Using Icebreakers in Your Meeting
To start off, make sure all of the attendees are involved. Use a meeting game to get everyone talking. Of course, icebreakers are perfect for letting participants in a training session or orientation get to know one another, but you might also want to use them as a warm-up exercise for staff meetings. These icebreakers can be valuable for team-building and diffusing negative tension.
Also, be sure to consider the comfort level of your participants. A humorous getting-to-know-you opener with lots of participation may work well with your plans, but perhaps not all of the people will be comfortable disclosing personal details or interacting in that way.
There are so many different types of meeting games that you are sure to find one suitable for your meeting. You will want to take into consideration the amount of time you have available, the amount of space you have, and the materials that you will be able to use.
[Tip: If you're looking at meeting-planning books on Amazon, use the "Click to Look Inside" feature to see some of the contents of the books. You'll be able to browse a few pages - often including complete icebreakers and energizers - in order to decide whether or not the book is what you're looking for.]
Icebreakers to Get You Started
Longest Lists - Divide the participants into small groups. Have
each group pick one person to do the writing, and then have the groups make lists.
Pick one topic - dog breeds, movies set on a deserted island, songs with the word blue in the title, anything that you think will have several responses, but make sure they only make lists and don't take up time discussing the topic. The team with the longest list wins.
Make sure you praise the teams that stuck to the rules! This activity can get the group ready for an effective brainstorming session, but it is also good just as an icebreaker to get everyone thinking and participating.
Fact and Fiction - Hand out paper and pens and ask the participants to write down three unusual things about themselves: two true and one false. Have the others guess which one is fictitious.
Who's Who? - Before the meeting, write all of the participants' names on nametags, and then put them into a box at the front of the room. Have everyone pick one tag. When everyone has a tag, have them find the person whose nametag they drew, and briefly introduce themselves. After everyone is sorted out, have each participant introduce the person whose nametag they had drawn.
It's Your Birthday - Using flipchart paper or a whiteboard, write down all twelve months. Ask each participant in turn to tell their birthday, and write down their name and the day under the appropriate month.
After everyone's birthday is written down, have them meet in groups by month to find out what they have in common. This is an activity that really gets everyone talking, but be sure to remind everyone that you're just asking the month and day they were born, not the year.
Weird Words - Prepare lists of unusual words and ask groups of participants to write down the meanings of the words, or at least guess at the most likely meaning.
Make sure that each list contains at least a few words that people would be likely to guess, some words that almost no one would know, and some that have a potential for funny definitions. Use a dictionary or thesaurus, or do a web search for "unusual words" to get ideas.
Notable Quotes - Find a variety of quotations or proverbs and write them on index cards. As the group enters the room, ask your participants to pick one at random. When you're ready to start your icebreaker, sort them into small groups or pairs and have them discuss what their quote means to them. Ask your groups or pairs to vote on which was their favorite quote, then have them share that quote with the group at large.
You might want to provide a random mix of quotes that will generate conversation, or you could try to pick quotes that are relevant to the topic of the meeting or helpful for facilitating people getting to know one another.
In Line - Give each person a small piece of paper with a different number written on it. Have the participants arrange themselves in order without writing, gesturing with their hands, talking or showing their numbers. To make it more challenging, you can pick numbers that aren't consecutive.
Hey, We're Good! - If this is a group meeting that happens regularly, take time at the beginning to mention all of the progress that had been made on the project so far. Group members will most likely be able to supply more details on the group's recent achievements.
If this is a first meeting, you can ask participants to go around the room and mention a recent achievement. This will be sure to start the meeting off on a positive note.
Using Mid-Meeting Energizers
There are many reasons to use energizers in the middle of a meeting. You might use very brief ones to segue between agenda items, or longer ones to help everyone drop one topic of discussion and move on to the next. Energizers can also help everyone re-focus after a coffee break or lunch.
Energizers to Keep Things Going
Top Three - For a quick energizer, divide the participants into small groups and ask them to come up with their top three of something and have them rank the items in order of importance. It can be something related to the meeting – such as the top three challenges related to the new initiative – or some other topic such as the top three gadgets they couldn't live without, or the top three foods they look forward to during a specific holiday or season. At the end, ask one person from each group to report the groups list of three.
We Are the Word - Give each participant a letter of the alphabet, either on a self-stick note or on a large card. Have them re-arrange themselves into words.
Depending on the size of the group, you might want to give out only common letters, or if the group is large enough you can give out most of the alphabet leaving out only q, x and z. In either case, you will want to have proportionally more vowels.
You could ask the group to see how many words of at least four letters that they are able to spell in a certain amount of time, or you might challenge them to spell out words that relate to the subject of the meeting, such as "service excellence" or "teamwork."
Castaways - Tell the group that there has been a shipwreck and that they've landed on a desert island. Each person can only bring two objects with him or her. Ask them what items they have with them and why they've chosen those specific things.
Next, separate them into teams of 3-5 people. They are allowed to change one of the two items. Which item would they change to work together with their team in order to survive? How would they use their items as a team to thrive and possible escape from the island?
It's Comical - This is a short energizer that you can use either to just refresh the group or to lead into your next topic: look through newspapers or books for a cartoon that could possibly be interpreted in different ways. Hand out copies and let everyone give their take on it. If you want to tie in to your meeting topic, make sure the cartoon you pick has an interpretation that will allow you to start the ball rolling toward the next item on the agenda.
Sort of Funny - A variation of the cartoon energizer is to find several comic strips and cut them into separate panels. Mix them all up and let each person randomly pick one panel.
Have everyone go around the room trying to find the others who have parts of the same comic strip until all of the comics are sorted out.
Scenario Solutions - As a whole group or in teams, have the participants brainstorm solutions to worst-case scenarios. These situations can be anything from surviving a shipwreck to the horrors of completing a huge project on deadline when the paper is the wrong size for the copier, the stores are closed, etc.
Pop Quiz - As a quick energizer, ask a few brainteaser questions, such as "Is it legal in New York for a man to marry his widow's sister?" or "Does the European Union recognize the 4th of July?"*
This is a good one to wake everyone up, and it should at least bring a chuckle if the answers don't come to mind right away.
You might want to prepare a long list of brainteaser questions so that you can use them at different points during the meeting if they're popular with your group.
Fill In The Blank - To change the subject and get everyone talking, write the beginning of a statement on the board or on a piece of flipchart paper and go around the room with everyone filling in the blank. The statement can be general, such as "My favorite way to relax is..." or specific to the next topic of discussion, such as "Our group's priority for the next quarter should be..."
A Colorful Discussion - Ask everyone in the group to name his or her favorite color. You can use this as a jumping-off point for a discussion of what different colors mean to different people. For instance, does red mean "energy" or "action" to everyone, or do some people feel it has a negative connotation such as "anger" or "burning"?
This is a good energizer for a group working on developing something like a logo or brochure. Participants probably have lots of ideas of what kinds of pictures they want to use in the project, but they may not have thought of it in terms of what the colors will mean to the people who will be seeing the finished logo or brochure.
* [Answers: A man with a widow is dead, so he can't do anything, legal or not; of course, the EU doesn't skip from the 3rd of July to the 5th, but there's no holiday on the 4th.]