Choosing an Icebreaker

Your icebreaker will be most effective if it is carefully selected to help the group move toward the overall outcome of the meeting, training, or facilitation. To do this, you need as much information as possible about the participants and about their expectations.

Who will be in the room?

In any group of participants, there are characteristics that will obviously affect the meeting, training, or session—for instance, whether they speak the same native language or how well they already know each other (if at all). There are also many less apparent characteristics, however, that may also be very important in selecting the right activities.

It may be helpful to develop a checklist of questions to ask before an event, just to get a level-set about the group. For example:

  • Do they know each other?
  • What roles do they play?
  • What are their occupations?
  • Is the group generally harmonious or in conflict?
  • How diverse are they?
    • Age
    • Ethnicity
    • Organizational level
    • Education
    • Mobility
    • Native language
    • Other attributes that are relevant

What is the desired outcome for the entire event?

Because icebreakers are used as part of a larger program, it is key that you align your content (and icebreakers) with the overall objectives of the group. It is critical to know why people are gathered together and what you hope
to achieve as a result. Also, because different stakeholders can have different expectations for the event, it is helpful to check those assumptions as well.

Tips:

  • Can you briefly state what the goals of your program are?
  • Have you verified the goals with either the group or the ‘boss’? Or both?

 

How to use this information

The purpose of an icebreaker is to create a building block for the future success of your program. The focus of the exercise(s) you select should be in alignment with where the group stands. Do they know each other? Is there a new team member? Is conflict an issue that needs to be addressed?

First, look through the list below to find the heading that best corresponds to the needs of your group:

  • Introductions: Start here if the group doesn’t know each other or there is a new member.
  • Trust Building: Start here if the group knows each other but isn’t getting along or communicating very well.
  • Mini-Assessment: Start here if the group knows each other and gets along fairly well, but you don’t know where they are in terms of the content of the meeting, training, or facilitation.
  • Engagement: Start here if the group knows each other and gets along fairly well, but lacks focus or energy in engaging with the material.
  • Alignment: Start here if the group knows each other, gets along, you know where they are, they are engaged with the topic, and you want to emphasize their alignment with the goals of the session.

Next, go to the corresponding heading in the exercises listed in the navigation bar and select the one most appropriate to your program.

If you don’t know which to choose

You also can look at the always dependable VisualsSpeak Core Icebreakers if you are stuck on which icebreaker to choose. They are always the first exercises listed in each section (Making Introductions, Building Trust, etc).

 

The Visual Icebreaker is also available in a printed version.