Good icebreakers at the start of a presentation or a conference session can do wonders. They set the tone for your event, boost audience engagement and help people to network.
It’s a valuable first impression you want to make.
But before you dive into planning an icebreaker activity for your conference, keep these three things in mind:
- Set a clear goal
Know what you want to achieve with your icebreakers. Is it to help people to get to know each other, start collaborating, or engage with speakers?
- Keep it simple but purposeful
The simpler the activity, the easier it is to engage in it. Just make sure it helps you reach your event objectives.
- Be sensitive
Remember that people have different values, beliefs, and experiences. Get in your audience’s shoes and be considerate of them.
Here is a list of our most favorite icebreakers:
- Introduction interviews
- Icebreaking polls
- Sharing expectations
- Snowball fight
- Flying challenges
- Two truths and a lie
- Human bingo
- Prepare the questions
- Ongoing TOP 10 quiz
- Coffee break assignments
- Find the man
- Question ball
- Guess my job
We like to use many of these at our own events, while others are inspired by events we’ve attended and loved. Happy icebreaking!
People love stories. And they can learn a lot from them.
At the FRESH conference in Copenhagen, facilitator Martijn Timmermans split the audience into groups of five and gave everyone a pen and a sheet of paper. Next, he asked them to write a story about the most innovative event they had organized.
In the first step, people were given 10 minutes to reflect and note down key points. Then, taking turns, group members narrated their professional achievements to the rest of the group.
This way, Martijn created an environment where people not only inspired one another but also connected on a personal level. Revealing, connecting, icebreaking!
2. Introduction interviews
Getting to know the people in the room is a crucial part of every conference. And yes, obligatory introduction rounds are usually pretty awkward.
Try something different. Put participants in pairs and let them interview each other. Give them five minutes to learn about one another’s background, professional experience or passions.
Then, do the introduction round, but this time let the interviewer introduce the interviewee. The intros may look something like this:
This is Peter; he lives and breathes technology. He built his first robot at the age of five. He’s now working as an innovation lead. He also loves skydiving.
Not only will you make the introductions less stiff, but you will also help people to connect.
Credits for this activity go to Lukas Bakos, Managing Director at Maxman Consultants.
3. Icebreaking polls
Live polls are one of the easiest ways to break the ice and capture your audience’s attention. They work particularly well if you want to engage larger crowds at conferences (50+).
As part of your opening remarks, use a fun poll to loosen up the atmosphere. Polls are also a great way to set the tone for your event.
Here are a few examples that we love, all gathered from our clients.
- How energized are you feeling right now?
(Rating 1-10, 1 = no energy, 10 = super energized)
- As a child, what did you want to be when you grow up?
- If age is only a state of mind, what is your state of mind right now?
(Options: Cheeky child, Tormented teenager, Mad midlifer, Groovy grandparent)
Related Story: 40 Best Poll Questions That Will Engage Your Audience
4. Sharing expectations
You can use live polling for much more than just cracking people up.
Relevant content is the backbone of every event. To ensure it is fine-tuned to your attendees’ needs, kick off with an icebreaker poll to discover their expectations and learning objectives.
Try something along these lines:
- What do you expect to get out of this event/training/workshop?
- Using one word, what themes do you want to hear about?
- What’s your level of understanding of the topic?
(Options: I’m an expert/I have some solid background/I have some basic knowledge/I’m completely green)
5. Snowball fight
This dynamic icebreaker is really something. It can skyrocket the energy levels in the room and get people super excited. It’s inspired by Eric de Groot who used it to kick off his presentation at TEDxFryslân.
Eric aimed to demonstrate how easy it is to change people’s behavior. He invited everyone in the room to stand up, grab a paper that had been previously handed out and crumple them up into small balls.
Then he instructed people to throw the paper balls at a target in the room once the music started to play.
The result? An instant party. See it for yourself (the snowball fight starts at 03:01):
6. Flying challenges
At one of our internal training sessions, we took inspiration from Eric de Groot’s Snowball fight (previous point) but gave it a slightly different spin.
We handed out pens and paper and prompted participants to write down their personal challenges. Then we instructed them to crumple up the paper into balls and counted down before throwing them in the air.
