Want to know how to open a meeting with an icebreaker?
Tip number 1
Don’t call it an icebreaker. Icebreakers give people hives. They’re also a giant ship that actually breaks through ice. I’ve got a new phrase for you and some specific ideas that will help you break the ice. If you are thinking about, “Oh, my goodness! How in the world am I going to meaningfully connect people and not do something cheesy?”
My name’s Chad, and I wrote this little book called The Pocket Guide to Facilitating Human Connections. It’s a little, itty, bitty book with a whole bunch of icebreaker team development ideas. And then my co-founder Will and I uh put together this book called ask powerful questions, create conversations that matter. I used to teach team development facilitation at Penn State University and I now get to have this really cool job of working with some of the smartest leaders and educators on the planet helping them to create a culture of connection belonging and trust. Part of that is teaching people what a meaningful icebreaker really looks like and how to open.
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In this video, I’m going to unpack some a different name for icebreakers that will be much more palatable to your group and I’ll offer you a couple really specific suggestions on how to open with an icebreaker in a way that is not cheesy and your group won’t groan at.
First of all, I keep saying don’t call this an icebreaker. I would invite you to re-label it as connection before content. It’s a really really powerful phrase and the entire idea behind it is that connection before content goes beyond what an icebreaker does.
Connection Before Content
It does connect people to each other which an icebreaker should do a good one anyway. But connection before content also connects to the purpose of why you’re actually there. First of all, I’m on a secret mission to gently eradicate the word icebreaker from the world’s lexicon. Because words like icebreaker and team building and things like that can give your group hives. You can think about it. If you’re going to be leading it but I wouldn’t recommend using that to start a meeting to say, “Hey, everybody! Let’s get together before we get started. Let’s do an icebreaker.” Because immediately you’re going to turn some people off. You may turn some people on but probably the majority are going to be like… As opposed to connection before content has this more intentional framing, more intentional idea.
The second idea that i’ll share with you is an invitation to do something that creates shielded discussion. This is something that one of my favorite facilitators named Jen Stanfield calls shielded discussion. It’s the idea that using some sort of a prompt or prop in between you and the other person to create this shield of, “Oh, I said it because the card allowed me to. I said it because the facilitator allowed me to.” I’ve spent a whole bunch of time creating one of these tools for shielded discussion.They’re called We! Connect Cards. It’s a deck of questions that are really brain-friendly and help people understand each other better and get to know each other in a really non-threatening way. The questions have been honed over the course of two years to be really open questions inviting not create a lot of judgment, etc. This would be a really pitchy video if I was just product placing like this. I believe everybody should have access to these questions and not just people who can or do pay for the deck. In the link description below, there is a link to weand.me/free. You can download 25 of the questions digitally for free for zero dollars and zero cents to use with your group.
Now, one of the benefits of the questions is that they’re color-coded. So a really good icebreaker should be non-threatening and provide people choice in how they engage in conversation. As you’re thinking about this, giving people the option of choosing a blue card purple card or green card is a really useful tool to be able to actually break the ice in a way that’s at everybody’s comfort level. You may have somebody who’s gung-ho ready for a blue question and you might have somebody else who’s happy to just kind of answer a green question. You can if you’re going to use them digitally in a virtual meeting you can invite people you can send people the link to the virtual cards. Invite people to choose a question they want to answer and then go around the room and share. So much more powerful than you giving a question to the group as the leader where there’s like a little power dynamic. So much better than you giving a question and kind of making everybody answer the question.
Icebreakers ideally shouldn’t make anybody do anything.
It should create an invitation that people are like, “Yeah, it’s actually kind of cool.” There’s a couple framings to help you open with an ice breaker. What I love to do is give you one of my absolute all-time favorite prompts that is good in just about every single scenario. It‘s a fill in the blank question. The reason it’s good in every scenario is because you can invite your group or you can fill in the blank to meet your context. Take this question right here, write it down on a sticky note. Put it somewhere where you’re not going to forget it.
What is one of your favorite stories about ___ –camping, work, kids, fill in that blank with basically anything and it immediately invites the group to share a story. And there is something psychologically when we start sharing stories. People all of a sudden tune in. All of a sudden, really interested in listening to what is going on. If you can use a prompt and ideally any icebreaker question invites people to share a story a perspective or an experience. You shouldn’t be an icebreaker is not like you know shared data that you learned on blah, blah, blah, blah. Alright?
An ice breaker is something from somebody’s lifetime of ungoogleable experience. Their trove of knowledge that you can bring forward. I hope some of these questions help you in the We! Connect Cards deck. If you uh want in that link below as well, there is a free excerpt to the book Ask Powerful Questions Create Conversations That Matter. And that offers some other tools mindsets there’s questions throughout. But also the techniques of how to be a really phenomenal conversational leader.
I think if you’re if you’re watching this video and you’re interested in how to open a meeting with an ice breaker, you’re probably really interested in being able to lead a conversation with intent to promote and create meaningful engagement rather than just pointless activity to break the ice.