At VISIBILITY, we have been organising more and more different kinds of trainings, lectures, and workshops. Our colleagues also do trainings and lectures for other companies, which makes us think hard about how to continuously improve these lectures. This is where the topic of icebreakers comes in.

Of course, the core of every lecture or workshop is its content, the information value, and the ability of the presenter to convey this information to the participants in a suitable and engaging way. However, the participants tend to perceive the training as a whole. You can have truly top-notch content, but when catering, space, or organisational details go wrong, it can ruin the overall final impression.

In this article, I would like to focus on a small detail that is often overlooked or greatly underestimated – the icebreaker at the beginning of the training.

Many languages don’t have a single-word equivalent for it (and introduction activity just seems too long), so I’ll keep using the term icebreaker with your permission. Breaking the ice is an essential psychological moment for any type of training. This is largely because in most training sessions, the participants are complete strangers, who have either never met before or only know each other in passing. Initial fear and mistrust then become a hurdle during the training. People are more reluctant to express their opinion, answer questions, and engage in debate. There is also a degree of tension between the trainer and the participants, for virtually the same reasons.

An icebreaker is a psychological moment in which certain barriers between participants are literally broken down, lightening the mood and the atmosphere in the training that follows. Icebreakers can be used in the middle of a training session or even after lunch, when it serves as a distraction to stop the participants’ energy levels stagnating. So, if you run or organise training sessions, I would like to present you with some icebreaker tips.

It’s true that times have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic and many meetings, workshops, and seminars now take place online. However, that’s no reason to give icebreakers a miss. In fact, most can be adapted to virtual meetings, and many of them have been designed specifically to work online. All the activities you’ll find below can be done online as well.

Icebreakers are primarily divided into 4 types:

  • learning about yourself,
  • sharing something funny,
  • moving your body,
  • teamwork.

Let’s move on to some specific tips for putting icebreakers into practice:

1. Share something about yourself

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

10 min.

learn something about yourself

none

This classic question is the most common standard icebreaker. Everyone has to introduce themselves in a few sentences and ideally share an interesting fact about themselves or a piece of information that isn’t common knowledge. They can also tell a short funny story.

A potential issue is that people might not want to actively participate. To overcome this, they can either be picked randomly, or take turns. For instance, having a ball that participants throw amongst themselves would be ideal for a livelier interaction.

It is also a good idea for the presenter to introduce themselves at the beginning, so that the participants have an idea of how much is being asked of them.

2. Birthday Line Up

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

5 min.

activity, learn something about yourself

none

A very simple icebreaker that is easy to set up is to line up all the participants by their date of birth. Invite everyone to stand in a line, for instance at the front of the room, and ask them not to talk to each other or make gestures from that point on.

Their goal is to line up from left to right in the order of their birthdays in the calendar. That is, from 1 January on the left to 31 December on the right. Allow a minute or two for the participants to line up intuitively, and then invite them one after the other to share their date of birth. If someone has not lined up correctly, adjust the line. You’ll be surprised how well people can guess this, and any changes are sure to be minimal. This is a simple activity where participants will learn a little about themselves, get moving and even find something surprising.

3. Truth/Lie

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

15 min.

learn something about yourself

ideally inform the participants beforehand

A truth/lie introduction can take many forms. The simplest version invites each participant to share one sentence or fact about themselves. The others are asked to vote on whether it is true or false.

Another variant relies on each participant preparing three sentences about themselves, only one of which is not true. Similarly, a vote is taken on which one it is. This icebreaker is ideally paired with something entertaining or surprising, so it can turn into quite a funny game. It does require preparation however, at least on the part of the presenter.

4. Rock, Paper, Scissors

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

5 min.

activity

none

Almost everyone knows rock, paper, scissors. Participants split into random pairs and start playing the game. It can be played for a single win, or best of three. Bear in mind that each country counts a little differently. In some places, you go on the count of three, in others you go after three.

In any case, the point of the game is that the one who loses the duel stands behind the winner and together they move down the line as a “snake”. The losing team again stands behind the winning team, and so it goes until there is only a single winner left with everyone behind them.

