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4 conversation starters for your Thanksgiving Zoom

Here's how to connect more meaningfully with your loved ones this holiday.
We'd suggest inviting the least shy or most outgoing person to go first!Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/TODAY illustration
/ Source: TMRW

Thanksgiving will look a lot different this year — whether that’s because you’re dining with only your household members, mourning the loss of a loved one or trying to figure out the least awkward way to socialize with 20 people on Zoom.

One element of Thanksgiving that never changes, however, is the challenge of sparking quality conversation among family members of diverse ages, backgrounds and, oftentimes, political views.

In the midst of launching our first book, "Impact: A Step-by-Step Plan to Create the World You Want to Live In," we’ve tapped into conversation topics that people universally love ... that are hardly asked. This holiday season, we’d like to offer them to you in hopes they connect you more meaningfully with your loved ones.

With fewer people in our homes this year, it’s a chance to get to know the ones we hold close in even better. And on video calls, you can pick one or more of these questions and answer round-robin style, giving everyone their moment to respond. (We'd suggest inviting the least shy or most outgoing person to go first!)

1. Who made a difference in your life this year?

Many families take a few moments to say out loud what they’re thankful for when it comes time to carve the turkey. This year, whether at the table or on a video call, why not go a layer deeper?

Ask who made a difference in each person’s life this year. Maybe your grandma says it was the volunteer who delivered groceries to her doorstep. Maybe your aunt says it was her old roommate who called up weekly to check on her mental health. Maybe your cousin says it was the former colleague who shared his resume widely when he was laid off. Give the person who impacted you a shout-out at your Thanksgiving table, and take note of everyone’s responses. It’s a reminder of all the small, seemingly inconsequential ways that we impact the lives of those around us every single day.

2. What have you learned about resilience this year?

Everyone at your table survived 100% of the challenges that were thrown at them in 2020. The resilience we build in our lives through overcoming personal challenges is a key skill, one that is absolutely essential to work we take on as a changemaker, advocate or activist of any type. This question is a way to invite the guests at your table to celebrate what they have survived and pull from each other’s strength, as well as to prompt a meaningful conversation in a year where we’re all practicing this skill.

3. What’s your North Star?

Your North Star is your own vision for the world you want to live in.

During a global pandemic, reality looks very different from your ideal world, but when we can articulate our vision, we find our motivation to take action for a better, more equal and more just world.

Our technique for identifying your North Star is to complete the blank in this sentence: “I want to live in a world where____________.” Draw the answer from a combination of your lived experiences and topics in the news that push your buttons. For example, “I want to live in a world where every person has access to Wi-Fi so they can keep learning. I want to live in a world where girls and women feel safe and loved.”

The easiest way to do this? Simply speak from the heart. Learn what your family values most to grow closer and to understand one another on a deeper level. (And if you’re in one of the many families hosting a politically divided group this holiday, you’ll gain insight and progress for the conversations you’ll want to have one-on-one later on.)

4. What are your impact goals in 2021?

Once you have your dinner party opening up and sharing their thoughts, use this question to encourage one another in setting action plans for next year. Come prepared with a few ideas of your own, from small, everyday changes you want to make (eating less meat, for example, or volunteering at a local shelter), all the way to your big, audacious dream for the year (like hosting a fundraiser of your own, or running a marathon for a nonprofit). Your role here? Provide some inspiration, and then lay on plenty of encouragement. Offer to team up with family members or friends on goals you share, and motivate everyone to share at least one action they hope to take in the new year to make the world a better place.

Changing the world starts with changing your own life. Those usually aren’t grand, sweeping changes, like quitting your job. They can be as simple as sparking the right conversations. Remember to crack open everyday moments, approach them with curiosity and use them to create understanding and inspiration. Whether you pair these questions with drinks or dessert, the heartfelt conversations that result will give your holiday the warmth you want, even if it’s happening under strange circumstances.