Last week I wrote about why icebreakers at conferences and professional development events are so often met with groans. But that doesn’t mean you should just skip the icebreaker entirely!
Instead, here are some icebreaker ideas that actually work to try at your next meeting:
Rock, Paper, Dinosaur
For large groups that don’t know each other well:
- Everyone starts as an “egg”, identified by holding their hands over the head
- Eggs can only “battle” eggs
- A battle is conducted by best 2 out of 3 in “Rock, Paper, Scissors”
- When one egg wins, they turn into a “bird”, identified by flapping your arms like wings
- Birds can battle eggs or birds
- When a bird wins a battle, they begin a “dinosaur”, identified by hold your arms near your chest like a T-Rex (roaring optional)
- Dinosaurs can battle dinosaurs, birds, or eggs
- If a dinosaur loses they become a bird, if a bird loses they become an egg, if an egg loses, they stay an egg
- Goal is to end the activity as a dinosaur
This is goofy and does not require revealing personal information about oneself, which makes it nice for a large event of strangers. It allows people to laugh at themselves and be silly with other people. It creates more organic connections and allows people to break out of the stiffness that can come with professional development meetings. Be sure to find a creative way to hook it back into your content for the day.
Tap Someone Who
For small to medium groups that know each other well:
Have participants stand in a circle and close their eyes. Assign them numbers to split them up into even groups, ideally 3-7 people in a group.
- “If I tap your shoulder you’re a 1” (tap a few people)
- “If I tap your shoulder you’re a 2” (tap different people)
Go as high as you need to to include everyone. Then say, “If you’re a 1, open your eyes and step outside the circle.” Proceed to read questions that start with “Tap someone who…”
- Whose work ethic you admire
- Who has taught you something
- Who you’ve seen handle a difficult situation well
- Who you’d like to get to know better
- To whom you owe an apology
Do as many rounds as seems appropriate, allowing all participants to have a chance outside the circle.
For small to medium groups who don’t know each other well:
- Type up questions on small pieces of paper
- Distribute one question per participant
- Have participants move around the room and ask their question to another attendee
- Once their partner has answered the question, they ask the first person the question on their own paper
- When both partners have asked and answered, partners will switch question papers and roam around the room to find a new partner
This activity provides so much structure that it’s almost impossible not to participate. Questions can be as personal or as superficial as is appropriate for your group. You can get creative with how to tailor the questions to your specific audience.
These are just a few ideas you can adapt to your meetings but there is a whole world of innovative and underrated icebreakers out there. Just remember when designing yours, make sure your icebreaker works for the purpose you’re using it, respect your audience’s time, and make it clear why they’re doing this to achieve maximum participation.
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