To make the game even more lively, the losers can chant the name of the current team leader. This way, the participants also get to know each other interactively.

5. Guess Who

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

10 min.

learn something about yourself

prior survey among the participants

Guess Who requires preparation on the part of the presenter. Ideally, they should send the participants some kind of online survey in advance, for example with the following questions:

  • Do you collect anything?
  • What is your favourite country?
  • What pet do you have at home?
  • What kind of alcohol do you prefer?

The questions can also be different and the speaker then prepares a presentation from the answers. On each slide, one of the participants will be “introduced” verbally or visually, and the others have to guess who it could be.

This activity is more suited for teams that already know each other at least a little. It creates room to get to know each other better and, of course, some funny moments.

6. Introduce Your Partner

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

15 – 20 min.

learn something about yourself

none

The premise of the “Introduce Your Partner” icebreaker is to split people into pairs. Each pair gets 2 to 4 minutes for a short conversation, during which they should get to know each other and learn as much information as possible.

Afterwards, each person will be given one minute and asked to introduce the other based on the information they have learned during their conversation.

7. Never Have I Ever…

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

10 min.

learn something about yourself

none

The principle of this icebreaker is very simple. The speaker asks about something they have never tried before, and each participant has to think for a minute and then answer the question.

This icebreaker can also be extended to other questions, which can give rise to some fairly amusing answers.

8. What Would You Bring to a Desert Island?

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

15 min.

entertainment, learn something about yourself

paper, writing implements, and a board

My next icebreaker tip is both visual and verbal. Each participant gets a pencil and paper, and in 3 minutes they have to draw one object that they would take with them to a desert island.

All the drawings are then put on the board at once or in turn. When it is the turn of a particular drawing, its author needs to explain what the object is and why they would bring it to a desert island.

9. Place of Birth Map

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

5 min.

entertainment, learn something about yourself

a larger world map and pins

This icebreaker is especially designed for diverse teams where people from different parts of the world mingle in the same workplace.

The aim of this activity for teams is to show that the world is diverse, and thus visualise the diversity of the company or a specific department. All attendees take turns to put a pin in the country where they were born or grew up on the map of the world (attached to a whiteboard, for example). This game can be further modified, for instance, by asking where they first fell in love or which country is their favourite. Of course, there is no limit to the discussions about their experience of each country.

10. Share a Funny Photo from Your Life

Duration with 10 people

Type

Setup

Online version

15 min.

entertainment, learn something about yourself

none, just finding a suitable photo

This get-to-know-you team game is especially suitable for virtual meetings and training sessions. It relies on being able to find a funny photo from your life, which is probably most easily done on your Facebook or Instagram, or on your computer.

During the video conference, you can screen-share or show the photo and say something about it, like a story that goes along with it. This icebreaker can also be done with photos from family events, childhood photos, photos of your artistic creations, or meals you’ve cooked. The choice is yours.

11. QuizBreaker – An Online Tool for Virtual Icebreakers

There is an online tool for virtually anything these days. Proof of this is QuizBreaker, which delivers complete online quizzes designed expressly for remote teams for icebreakers and games before a virtual meeting.

QuizBreaker costs a couple of dollars a month with a free 14-day trial. It’s perfect for more interaction and fun.

icebreaker

Naturally, there are dozens of other variations of icebreakers, or games and activities to get acquainted, but in most instances these are just modified versions depending on the number of participants, the type of the event, or the setup requirements. It is certainly a good idea to prepare several variations in advance and improvise to adapt to the situation, the ages of the participants, or how formal or informal the training is.

A great icebreaker can put participants in a good mood. It can also elevate the overall impression of the training. And don’t forget that there are no limits to imagination. You can also prepare a simple task for those who arrive late as a “punishment”. This can even be a team activity within the icebreaker.

A well-designed introduction is even more important when organising an online event. Participants don’t have a physical connection and a simple icebreaker before the start of online training can add some personalisation and invite the participants to interact with each other right from the beginning, which can help break the ice later in online communication and show people how to do it online.