New York to Los Angeles, Minneapolis to Atlanta, Seattle to Miami and everywhere in between, the topic of weather dominates the first 5 minutes of most conference calls and meetings. When you’re on a call with your client in Chicago, you’ll hear “Looks like we will be back in the 30’s by Wednesday.” On a video chat with your remote co-worker in Portland, you’ll get “I was planning on going to the coast this weekend but there’s an 80% chance of rain.” “The Santa Ana’s might be bringing rain to us tonight” says your vendor in Burbank. In 2009, before the omnipresence of smart phones, the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that adults in the US obtained 300 billion weather forecasts a year, or an average of 3.8 forecasts per day per person. I can’t imagine the statistic today as I watch colleagues plan their commute home by referencing the radar.
Last year I attended a dinner party hosted by my friends Samantha and Brian who recently moved back to Chicago after 4 years in Singapore. The conversation twisted and turned from cultural adjustments, weekend island hopping to Thailand, to professional workplace differences and the dreaded first few minutes of every call. Brian laughed; “I’ve started being the guy who joins 5 minutes late just to avoid the complaints about the weather.” Brian had to readjust to this pointless banter upon returning to the states. Apparently in Singapore, since the weather is virtually the same everyday, conference calls start with more interesting topics like food and vacations.
As we shy away from the polarizing topics: politics, religion, and even kids, we are left with the least interesting, least memorable topic of all. Brian’s experience inspires me to use this small window of opportunity to actually get to know the person on the other line. I think we are better than talking about the weather. I think YOU are better than talking about the weather. I’d argue that these first few minutes of our calls and meetings are precious. They set the tone for the rest of the conversation and give us an opportunity for memorable connections.
Why don’t we take this valuable time to ask questions that will produce a conversation of substance? I challenge you to 30 days without talking about the weather. Within the first day, you will become aware of how often you use the subject as a crutch. Here are some go-to questions to keep your conversations interesting:
- I read the Shonda Rhimes book, The Year of Yes, which inspired me to re-watch an embarrassing number of Grey’s Anatomy episodes. What have you been watching recently?
- We are thinking about getting a puppy. Do you think it is a mistake?
- Did you read that article about wellness?
- I’m training for a 10k run, any tips?
- I’m refusing to do the Disney trip. Does that make me a bad mom?
- I ate at a delicious Indian restaurant this weekend. What type of food do you like?
- Have you attended any interesting conferences lately?
- Have you seen the Ted Talk on executive presence?
- Are you planning to get the new iPhone that came out?
My advice? Keep it positive. You might find out that your client loves hot yoga, Kombucha and truffle fries just as much as you do. The more you connect, the easier it will be to get the conversation started on your next call. Peppering in these conversation starters will make the first few minutes of your meetings more memorable for everyone.