On the Humble Icebreaker

Do you run meetings where getting people to engage feels like pulling teeth? I know I do. I also know of an ancient facilitation technique that helps to break the ice, and make things a little more alive.

Yes, icebreakers can feel a little silly—and they are no silver bullet for the many challenges of running a great meeting—but I would argue that they are still an essential facilitation tool. What can icebreakers do?

  1. Give every person a chance to speak. Think of the icebreaker as a warm-up. If your meeting includes open discussion, icebreakers are a must, like stretching before the game. 
  2. Break the script. When I think of running meetings—or any event, really—I think of Priya Parker, a meeting consultant who wrote The Art of Gathering, one of my all-time favorite books. Parker observes, “We tend to follow rigid if unwritten scripts that we associate with specific locations.” Icebreakers offer a way to break up that “meeting script” playing in our heads and make your meeting feel a little more, well, alive.
  3. Create connection. How well do you really know your colleagues? Well enough to name their go-to karaoke song? While we may think we know all there is to know about our colleagues, icebreakers offer a structured way to generate some unexpected insight into your teams. Like, what karaoke song they would sing if put on the spot. (Mine is Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”)

From injecting hilarity to surfacing wisdom, icebreakers are the Swiss army knife of meeting facilitation. They are handy little tools that can do a lot of things…and they’re also a little dangerous. Don’t let the icebreaker eat up too much meeting time! Get a group of six people talking about Halloween candy and I guarantee that you will waste half of your 30-minute meeting debating your preferred shape of Reese’s. 

Here’s a list of some of my favorites from the past 5 years:

  1. What's your go-to karaoke song?

  2. How do you like your eggs prepared?

  3. What movie have you seen more times than you can count?

  4. What historical figure would you have dinner with?

  5. What is your go-to recommendation for out-of-town visitors?

  6. What non-pool body of water did you swim in most recently?

  7. Outside of search engines and social media, what is your most visited website?

  8. What is your typical breakfast?

  9. What is your favorite US airport?

  10. What popular fast food or chain restaurant have you never been to?

  11. Have you ever fallen for a scam? If so, what and how?

  12. What is your favorite piece of artwork in your home?

  13. What was your favorite childhood toy?

  14. What is your go-to cookbook?

  15. What was the last piece of exciting mail you received?

  16. What object / item in your house do visitors always comment on?

  17. How many cavity fillings and/or crowns do you have? (If you have none, tell us your favorite candy.)

  18. What do you never leave the house without? (e.g. in your pocket, your purse, etc.)

  19. What are you always losing?

  20. What is a superstition that you have?

  21. Tell us about a recent unexpected moment of delight.

  22. What was your most recent wildlife encounter?

  23. What is your favorite travel destination?

  24. Name an object in your house that brings you joy.

  25. What is the one app on your phone you couldn’t live without? (Assume you can keep all standard apps.)

  26. What’s your favorite (or least favorite!) landmark in [AREA]?

  27. What is something in pop culture you don’t “get”?

  28. What’s your favorite cereal?

  29. How many bones have you broken? Which ones? (If you have never broken a bone, tell us about a close call.)

  30. What’s your favorite piece of clothing?

  31. What was your first concert?

  32. What is your favorite household chore? (If you can’t abide the idea of a “favorite chore,” then your least favorite.)

  33. Do you have a scar? Tell us how you got it.

  34. What’s your earliest childhood memory?

  35. Tell me about your first car. (If you’ve never owned/had a car, tell us about another “first” mode of transportation—bike, subway, bus.)

  36. What’s the wildest hair style you’ve ever had? (If you have pictures, even better!)

  37. Tell us about a time you missed a flight. (Or almost missed a flight.)

  38. What are you excited about?

Share this post:

Comments on "On the Humble Icebreaker "

Comments 0-0 of 0

Please login to comment