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Icebreakers for Meeting Planners and Facilitators

ice breaker

Ice breakers are a great way to begin a meeting. They help to relax participants, and that makes them more receptive to listening and contributing. An ice breaker can also serve to build a team atmosphere and to generate enthusiasm. Ice breakers can be fun, amusing, humorous, thoughtful, surprising or just plain silly. The days of one-liner jokes as ice breakers are gone, and there are many new creative ideas. The most popular are games that have participants reveal something personal about themselves, or which encourage participants to get to know each other personally. The idea is that more than just having fun, the ice breaker will truly help to create group cohesion based on trust and understanding.

One of the tricks of an icebreaker is timing. It should not be too long otherwise the serious work of the meeting will not be given enough time. It should not be so short that participants feel it was a perfunctory exercise. Timing also depends on the size of the group, the overall length of the event, and the purpose of the event. An all-day retreat might warrant a half hour ice breaker, but a one-hour meeting may merit only a minute or two.

Truth and Lies Icebreaker

  1. Facilitator writes three statements on the board. Two statements are true, and one is a lie. Example:

    I have been teaching for 10 years.
    I have a pet newt called, "Isaac Newt."
    I lived in Switzerland for a year.

  2. Participants ask "lie detector" questions to get further information, in order to determine which statement is false.

    For example:
    Teaching - Where have you taught? What have you taught? What year did you start? Pet - How old is Isaac Newt? What does Isaac eat? Where do you keep Isaac? Switzerland - Where did you live in Switzerland? What language was spoken in that part of Switzerland?

  3. Participants vote on which statement is a lie. Record votes for each statement on the board.
  4. Reveal which statements are truths and which is a lie.
  5. Place participants in small groups (3 or 4 works well). Small groups repeat steps 1 - 4.
  6. Have participants introduce each other to the large group.

The Magic Wand Icebreaker

You have just found a magic wand that allows you to change three work related activities. You can change anything you want. How would you change yourself, your job, your boss, coworkers, an important project, etc.? Have them discuss why it is important to make the change. Another variation is to have them discuss what they would change if they become the boss for a month. This activity helps them to learn about others' desires and frustrations.

Marooned Icebreaker

You are marooned on a island. What five (you can use a different number, such as seven, depending upon the size of each team) items would you have brought with you if you knew there was a chance that you might be stranded. Note that they are only allowed five items per team, not per person. You can have them write their items on a flip chart and discuss and defend their choices with the whole group. This activity helps them to learn about other's values and problem solving styles and promotes teamwork.

The Interview Icebreaker

Break the group into two person teams (have them pick a partner that they know the least about). Have them interview each other for about twenty minutes (You can also prepare questions ahead of time or provide general guidelines for the interview). They need to learn about what each other likes about their job, past jobs, family life, hobbies, favorite sport, etc. After the interviews, reassemble the group and have each team introduce their team member to the group. This exercise helps them to learn about each other.

Who Done That Icebreaker?

Prior to the meeting, make a list of about 25 items relating to work and home life. For example, a list for a group of trainers might have some of the following:

  • Developed a computer training course
  • Has delivered coaching classes
  • Is a mother
  • Knows what ADDIE means and can readily discuss it
  • Enjoys hiking
  • Has performed process improvement
  • Served in the Armed Forces
  • Is a task analysis expert
  • Delivered a keynote speech

Ensure there is plenty of space below each item (3 or 4 lines) and then make enough copies for each person. Give each person a copy of the list and have them find someone who can sign one of the lines. Also, have them put their job title and phone number next to their names. Allow about 30 minutes for the activity. Give prizes for the first one completed, most names (you can have more that one name next to an item), last one completed, etc. This activity provides participants with a list of special project coaches and helps them to learn about each other.

The ADDIE Game
Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate

Make up a reasonable problem scenario for your organization where people need to get introduced, e.g. "The manufacturing department is bringing in 20 temporaries to help with the peak season. They want us to build a short activity that will allow the permanent employees to meet and introduce themselves to the temporaries." Break the group into small teams. Have them to discuss and create a solution:

  • Analyze the problem - Is it a training problem? If they decide that it is not a training problem, then remind them that most problems can be solved by following an ADDIE type approach. Perform a short task analysis - How do people get to know each other?
  • Design the activity- Develop objectives, sequence.
  • Develop the activity - Outline how they will perform the activity and trial it.
  • Implement- Have each small team in turn, introduce themselves in front of the group using the activity they created.
  • Evaluate- Give prizes to the most original, funniest, etc. by having the group vote.

