In defense of the ice breaker
Three easy-to-facilitate exercises that’ll encourage conversation, connection, and camaraderie among meeting attendees.
Ice breakers often get a bad rap — and not entirely without good reason. Some exercises push certain personality types, like introverts, too far out of their comfort zones. Others are simply overdone (“two truths and a lie,” we’re looking at you).
But ice breakers — whether conducted in-person or virtually — aren’t all uncomfortable and uninspiring experiences. There are myriad ice breakers that can be engaging and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Here are three easy-to-facilitate exercises that’ll encourage conversation, connection, and camaraderie among attendees.
3 ice breakers people will actually enjoy
1. Who is it?
How it works: At the beginning of a meeting, hand out pieces of paper (or a link to a Google Doc* if you’re doing it remotely) and ask everyone to write down one quirky and/or unexpected fact about themselves. After a minute or two, the host can collect papers or open the Doc, read a fact aloud, and task the group to match the fact with the author. After some guessing time, ask the author of the fact to identify themselves; they can then talk about their fact in more detail. Rinse and repeat until all fact authors have been identified!
Why it works: With this ice breaker, attendees spotlight interesting (read: quirky!) facts about themselves that they’re comfortable sharing. Hearing previously unheard facts will help attendees get to know each other beyond a surface level. To boot, the guessing element fosters an interactive — and less awkward — environment.
*For the remote Google Doc method to work properly (i.e., anonymously), do the following:
Create a new Google Doc, with a title like “Ice breaker: Who is it?”
Click the “Share” button in the top right-hand corner to change the Doc permission to “Anyone with the link can edit”
Send attendees the Doc link via DM or email
Get attendees to open the link when using incognito mode on their browser, so their names and pictures don’t appear as they write their facts
2. Pay it forward
How it works: First, choose how many positive remarks each person should receive (one to three is a good amount). Then, have the starting attendee turn to the person on their right and offer a positive statement about them, which can take the form of a straightforward compliment or an expression of gratitude. The person who was complimented (or thanked) then turns to the person on their right and does the same. Keep going until everybody has given and received positive remarks.
If this ice breaker is done remotely, you can have your folks pay it forward in alphabetical order or at random (but do make sure that nobody gets left out).
Why it works: This is a positive, smile-inducing ice breaker that provides folks with an opportunity to hear some of the reasons why they’re valued. It’s also quick — and inherently repeatable.
3. What are you reading, watching, or listening to?
How it works: Go around the group, asking each person which film, TV series, album, song, book, or article they’ve enjoyed recently. Allow others to jump in with their remarks (even if it’s just to corroborate — “Isn’t it so great?”), and if a discussion blooms — say, on a particular Netflix series — let it. Move onto the next person when the conversation naturally comes to a close.
Why it works: Ice breakers don’t have to be involved, and they need a gimmick. Simple, relaxed questions that give attendees windows to talk about their interests and help people to find common ground are just as (if not more!) effective. Plus, this specific ice breaker works well for any meeting, whether attendees know each other or not.
Fostering connection — without the discomfort
When easy, enlightening, and pressure-less ice breakers (i.e., the good ones, like the three above!) are used to begin meetings, people can come together and revel in a better atmosphere, whether online or in person. For hosts and attendees alike, there’s no awkwardness, no tensing up, and no first- or second-hand embarrassment — a win-win for everyone.