Understanding why we use icebreakers

Experienced professionals all know the need for icebreakers.

The only challenge is to know what icebreaker to use and when to use it.

If you can master icebreakers, all that other delivery stuff is really easy.

Icebreakers are extremely important in sessions to:

  • Facilitate Introductions
  • Assist Group Formation
  • Introduce Topics, Concepts Or Themes
  • Prepare Participants For Learning
  • Energize The Group
  • Icebreakers are usually employed at the start of a session or at stages where new material or sessions are beginning (e.g., after a break or to energize a group before a new topic is covered).

    Most opening activity icebreakers should last around ten to fifteen minutes – although there are a range of issues that may influence what icebreaker that you will employ.

    It is important to make sure that all participants are comfortable with the icebreaker – even though sometimes the exercise may challenge them.

    Choosing Ice-Breakers For Your Events

    There are many issues that need to be considered when choosing an icebreaker for your event. These include:

    Rationale/Goals: It is always essential that the icebreaker chosen reflects the rationale and goals of the training event.

    Experience: It is also crucial that it has been tried and tested on others. And, that you are familiar with all aspects of the activity.

    Audience:

  • Consider who the audience is?
  • Are they there as a group or as individuals?
  • What are the participants ability levels?
  • Have they completed the icebreaker before?
  • Remember individuals also like to be challenged.

    Connection To The Event: You must also ensure that the icebreaker ‘connects’ to a point in the event. To illustrate, an energizer activity is best used after a break period than before the break!

    Structure of the Activity

    When considering the structure of activity to be used you will need to be aware of:

  • The number of participants involved.
  • Time required – do you have enough time to complete the task?
  • Place – where the activity will take place?
  • Permission – participants should be allowed to choose not to participate
  • Tone – What tone does the activity set with the group.
  • Opportunity to include learning points for the training event.
  • Opportunity to ask questions.
  • Icebreaker Games
    What I Expect?

    Objectives
    To ensure that all expectations are set at the start of the training event.

    Method
    Draw a simple matrix on a flip-chart. Some sample answers are provided as examples – these will help you get participants started.

    From The Course

    Knowledge
    New Skills

    From The Trainer

    Expertise
    Experience
    Direction

    From Others

    Confidentiality
    Honesty

    From Me

    Participation
    Support

    Ask participants to complete their expectations of the course, of the trainer, from others and from themselves.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    2. Can anyone explain why it is good for us to set expectations?
    3. How can we use these expectations for the rest of the training event?

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size. Max 15 minutes.
    Getting To Know People

    Something For The Weekend

    Objectives
    To allow people to get to know each others names and share some basic information about each other.

    Method
    Ask each person to state their name and to share what they are doing for the weekend. If they are not planning anything for the weekend then ask them to talk about the last weekend they did something? And so on …

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 10 minutes.

    What Does It Mean To Me?

    Objectives
    To get participants to offer their opinions on the meaning of words and to promote greater discussion in the group.

    Method

    Place the following list of words a flip-chart and ask each participant to chose one word. And, to then discuss what it means to them.

    Note: You can substitute other words to suit the purpose of your training event.

    Teams Success Work-Life Balance
    Change Happiness Vision
    Leadership Friendship Freedom
    Trust Faith Hope

    Encourage participants to discuss the meanings of the words. And, explore how we all can hold different meanings for the same word.

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size.

    Telling Me – Telling You

    Objectives

    To encourage participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote greater discussion in the group.

    Method

    Divide the training group into pairs.

    Ask the pairs to describe to each other their favorite things.

    Once they have completed this task, bring the group back together. Then ask each member to describe in detail their exercise’s partner favorite things.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions

    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes.

    Icebreaker Games
    ‘Me – A Name I Call Myself’

    Objectives

    To allow people to get know each others names and to share some basic information about each other.

    Method

    There are many variations to this icebreaker.

    A few will be outlined here to indicate how they work.

    The Animal
    Each person picks the name of an animal that starts with the first letter of their own name. To illustrate, ‘I am Aardvark Alan’.

    Then the next person continues by stating ‘that was Aardvark Alan and I am Bettle Bob’. And so on …

    The Name
    Ask each person to state their name and to give a little more information about their name. Why are they called that name? Is there any history associated with the name? Do they have a nickname? What other name do they like? And so on …

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size.

    Maximum time 10 minutes.

    Three Is A Lucky Number!

    Objectives
    To encourage participants to offer their opinions, encourage listening and to promote greater discussion in the group.

    Method
    Divide the group into pairs.

    Ask the pairs to debate (1 for and 1 against) the proposition that ‘3 is a lucky number’.

    Ask the group to role play this situation for 10 minutes.

