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Icebreaker or Ice Maker?

posted Jan 27, 2017, 7:59 AM by Rebecca Baumann
The point of a great icebreaker question is to help the group get comfortable, learn a little about each other, and, hopefully,to introduce the main topic of the day.  I was recently sent a list of great icebreaker questions and activities, and I was horrified by the list.   While the “let’s just get down to business” folks in the group may be resistant to anything, I believe a good ice breaker can be helpful and informative.

At one point in my life I was living with my sister, away from my children, and did not have a job.  I was at a community church meeting, and the leader was trying to ask a really general question in which everyone could share and get to know each other better.  The leader said, “So, just tell us where you live, a few words about your family, and what you do.”  I was mortified.  The question was definitely an ice maker for me. For everyone else in the room, I believe they were easy to answer and informative. Because of my unstable living, working, and family situation—I did not want to share.   I think about that experience whenever I am creating my own icebreaking exercise.   

The exercise should not be too long.  Do the math-- how many minutes per person times the total number in attendance?  The ice breaker is also the time to establish yourself as the timekeeper.  Put a time limit on the answers, and stick to it.  Learn to politely, but definitively to say something like, “Can you give us just two words to sum up your response?”

Consider the reason for your meeting and the reason for introductions.  How well does the group know each other—have they been meeting for years or are there many or a few new people?   Is there a general question which might give everyone some insight that could be helpful later on in the topic discussion?  I go for interesting and/or unusual and hopefully very neutral and nonthreatening.  Group participants may soon forget the real purpose of the meeting, but they will remember the woman who had a rock band during her teenage years.

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