they arrive. This has two purposes

  1. It makes them find and use the chat function
  2. It fosters participation and reduces passive behaviour right from the get-go, a real win for online meetings.

What the participants are invited to write in the chat is important. Saying hello is fine, but ideally we want to build connections, spark conversation and give a little insight into who the participants are. Enter…food!

We all need to eat. For some (like me) it’s a delight, for others it’s just a necessity. Culture and time shape our food in ways we don’t usually consider, and it’s the perfect conversation starter.

Here’s an example of the chat from a recent meeting.

10:01 Caroline: As you arrive, just for fun, share a note in the chat telling us what you had for breakfast.
10:01 Celesté: Hot Chocolate and bread
10:01 James: Cereal, toast and a banana – my cat had her eye on my toast
10:02 Sandeep: I’m on a fasting programme at the moment, so just water for me!
10:02 Claire: Just coffee for me
10:02 Celesté: Wow, how do you find not eating? I think I would really struggle
10:03 Stephen: Oh I need my coffee, I’m terrible without it
10:03 Sandeep: It’s OK actually, I’ve got used to to it now

This little exchange is brimming with useful data:
Provides a nod to cultural differences. In online meetings people can be joining from anywhere in the world and it can be easy to forget we don’t all share the same culture. Talking about food is an elegant way to bring this front of mind, which paves the way for participants to work together more thoughtfully.

Provides topic for informal conversion
Participants have an easy place to connect, interact and have fun. Which builds the connectedness of your group.

Reveals a little more of who people are
James has a cat, Stephen needs his coffee. The more we understand each other the better we can anticipate how to get the best from each other.

So that’s food. A huge highlight in my world. Have you found any other unifying topics that do the same? I’d love to hear.