There are several books “out there” about training ice breakers, but I did not like the suggestions I found. Most were too corny, too crass, or would use more time than I want to spend when my objective is to conduct substantive classes.
When Is It Important to Use an Ice Breaker?
For the answer to that, I read some content from The Balance Careers. Here are some suggestions based on their findings. They go into much more detail than I can here, so I suggest you go to that link when you’ve finished reading this blog. Yes, that was a plug for you to keep reading this one first!
When members of a class or audience already know one another, you might want to forego using an ice breaker. However, there are exceptions.
For example, employees in different departments or at differing levels of the organization could benefit from learning something new about each other or about a surprising thing they have in common. This helps build interest, compassion, and teamwork. Here is an example.
The ice breaker technique was helpful when I gathered long-term employees together for a college employee training class to teach individual and group roles during emergency operations.
The gathering was very unusual. The group contained grounds persons and maintenance staff, office and administrative staff, and faculty (from a variety of disciplines) – many of whom had Ph.D. level educations. Most of these “students” were acquainted or “knew each other by sight,” but none of them had extensive interaction with people in the different departments. These folks might have known of each other, but they did not KNOW each other.
On the other hand, I was in charge of the campus police and emergency operations. My mission was to teach every employee new policies and procedures in a very short timeframe. That made it a great opportunity to use the following sample ice-breakers. (BTW, it worked like a charm and helped these people in future interactions reaching far beyond the topic of emergency management.)
Introductory Ice Breakers for Co-Workers in a Training Session
You can ask the participants to share their name, department or role in the organization, length of service, and also choose one of the following for all to answer.
- Name your favorite employee and give us two sentences about why that person is your favorite.
- What hobby or special interest do you have outside of work?
- Tell us the most surprising thing you would like your fellow participants to know about you.
- Share one, little-known fact about yourself.
Yes, you can do this for both in-person and for online meetings.
A note of caution: ask questions designed to elicit SHORT answers. Someone said of me, “If you ask her what time it is, she’ll tell you how to build a clock!” That is a sample of why it is good to couch the question in words like, “briefly,” “in one or 2 sentences, tell us,” “what three words describe your attitude toward…” You get the idea.
When participants learn new things about one another, it can contribute to long-term team building or simply stimulate interaction during the class at hand. Do it, if you need the students to bond quickly for work on an objective.
Ice Breakers Help When Participants Do Not Know Each Other
Ethnic and Cultural Differences
Another great time for using an ice breaker is when people are strangers to one another and/or to you. This is especially important when people come from different ethnic, cultural, or religious backgrounds.
In fact, if you have a long program or if you incorporate breakout sessions into the training, you might choose to use ice breakers more than once at the beginning of a segment.
A different kind of ice breaker is one in which you have attendees stand up and do some stretching or brief aerobic exercises. This is a great tool to use in mid-afternoon or before an after-lunch presentation when people are likely to be sleepy.
This seems like an apropos moment in which to remind you that I create Nancy’s Novelty Infographics to announce breaks, breakout sessions, brainstorming, and other events for use by event coordinators, presenters, and others to use during retreats, conferences, training sessions, and more. Click Here for details and samples, like the image above. I designed them for in-person events, but they work equally well on Zoom and other online platforms.
Technical Training for “Non-Techie” People
Particularly in technical training for “non-technical” people, ice breakers help. It’s also helpful when the attendees know nothing about the topic, but they might assume everyone else does.
Why does that matter? People don’t want to appear “dumb.” Technical training can be intimidating, and that is accentuated when students think the other participants already know and understand the concepts or procedures. It makes students feel timid about asking questions even though it is critical that they understand what you’re saying.
Speaking of all things “technology,” you might want to use an ice breaker-style exercise to fill time when you have technical difficulties. This will help keep participants’ attention and prevent their leaving the room while the gurus do their magic in fixing the unfixable.
Unfamiliar Topics And / Or
They Don’t Know You,
and You Don’t Know Them
More opportunities for using ice breakers include:
- when the topics you are discussing are new or unfamiliar to many people involved.
- you need to make people comfortable with you and receptive to your presentation.
- as a facilitator, you need to get to know participants and have them know you better in order to have credibility. In that case, you can use your own example as the opening to the ice breaker by sharing your answer to the question you’re about to pose to the group.
Helping Attendees Know Each Other Better
Things to Try:
As a facilitator, the secret of a successful icebreaking session is to keep it simple.
Design the session with specific objectives in mind and make sure that the session is appropriate and comfortable for everyone involved
- The True or False Game: ask your participants to introduce themselves and make three or four statements about themselves, one of which is false. Now get the rest of the group to vote on which fact is false. As well as getting to know each other as individuals, this exercise helps to start interaction within the group.
- An Interview Concept: ask participants to get into twos. Each person then interviews his or her partner for a set time while paired up. When the group reconvenes, each person introduces their interviewee to the rest of the group.
- The Problem Solvers Challenge: segment the participants into small groups. Give each group a simple problem to designate a reporter and then work out possible resolutions in a short time. Reconvene the small groups back into the whole and have each group present its analyses and solutions to the wider group.
There is much more to say and do with this. If you are interested in exploring and practicing, feel free to contact me for a class. We can hold it for individuals or a group. Email me at MyPersuasivePresentations@gmail.com and put “Request for Ice-Breaker Class” in the subject line, so your email does not get lost among the hundreds I get. I offer a free initial consultation so that we can determine how best to meet your needs, and I can customize the class a bit for you.
Do It The Write Way! Let My Fingers Do Your Talking!
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