Now we’ve broken the ice …

…let’s talk about icebreakers!!!

In my experience the use of icebreakers really divides opinion in the training community. Some trainers hate them and cringe at the thought of using them. They prefer to get stuck straight into the topic and the ‘meat’ of the session. Whereas, other trainers I know see them as a vital part of any training session to help warm up the audience and to build a picture of the different personalities and abilities in the room.

Full confession up front, I am a fan of icebreakers as I think they serve many benefits for the trainer and participants. In this short blog I outline why I think icebreakers are important, how to address common pitfalls and three of my current favourites.

Benefits

My love of icebreakers stems from the fact I believe they can help you set the tone for the whole session. This is one of the first ways in which you can reassure your participants that they are in safe hands and they are your first opportunity to demonstrate your training style and personality. My training style is highly interactive and I like to get people up and moving as soon as possible. This helps set a precedent and expectation that they are not going to be sat and lectured at.

It’s your way of helping participants acclimatise to the environment, build relationships and rapport by using participants names, thanking them, showing interest and asking follow up questions or seeking clarification. Perhaps most importantly your icebreaker can show you the level of interest and abilities in the room and provide a guide as to how you might need to adapt content and whom you might need to flex your approach with.

Where you are training a group of colleagues they provide valuable insights into an organisation’s culture and the dynamics in the room e.g. current relationships and interactions or lack of them.

Ultimately, they can be used to help participants to acclimatise to the environment, turn off from work and focus on the content of the session.

Pitfalls

In terms of common pitfalls, my first tip would be to never ever call an icebreaker an icebreaker. You are guaranteed at least one roll of the eyeballs from a participant! I tend to call them introductions or introductory activity and I definitely wouldn’t include the word ‘icebreaker’ on any agenda.

One of the reasons I think icebreakers get a bad press is they are often seen as frivolous and not relevant to the session. With this in mind, think about how you can make sure your icebreaker has a clear link to the content of the session. I would also advise keeping the introductory activity short 5 – 10 minutes or one minute per person should be plenty. I once observed a trainer whose introductions went on for 1.5 hours and you could see participants getting exasperated, as they wanted to get stuck into the content.

Other common mistakes include asking participants to ‘over share’ or provide a lot of personal information. Remember that whilst you might have been in the training room for an hour or more and are feeling fully warmed up, your participants might still be nursing their first coffee so being asked to tell a group of colleagues or strangers a list of information about themselves might feel quite daunting. So with any introductory activity think about how you can give your participants options about the level of information they share.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of any impairments your participants might have that might restrict their ability to contribute or engage with the introductions and tailor your activity accordingly.

My current favourites

  1. Scale of 1-10

1-1

Here a scale from 1-10 is placed on one side of the room either on the floor or on a wall. Learners are asked to place themselves along the scale to represent their current level of confidence or ability on the course topic.

The benefits of this activity are to establish what level you need to pitch it at and also clarify the level you will be delivering the session at e.g. introductory, intermediate, advanced. I have also found that it can be useful to identify potential issues with the ‘know it all’s in the room. If participants are standing at 9 or 10 it MIGHT highlight you need to manage them and their contributions carefully.

The same activity can then be completed at the end of the session, in order to measure improvement thereby emphasising the impact of the session for each individual and hopefully seeing a move along the scale to represent increased confidence.

  1. Something interesting about your name

hello

This icebreaker can be used as a simple tweak to the standard introductions often found at the start of a session. Ask participants to introduce themselves to the rest of the group, but also ask them to say something interesting about their name. This could be who they were named after, what their name means in a different language, what they were going to be called if Grandma got her way! This is an easy way to allow learners to engage with the session and allows people to share as much or as little information as they feel comfortable with.

The added info (and often funny stories) can also help facilitators and learners remember everyone’s names.

3. People Bingo  

 bingo

For People Bingo, create a simple matrix with statements such as ‘I have worked in three other countries’ or ‘I speak another language’ and statements that link to the content of the session. Hand out the matrix to each learner and ask them to find another person in the room that they can assign one of the squares to. The first person to complete a line wins! Again, this is a great way of getting all the learners introduced and the added competition can help create energy for the rest of the session and talking points in the lunch and breaks.

If you are interested in becoming a trainer or looking to refresh your training skills, Annie’s Training Company is running an open Train the Trainer session on 19th October in London. More details and how to book can be found on Eventbrite via:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/train-the-trainer-tickets-27045849865

Next blog on energisers in training!

Happy training everyone.

 

 

9 Comments
  • Jo Dawson
    Posted at 09:31h, 10 September

    I really liked this blog Annie. I am an eternal eye roller at the mention of ‘icebreakers’ but I really like your approach to minimising the cringeworthy aspect for participants, while maximising the benefit for the trainer. One of the more lighthearted ones I’ve done is the pig personality test based on how you have drawn the pig. Always entertaining!

  • Jasmine Gartner
    Posted at 09:44h, 10 September

    Hi Annie!

    This post made me think about how I categorise things in a black-and-white way – either it’s an ice breaker or it’s not. And funnily enough, as a trainer, I’m against “ice breakers” but have no issue with “introductory exercises” as long as they relate to course content. I feel the same way about chicken liver (hate!) and paté (love!).

    I liked the scale ….erm… introductory ice breaker 🙂

    Jasmine

    • Annie Clarke
      Posted at 11:33h, 12 September

      Love it! Thanks so much Jasmine. See you at the end of the month!

      • Annie Clarke
        Posted at 11:34h, 12 September

        Ooooh I like the sound of that one Jo. Always on the look out for new ideas. Will quiz you about that when I see you next.

  • Jayne Elliott
    Posted at 10:01h, 10 September

    All good advice Annie, particularly the bit about not asking people to share too much about themselves. I know your style is very inclusive and that you pick,up on people’s anxieties quickly, so I’m pretty confident your “introductory activities” are successful!

    • Annie Clarke
      Posted at 11:32h, 12 September

      Thanks so much Jayne!

  • Angela Jowitt
    Posted at 09:03h, 13 September

    This is a great post Annie and there are lots of really useful ideas here. I agree with you about striking a balance, people are often nervous at the start of a programme, particularly if they don’t know one another. Any way that gets them moving and just talking to one another is a great way of reducing the tension while getting their voices in the room, without making them look or feel silly. Creating collages in small groups seems to be a big hit.

    • Annie Clarke
      Posted at 15:33h, 13 September

      Thanks so much Anj. I really like collaging and sometimes use them to look at what people’s aspirations are. Look forward to catching up soon.
      Annie

  • Sarah Wilson
    Posted at 11:33h, 20 September

    Love thjs post Annie. I’m a fan of ic…introductory exercises and it had not occurred to me to not call it that, Looking forward to learning loads more on 19th October.

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