Announce that you’re starting a meeting with an icebreaker and what do you get? Groans? Protests that icebreakers are a waste of time? People looking pointedly at their watches, or even worse, getting up to use the restroom? Sure, an icebreaker will take a few minutes out of your agenda, but I believe it’s time well spent.
An icebreaker can do exactly what the name implies — break through the chill in a meeting. This can be helpful when participants don’t know one another well, or the topics under discussion are new to many participants — ultimately it unifies the group and helps to personalize the interaction.
The beauty of an icebreaker is that it can help people get to know one another quickly. How else could I have learned that a colleague used to collect mice on her windowsill in Paris? Or that someone wished they had a chocolate locator app to help fulfill their addiction? Or that a grandmother of five’s life goal is to complete a triathlon? These personal facts help to strengthen a relationship.
When to Use an Icebreaker
Think about the last time you stood in front of a roomful of cynical audience members. Starting with an icebreaker may have helped. Once someone reveals that they were in a rock band, and everyone laughs in support and surprise, the ice has been broken!
It’s also a good idea to use an icebreaker to neutralize level/title dynamics. If a brainstorming session is attended by executives from the corner office to folks from the smallest cube, starting with an icebreaker can be a great social leveler that underscores that a good idea can come from anywhere, empowering each person to make a meaningful contribution. Once the cornerstone of a strategy resulted from a story a junior copywriter shared about her challenges with a roommate who had a chronic disease.
An icebreaker can energize people and help them focus on the task at hand. Pick an icebreaker that’s in line with what you hope to accomplish in the meeting. If you are outlining goals for a brand in 2015, start the session with an icebreaker posing a question about 2015.
For me, it is confirmed each time: the impact of an icebreaker humanizes and helps to unify a given group. It builds a sense of community and support almost immediately, and it helps develop a personal relationship with someone you may have originally thought you had nothing in common with.
So ignore the groans and protests and start your next meeting with an icebreaker.
Tried-and-True Icebreaker Ideas
What was your worst summer job?
Share an inspiring story with the group.
Tell a story of when you were pushed beyond.
If you had a super power, what would it be?
Share a story about the year (tbd) with the group.
Greg Lewis joined DKI in 2010 and brings to DKI 14 years of experience at three large agencies. He has a keen understanding of the fundamentals needed to drive brand growth in today’s marketplace and has led multiple cross-functional marketing campaigns, including all on- and off-line professional promotion, medical education, and DTC efforts. Greg lives in Summit, NJ with his wife Lauren and his two children.
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