Meetings

Three Ways to Upgrade Your Meeting Icebreakers

Gulp! Not another icebreaker. While plenty of people dread icebreakers, you can use these tech-supported strategies to make your meeting icebreakers more fun and less awkward, helping them live up to their promise.

Icebreakers can be the spark that makes a meeting thrive—or the lead balloon that everyone dreads. That’s true for meetings of all types, whether in-person, hybrid, or virtual. But now that people are so acclimated to using technology to connect, meeting planners can use technology for icebreakers without alienating their audience, no matter the format.

There are plenty of ways to do this, from breakout sessions for hybrid and remote meetings to tech tools that put a modern twist on old-school icebreakers. Consider these strategies for the next time you want to break the ice without shattering the meeting to pieces.

Use Breakout Rooms

You’re probably familiar with the stress of introducing yourself to an entire class or audience, even in a virtual setting. And chances are high that you won’t be the only one in your meeting who feels that social pressure. You can put yourself and your attendees more at ease by using a video-conferencing feature that most systems now have built in: breakout rooms, where participants only have to speak to a small group.

Smaller groups are not only less intimidating for introductions, but they also encourage true dialogue. In larger groups, back-and-forth conversation is limited, and the speaking roles often unofficially fall to a small number of people.

Breakout rooms will give you an opportunity to be more creative with your icebreakers, as platforms such as Zoom have games—trivia or Heads Up!, for example—that can get the discussion started. Breakout rooms can also work in a hybrid setting: Divide your virtual audience as you would with any remote meeting, then do the same with your in-person attendees.

Go Old School in a New Way

You can use new technology to make old icebreakers better, leaning on tools that stick to the principle of old-school icebreakers—finding common interests among participants—but use tech to make things more engaging.

For example, instead of going around the room asking everyone to introduce themselves, you can meet at a virtual bar where you can “move around” and mingle with others as music plays and spatial audio mimics the feeling of the real thing. It may seem a bit silly, but creative tech-driven icebreakers might be what attendees need to take the edge off and loosen up.

In-person gatherings can also team up with tech to facilitate conversation, as with JabberYak, which creates wearable items such as shirts and badges that feature participants’ interests, helping people with shared interests identify one another.

Keep Things Casual

Casual, low-stakes questions are probably the best way to start. If participants are shy or hesitant to jump in, they probably don’t want to answer, “What’s your biggest fear?” or “Who in the group do you think is most likely to X?” Instead, introduce a prompt that’s easy to answer and doesn’t veer into potentially uncomfortable territory.

Some level of self-disclosure is key for an icebreaker, but requiring too much of it won’t endear you to anyone, especially if you’re asking participants to speak in front of a large audience, virtual or otherwise. Basically, ask a question where the answer won’t have a big impact on the group but rather will invite participants to share trivial information. The point is to get people talking, not to take a deep dive into group dynamics.

Need help thinking of questions? There are tech tools that can help you along, such as Icebreaker from Range Labs, which serves up hundreds of icebreaker questions and allows you to spin a wheel that chooses a participant at random.

(Borislav/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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