It’s fall and evidently, it’s also the time of year that many groups are holding conferences or annual meetings as I have recently had several people call to ask me if I had some ideas for ice breakers – and that request is usually followed up by the statement, “but none of those touchy-feely ones.” I can understand that request; I know people who will intentionally arrive a little late to a session to avoid an ice breaker activity.
Why get acquainted?
So why even start a meeting with an icebreaker? In the situations that I have had been asked for the non-touchy-feely icebreakers, it was for a get acquainted activity. Both happened to be meetings where attendees would know a few people there, but not everyone. And you know what happens in those situations. We sit with the people we know, missing out on meeting valuable contacts and learning more that we can possibly learn by just sitting in a meeting. We do that because it’s comfortable and easy. The organizers wanted to give everyone an opportunity to at least see who’s in the room.
There are many types of ice breakers and when you are planning an ice breaker activity to use in a situation where participants do not know each other well or perhaps not at all, you want to focus on some simple get-acquainted activities. These types of activities can help participants find out who is in attendance as well as give an opportunity to introduce themselves to other participants. This often helps warm up the group to conversation. Get acquainted activities are also a first step in team building.
Choosing the Right Activities
So what about those “other” ice breakers that offer more involvement and more sharing? Those have their place too. Those types of ice breakers are most effectively used in more advanced stages of team building, where members already know each other and have built a level of trust.
If you are looking for get acquainted activities to break the ice in a group of strangers or help members get to know each other, there are some guidelines to keep in mind. First, you don’t want to spend lots of time in each activity so keep them brief. Some activities may only take 3 minutes, some may take 10 minutes, depending on what is involved. Effective get acquainted activities are participative so everyone can be involved. And perhaps most important in situations where participants do not know each other, or don’t know each other very well, choose low risk topics and activities that whole make people feel uncomfortable.
Let me share a couple of activities that I have used, have worked well, and haven’t put anyone too far out of their comfort zone. Good luck and have fun as you work to connect others in your organizations.
Activity: THAT’S ME!
Procedure: The leader asks members of the group to stand up and shout “That’s Me” to statements that pertain to them. Then the leader may choose to make a statement or suggestion relating to the people who are standing. Be sure to make this activity take place quickly and last no more than 3-5 minutes.
Here are some examples: (The statements in parenthesis are examples of things the leader may say while the people who relate to those statements are standing.)
- Stand up and shout “that’s me!” if you get a little nervous when you hear we are going to do some ice breakers.
(“That’s ok! Many people don’t get too excited about ice breakers so you can relax, we aren’t going to do any of those “touchy-feely” activities; however we do want you to meet some new people today and be away of who is here.”)
- Stand up and shout “that’s me!” if you drove more than 50 miles to attend this meeting.
(“We appreciate your dedication to participating in this meeting and want to with safe travels to everyone on your way home.”)
- Stand up and shout “that’s me!” if you have been a (insert your organization) member for more than 5 years.
(If you are new to this organization, look around the room. These are the people who will be able to answer questions you may have so be sure to connect with them sometime during our meeting/conference.)
- Stand up and shout “that’s me!” if you have been a (insert your organization) member for less than 2 years.
(We would like to welcome you and thank you for becoming a (insert your organization) member. Seasoned members, please reach out to these new members to welcome them to our group.)
Those are just a few examples of statements. You can create your own statements and comments as they relate to your organization. Just remember to choose low risk topics.
Activity: WHEN IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?
Procedure: This activity works best in groups of 35 people or less so if there are more than 35 people in attendance, divide into groups of 20-35. Try to spend no more than 10 minutes with this activity.
Participants will need to get up away from their chairs for this one! Ask participants to arrange themselves in the order of their birthdays (month and date – not year) from January to December without saying a word. So for example, someone with a birthday on January 5 would be in line before someone with a birthday on January 7 but in line behind someone with a birthday on January 3. Once each group is in a line, ask them to check to see if they are correct – and this time they can talk.
The leader follows up by asking everyone to meet the person on both sides of them in line. Give 1-2 minutes for introductions. As they are introducing themselves to each other, ask them to also share one word about how they would describe this organization (or their community, or any word that might pertain to the meeting). This often leads to spontaneous conversation about the meaning of their one word.
The leader asks: Did anyone meet someone with a birthday on the same date as yours? (Who?) Does anyone have a birthday today? (Have them introduce themselves.) If no one has a birthday on the day this activity takes place, who has a birthday closest today? Did anyone here a very interesting “one word” description? What was it?
It’s important to end your activities with a brief statement. You might simply say something like this. “Thank you for participating. It’s not often that we are all able to be together so we hope you take some time today to meet some new people and make some new friends.”