Icebreakers are a great way to get a conference or meeting off to a strong start. In fact, they are so effective that they have become commonplace and often expected by participants. When planned and executed well, icebreakers can be enjoyable for participants and also allow people to get to know each other. They can also be used as a tool for participants to understand the goals of the session. Done badly they can make individuals feel uncomfortable, and ‘close up’ rather than breaking the ice. Therefore it is important to consider the individuals attributes and what sort of icebreaking exercise would work best. Also bear in mind what sort of ice you are trying to break. For example are the people likeminded but just haven’t met yet, or perhaps the individuals have very different cultural backgrounds and engrained perceptions of one another.
These are our 5 favourite icebreaking activities:
Storytelling has been recognised in recent years as a very powerful tool, and it is also a perfect icebreaker. Depending on the context, ask participants to tell a short and relevant story.
2) Use a poll
Getting all participants involved is a great ice breaker. One way to do this is by using a real time poll which can be used to run a quiz, or perhaps to gain information about the participants. Results can be shared on screen to boost participation and involvement.
3) Guess who
Ask each participant to write an unusual fact about themselves, fold up the piece of paper, and put it in a bowl. Someone reads out the anonymous facts one by one and the other participants have to guess who the fact belongs to. This one works best in small groups.
4) Find a colleague
At a larger event, give everyone name badges and the name of one of their colleagues. The task is to find the colleague and then ask them some basic questions as prescribed by the organiser – such as ‘what is your job title?’
5) Funny questions
Pair participants up and give each pair a set of questions to ask each other. These questions are designed to encourage humour and laughter. Ideas for the questions could be:
- If you were a fruit, which one would you be and why?
- If you could be any star in any movie, what would you pick?
- If you could be an animal for just one day, what would you be and why?
Icebreakers are a brilliant way to erode barriers between participants, and to establish a level of commonality before a session begins. We have provided our favourite icebreaking activities, but there are plenty of ideas to choose from. The most important consideration is ensuring the icebreaker is appropriate for the specific participants attending the session.