I was talking with a colleague recently who shared with me how much she hates icebreakers. Confession time: If I’m being honest, I hate being a training participant and having to engage in icebreaking activities, too.
So how do we take the sting out of icebreaking activities for our participants? My guiding principle is pretty simple on this point: make the icebreaking activity, like all other learning activities, relevant and meaningful for the participants.
Let’s try out a few icebreaker examples introducing the Train Like A Champion blog.
A Traditional Icebreaker
Facilitator: “Please introduce yourself to the people around you by sharing your name, where you’re from and your favorite breakfast food.”
TLAC: “My name is Train Like a Champion, I’m from Seattle, WA (though on Thursdays you can find me in Helena, MT) and I eat poor training experiences for breakfast.”
Many participants don’t like getting up in front of others and speaking, especially as the first thing they’re asked to do in a session. This traditional approach is well-intentioned – it helps introduce participants to one another in a non-threatening manner. Unless, however, you’re in a session about nutrition and dietary habits, the third question seems random.
Some people may like random questions, but anyone who is leading a training session must keep in mind that every moment of your participants’ time is precious. So why not combine a traditional icebreaker like this with a question more focused on the topic at hand?
If you’re leading a session on sales, convert that third question into something along the lines of: “What keeps you going in the face of a string of potential customers who have turned you down?” If you’re leading a session on early childhood education, convert the third question into something like: “What was your favorite children’s book when you were growing up?”
When your icebreaking questions are relevant to the topic at hand, activities are perceived as less nonsensical and help to get participants thinking about what will be covered throughout the remainder of your session.
The 6-word Icebreaker
There are many variations of this particular activity, the most common of which is the 6-word memoir. It holds its roots in a legend that Ernest Hemingway entertained a $10 lunch bet to write a story using exactly six words. He wrote: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. There is no actual evidence this lunch bet was made or that he even wrote those words, but it’s turned in to a deceptively difficult icebreaking activity.
Train Like A Champion’s 6-word memoir would be: My tricks can change the world!
Challenging your participants to introduce their lives and/or their careers in exactly six words can be one way to get people thinking about what’s been important to them. Switching this up slightly, you can also ask participants to introduce themselves and then craft a story in exactly six words about the biggest challenge or question they have about your topic. Another variation could be to have participants describe their expectations of your session using exactly six words.
This type of icebreaking activity can be debriefed to help participants think more critically about things such as the importance of concise written communication, the need to ruthlessly prioritize information or as a commentary on the challenges of being effective when resources are scarce.
Looking for More Icebreakers?
Here is a set of 16 icebreaking activities that you can download and use at your leisure. The key to any effective icebreaker is to change up the generic instructions so that you can make the activities as relevant as possible for your participants.