Icebreakers!

Even after many hundreds of hours of delivering training, I still get a little nervous when I stand up before a new audience. I think this is a good thing, and that it's perfectly natural. A room full of attentive individuals, all wondering: "Is this trainer going to be any good?", "Am I going to be bored today?", "Can I get away with having a sleep?" I realise my nerves usually stem from 'fear of the unknown' - I might not know these people, they're strangers to me, and I want to get myself (and everybody else) into a comfortable place as quickly as possible so I can start teaching, and they can start learning!

I'd argue that perhaps the most important period of any training session is the first 15 minutes – a bad start can be hard to recover from; if you lose your audience, they won't come with you on a learning journey, and if they leave the room without learning, the training session has failed in its primary purpose. So, how do we get off to a great start? How do we engage our audience? How do we break down any barriers in the room? How do we create a positive learning atmosphere? How do we allay our own 'fear of the unknown'? It all starts with an icebreaker...

What is an icebreaker?

An icebreaker is a short game or activity performed at the start of a training session, which seeks to:

• Introduce everyone in the room to everybody else
• Make people feel comfortable and relaxed in the classroom, and free to actively engage with the training
• Start to build a rapport between everyone in the room

A great icebreaker can have a massively positive impact on the rest of the session, so it is important to plan one in advance; in fact, a repository of icebreakers is a vital tool in any training professional's arsenal.

Icebreakers are a very personal thing, and it's important to use ones that you feel comfortable with. Some people like to play games, use props, do something silly or get people moving around the room.
As long as the end goal is to let everybody know a bit more about everybody else, and to make sure everybody is relaxed in the classroom, you can try all kinds of things. Just think about your audience - what works for a group of teenagers might not go down as well with a bunch of CEOs. On the other hand, everyone likes the chance to focus on something non-work related for a while, so maybe your CEOs will love it even more! Just apply some common sense.

Let me share a few example ice breakers I might use...

Examples

1. My Superhero Power

heroThis is a simple icebreaker I use quite regularly, and it works well in any kind of environment - plus, it's incredibly quick. I simply ask each person to introduce themselves to the rest of the room with the usual suspects of an introduction: name, job, family, hobbies. And then I ask each person the following question:

"If you could be a superhero, and have any superhero power, what would you choose and why?"

I've heard people say all kinds of things, from the obvious (flying, invisibility, super strength) to the more obscure (talking to animals, turning into a snake on demand, being able to swim properly). There will inevitably be some interesting answers, and probing people's choices can lead to some entertaining and revealing discussions.

 

2. Two Truths and a Lie

two truths one lie

This is a training staple, a simple, yet effective, icebreaker. Ask each person in the room to write three statements on a piece of paper, two of which should be true, and a third of which should be a lie. Then, proceed around the room and let each person in turn read aloud their three statements - everyone else in the room has to guess which one is the lie. Encourage people to make it difficult for others to guess.

Example statements (these are mine):

1. After finishing my university studies I took a gap year and travelled the world
2. I play the trumpet to a professional standard
3. I once sat next to Bob Geldoff on an aeroplane

 

3. My Shield/Coat of Armscoat of arms

This icebreaker requires flipchart paper and a number of marker pens. Split your audience into small groups, hand out paper and pens, and ask them to design and draw a coat of arms that reflects their group.

This works best if you ask them to split the coat of arms into four distinct areas, for example: home, work, likes, dislikes.

Once complete, ask each group to explain their coat of arms to the rest of the group - ensuring everyone gets to make a contribution.

 

4. Speed 'Dating'

speed dating

This can be a quick and easy ice-breaker, and it's pretty fun too. Split your audience into two random groups, and arrange in two lines facing one another. When a whistle blows each pair speed 'date' - they have 60 seconds to talk to each other and learn (and share) as much as they can in this short amount of time. When the whistle blows again, everybody moves one person to their left and the task is repeated with the next person. For added fun, provide some structure to what people must share and learn (most embarrassing moment, what I'd do if I won the lottery, my worst fear is..., if I had three wishes they would be...).

Once the line has completed (everyone is back to where they started), bring everyone together and ask "So everyone, what can you tell me about each person ?"

 

Summary

Whenever I'm training I always do an icebreaker, even if everybody already knows each other - there's always something new that you can draw out of people that they're happy to share with their colleagues and it helps generate a positive and cooperative atmosphere that is so vital to a great training session.

Just remember:

• The icebreaker should not be the focus of your training - don't spend 2 hours of your half-day training session on an icebreaker, you'll leave no time for the course content!
• Be comfortable and authentic - don't do an icebreaker you wouldn't enjoy yourself
• Have a couple of icebreakers up your sleeve, so you've always got something to use if the one you'd planned suddenly becomes unsuitable (not enough people, different 'feel' of audience etc...)

And as a final point, the internet is a great resource for icebreakers, but don't be afraid to invent (or modify) your own - and if you're in a sharing mood, why not share one of your favourites in the comments below? Done right, great icebreakers can be a really strong part of your training identity!

 

PS: Thought of what your superhero power would be yet?