Ignore Taylor from accounting when they rolls their eyes at the mention of icebreakers. Properly wielded icebreakers can create cohesion, boost engagement, and help drop defenses when implemented strategically for your meetings. Use this powerful tool to elevate a meeting beyond its content. Ice breakers span light hearted, probing, serious, or ridiculous but should never be chosen without a goal in mind. Measure your choice against the group’s relationship to each other and the outcome you need for your meeting. Do you need an activity to lighten the mood? Spark dialogue? Increase interpersonal knowledge? Icebreakers excel at getting people talking and laughing.
The ideas below can work in both virtual and in-person settings but this list was curated specifically with virtual or remote teams in mind.
This is the easiest icebreaker you’ll ever lead during a virtual session. The key is preparation. Are you ready? Think of a question that cannot be answered with a yes or no. Create a slide or image of this question preceded by a prompt like this, “Please answer this question in the chat”. Once you’ve got your question slide ready, stick it at the front of your slide deck and have it displayed as people enter your virtual meeting. It should be the first thing they see. Within moments you’ll start to see people answering in the chat and conversations starting because of your questions. The hardest part of this ice breaker is choosing a single question to ask. Here are some ideas and variations:
- It the chat please complete this sentence: My idea of paradise is…..
- In the chat please answer this question: How do you unwind after a long day?
- In the chat please complete this sentence: My parents named me _______ because ___________
- In the chat please complete this sentence: I can’t believe I have never….
Keep an eye on the chat and use some of the answers to start your own chats with your audience as you wait to begin. You could also go the super boring but ultimately useful route of asking a question that is related to your presentation. Then you can use the answers to riff on later as you dig into the content. You can also have new prompts anytime you go on break or come back from one.
This icebreaker is an easy one for webinars since it doesn’t require being on camera.
Group Size: Any
Time Frame: 2 to 5 minutes
3 Second Rule
Once you have everyone’s attention in the meeting ask them all to turn off their cameras. Then give the following instructions:
- In a moment I will make a statement. If the statement I make is true for you, please turn. your camera back on and join me for a 3 second dance party. After the seconds is complete, turn your camera off and wait for the next statement.
- Keep an eye on who turns their camera on if you’d like to learn more about the people in this meeting.
- I’m going to do a quick test to insure we are all on the same page. Turn your camera’s on if you can hear me talking and join me for a 3 second dance party.
- Great! Almost everyone was listening it’s time to begin.
The questions that you ask the group should be able to be answered with a yes/no answer. Here are some of our favorites. We have made some of them vague on purpose. Imagine that before each of these prompts you use the command, “Turn your camera on if…”
- You have been to 5 or more countries that you are not currently living in
- You speak more than one language.
- You watched the entirety of Game of Thrones.
- You’ve ever worn handcuffs
- You prefer to crumple instead of fold.
- You prefer Miracle Whip instead of Mayo.
- You’ve always wanted a tattoo but never got one
- Have worked at this company for 10 or more years
- You’ve ever rescued someone.
Group Size: Any
Time Frame: 5 to 10 minutes
I LOVE this activity because it gives you unique window into parts of people’s lives that aren’t obvious. During Mementos you ask people to retrieve items from their environment that answer the prompts you give them. For large groups I recommend utilizing breakout rooms and sending people into to small groups to do shares. Here are the instructions for the activity.
- In a moment I am going to ask you to retrieve something from your environment. The prompt I give you may be a question or it could be a statement you’ll have to interpret. When I say “Go”, you’ll have 1 minute to scour your surroundings for the answer you want to share.
- When you return to your camera, please keep the item off camera until I say “reveal”. We will all reveal at the same time.
- For Larger Groups: Once we’ve done our reveal for an item I will open breakout rooms. Inside your breakout room you will have X amount of time. Please remember that breakout is timed. If you take longer than one minute to share, you’ll run the risk of erasing the other person’s opportunity to share. If you’re not presenting your job is to listen with curiosity but hold your questions.
After I say “reveal” I like to “popcorn” around and ask random people about their item. After 2 or 3 I’ll open the breakouts if I’m using them. With a small group everyone would have a chance to share with the whole group and I wouldn’t use breakouts unless I wanted to pair share. Below are some of the prompts I like using.
- Something that we wouldn’t believe you have in your house/office/other.
- Something that came into your possession while having an adventure. Adventures don’t have to be globe trotting.
- Something that is unmistakably you.
- Something that will make us laugh.
- Something you’ve earned
- Something you won’t share with someone else
- Something living.
This activity can easily run down a clock before you realize it because it produces such great moments of discovery and discussion. One variation I run is doing the first 2 or 3 rounds as whole group rounds where I popcorn around and hear about items. Then I do a final round using the breakouts. Think ahead and plan your time based on how long you’ll give them to search and how long you’ll give them to share. If you have 5 people sharing in a breakout for 1 minute each plan on a 7 minute breakout. Do that 3 times and you’ll easily eat up 35 minutes between instructions, whole group shares, and breakout.
Group Size: Any
Time Frame: 15 to 45 minutes – depends on whether you use breakouts.