This activity allows them to learn about each other's problem solving styles and instructional development methods, it also introduces the members to each other. This method can also be used to introduce the ADDIE method to new trainers. Time - about 60 minutes.


Finish the Sentence Icebreaker

Go around the room and have each person complete one of these sentences (or something similar):

  • The best job I ever had was...
  • The worst project I ever worked on was..
  • The riskiest thing I ever did was...

This is a good technique for moving on to a new topic or subject. For example, when starting a class and you want everyone to introduce themselves, you can have them complete "I am in this class because..."

You can also move on to a new subject by asking a leading question. For example, if you are instructing time management, "The one time I felt most stressed because I did not have enough time was ..."

Animal Sounds Icebreaker

  • Works with any group size over 10 and with large groups; the more the merrier.
  • Invite people into a circle and hand out blind-folds and help people to blind fold another.  Alternatively, ask for eyes closed.
  • Explain that each person will be hear a whisper of an animal name.  Move around the group, giving each person the name of animal
  • The challenge will be to find all other animals of one's own kind.  No-one can talk - only animal sounds can be made.
  • Very loud chaos ensues, then gradually order and unity emerges as animals find one another. Be prepared to shepherd people from danger, but usually people are very safe with many not moving much, rather focusing on listening and calling out to others.

Favorite T-shirt Icebreaker

Ask attendees to bring (not wear) their favorite T-shirt to the meeting. Once all participants have arrived, ask each person to show the shirt to the group and explain how the T-shirt best resembles their personality.

Long Lost Relative Icebreaker

As a group, 1) ask each person to turn to the person on their right and greet him/her as if they really didn't want to be there. Yeah, you know what I mean - you can't wait to get out of there! Then everyone (simultaneously to create lots of fun and excitement) turn to the same person and greet him/her as if (s)he is a long lost, deeply loved relative who has just returned home and you're about to see the person for the first time in years! In fact, you thought you may never see this person again until this very moment. Okay, now ask everyone (again simultaneously) to turn to the same person and greet him/her as if this person just told you that you won the state lottery for 50 million dollars and you have the ONLY winning ticket!~~

The Status Game Icebreaker

Set Up: Distribute playing cards to everyone in the group -- one per person. Each
participant places their card on their forehead, visible to others but not to
themselves.
Process: Instruct people that they are now at a party. They are to mingle for five minutes, treating everyone according to the status of their card. People holding the highest cards are the highest-status individuals; people holding the lowest cards are the lowest-status individuals. After five minutes, stop the game. Without yet looking at their cards, people should now line up according to their perceived status, from highest on the left to lowest on the right.

Debrief Questions: What happened during the game? During your party conversations, how did you go about imparting status to others? What were the cues, both verbal and physical, that clued you in about your own status? How successful were you in guessing your status? How did it feel to be treated like a The point:Status is communicated in so many ways, including:

  • Verbally - The words we use.
  • Para verbally - The way we use them.
  • Body Language - The way we stand, the way we shake hands, the way we maintain eye contact, body movements, gestures, touch.
  • Personal Space - The space between us and others.

This exercise brings attention to our communications styles and the feelings generated around status. Question: Is status learned or instinctual? Is it possible for humans to relate to each other without imposing status relationships?

Safety -- The first rule is not to take any chances that could cause physical injury to your participants.

One of my favorite team building exercises is called the "Terrorist Toxic Popcorn Situation." This is an easy exercise for both adults and teens. The goal is to decontaminate a can of "toxic" popcorn that has been secretly placed in the room by "terrorists." Your team must quickly come up with a plan of action; assemble tools and equipment, transfer the material into a "safe" container before the "toxic" substance explodes. This is a great game to identify the planners, doers, and thinkers in your group. It also demonstrates the importance of having a good plan.

A Great Day for Hats!

Give each participant a donut-shaped piece of felt or other material approximately 18 inches in diameter. Tell participants to form a hat with the material. Participants should have enough time to make their hat. At the end of the team exercise, allow each person to explain the hat they created. You can also put people on teams and have some friendly competition between the groups on who can come up with the most creative hat.

Letters and Names

Give each person a few moments to think of an adjective starting with the same first letter in his or her first name (e.g. "Great Guy Rankin"). Begin by modeling it yourself. Then go around the group asking each person to state their name/adjective combination. During various points of the exercise, or at the end, ask volunteers to remember and repeat each of the names and adjectives volunteered so far. Provide prizes to those who do the best job.

The Napkin Game

Ask participants to form equal size groups. Give each group a napkin and ask them to fold the napkin as small as possible. However, it must be large enough for members of the team to place their toe on the napkin.

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