    Once they have completed this bring the group back to together. Then ask a few groups to role play this debate with the larger group. Use these simulations to guide your discussions.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can we use this exercise for the rest of the training event?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes.

    Circle Of Friends
    Objectives
    To get participants to offer their opinions, encourage listening and to promote better discussion in the group.

    Method
    Divide the group into fours.
    Ask one member of the group to be the main character and that the others are their friends.

    The friends have to tell the main character about themselves and the main character will later have to introduce their friends to the larger group.

    You can rotate the main character a few times to give everyone experience of this position.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can we use this exercise for the rest of the training event?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size.

    Maximum time 15 minutes.

    Paris, Rome or New York

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote better discussion in the group.

    Method
    This is a very simple exercise that participants can also have some fun with.

    Ask participants of the training event to imagine themselves in each of the cities above. And, what they would like to do there? What would they work at? Would their life be different? If so, in what ways?

    Once each person has described who they would like to be get the group in a circle to discuss the exercise.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group and individuals perceptions of different things.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?
    Of all the places presented does anyone want to change? If so why or why not?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes

    Opposites – Reverse
    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote greater discussion in the group.

    Method
    This is a very simple exercise that participants can have some fun with also.

    Ask participants of the training event to describe a character that would be the exact opposite to themselves.

    Once each person has described their exact opposite get the group in a circle to discuss the exercise. Then ask the group to reverse the descriptions and describe each other.

    This exercise also encourages listening skills within the group and individuals perceptions of themselves and each other.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    2. How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?
    3. Has anyone changed their perception of their opposite or themselves? If so, how or why?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size.

    Maximum time 15 minutes.

    “I Like Toys”
    Objectives

    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote discussion in the group.

    Method

    Divide the group into pairs.

    Ask the pairs to describe to each other their favorite toy when they were young.

    Once they have completed this bring the group back to together. Then each member must describe in detail their exercise partner’s favorite toy and be able to answer questions on the group on this toy.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions

    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?
    How did the toy represent you?
    What toy would represent you now?

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes.

    Desert Island Choices

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote greater discussion in the group.

    Method

    This is a variation of the desert island discs program where participants choose what records they would bring with them onto a desert island.

    Ask participants of the training event to pick three things that they would bring with them if they were going to be marooned on a desert island.

    You can give examples or specify areas if you like. To illustrate:

    Books (great escapes may help)
    Tools (Boat building!)
    CD’s (don’t forget CD player)
    People

    Discussion Questions
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?
    What do your choices tell you about yourself? Please explain your answer.
    What do others choices tell you about them? Please explain your answer.
    Having heard what others would bring, is there anything else that you would no bring with you

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size.

    Getting To Know People

    Just For You

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote better discussion in the group.

    Method
    Divide the group into pairs.

    Ask the pairs to describe what gift they would give each other.

    Once they have completed this bring the group back together. Then each member must describe in detail their exercise partner’s gift from you, why they chose it? And, what it says about their partner?

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can we use this exercise for the rest of the training event?

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes.

    The Interview Game – Odd or Even

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote discussion in the group.

    Method
    Divide the group into threes and assign numbers 1, 2, and 3 to each member.

    Ask the odd members to be interviewers for a job as a bank manager (or a job title of your choice). And, the even number to be the candidate at the interview.

    Ask the group to role play this situation for 10 minutes.

    Once they have completed this bring the group back to together. Then ask a few groups to role play this interview situation for the larger group. Use these simulations to guide your discussions.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can we use this exercise for the rest of the training event?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes.

    My Favorite Place

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote better discussion in the group.

    Method
    Divide the group into pairs. Ask the pairs to describe to each other their favorite place.

    Once they have completed this bring the group back to together. Then each member must describe in detail their partner’s favorite place and be able to answer questions on the group on these places.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions
    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?

    Appropriate Time Required

    Flexible, dependent on group size. Maximum time 15 minutes

    Icebreaker Games
    If I Wasn’t Me

    Objectives
    To get participants to share their opinions, encourage listening and to promote discussion in the group.

    Method
    This is a very simple exercise that participants can have some fun with also.

    Ask participants of the training event to think about who they would like to be if they weren’t themselves. Each person will need to describe this person to the group.

    Once each person has described who they would like to be get the group in a circle to discuss the exercise.

    This exercise also encourages questioning and listening skills within the group.

    Discussion Questions

    Did anyone feel uncomfortable doing this exercise? Is so, why?
    How can this exercise help us during today’s training event?
    What does the person you chose to be tell you about yourself? Please explain your answer.

    Of all the characters presented does anyone want to change? If so why or why not?

    Appropriate Time Required
    Flexible, dependent on group size.