After this, everyone grabbed the nearest paper ball and read out some of the anonymous challenges.
This icebreaker was not only a great energy boost, but it also helped reveal some of the most serious hurdles our team members face.
7. Two truths and a lie
This is one of those icebreakers that works well for both small groups and large audiences. People are asked to share two true facts and one false statement about themselves and the audience guesses which one is the lie.
We use it to introduce our new hires in the form of a Newbies Quiz. It’s a nice way to take the pressure off people and make the introductions fun.
When preparing the quiz, collect two truths and one lie from every person you want to introduce. Then create a poll for each person, for instance, “Martin: Which one is a lie?”
Present the three statements in a live poll and encourage the audience to guess which one is false by real-time voting. Make sure you hide the results before you activate each poll.
Once people have voted, invite each person to tell the story behind each answer option. It’s good to appoint a moderator who will guide the audience through the quiz.
8. Human bingo
Have you ever played bingo? This icebreaker game is a bit more special. It will get people to interact and know each other better.
Prepare 5×5 bingo matrices filled with a series of personal or business-related statements and hand them out to the attendees.
Here are some example questions:
- Have you visited more than 15 countries?
- Do you have a pet?
- Have you ever fallen asleep during a conference call?
- Have you been with the company for over 10 years?
Instruct the participants to interview each other and tick off the boxes that apply to each person. The person who completes the card first wins.
9. Prepare the questions
Q&A sessions at conferences often suffer from a lack of spot-on questions. This icebreaker is a double win – it will get people talking while powering up your Q&A.
It’s simple. Prompt people to talk to their partners (or trios or any other configuration feasible with the room seating) and have them come up with one question each.
Then instruct them to present their questions to the group and to collectively decide on the best one.
Next, ask the participants to submit their winning questions into Slido. While they do it, they can also review the questions submitted by others and upvote the ones they like the most.
The speakers or panelists will then address the questions with the highest support of the audience during the Q&A.
10. Ongoing TOP 10 quiz
We’re all children at heart. Even the most serious managers turn to playful kids with a bit of competition. This icebreaker is fun and will help you keep your event attendees engaged during the whole day.
Split the group into pairs and ask everyone to write their TOP 10 on a certain topic (from the 10 most visited sites according to Lonely Planet, to the 10 best-selling cars in history) for each round.
Space out the rounds after breaks throughout the day, so the group has an incentive to get back to the room on time.
Give a three-minute limit per round and tell the groups to write down their answers. Award two points for each correct answer and keep the score on a flip-chart for everyone to see. Your attendees will be even more motivated if you put up a prize for the winning team.
The credits for this icebreaker go to Lukas Bakos, who used this activity at a full-day workshop.
11. Coffee break assignments
Coffee breaks are seriously underused at events. While some people have mastered the art of networking at events, others might need a little nudge to help them start conversations with strangers.
At Eventex 2016, seasoned meeting designer and facilitator Jan-Jaap In Der Maur encouraged people to network through coffee break assignments.
Before they left the room, he instructed the participants to meet three new people during the upcoming break and ask: “What’s your story?” or: “How did you get to do what you’re doing?”
After the break, Jan-Jaap got people to pass around the Catchbox — a throwable microphone — while music played in the background.
When the music stopped, the person holding the microphone shared one of the stories he or she had learned during the break.
At Slido, we replicated this activity with a slightly different twist. During our recent all-company retreat, our moderator and chief meeting designer, Juraj Holub, told our teammates to ask at least three people during the lunch break: “What’s the weirdest thing about you?”
After the break, a couple of people shared what they learned and it turned out pretty hilarious.
Related Story: 5 Creative Ideas for More Effective Networking Sessions
12. Find the man
If you want to endorse networking at your event, this icebreaker game is for you.
Give a delegate someone else’s name tag. Next, ask them to go around the room, find the person it belongs to and find out as much about them as possible. Then, if the size of the group and the setup allows it, have every delegate introduce the person whose name tag they had.
It’s great fun and compels delegates to approach new people and get to know them.
13. Question ball
This icebreaker will get your audience nicely warmed up. And we mean literally.
It’s simple: Take a larger beach ball and write punchy icebreaker questions all over it. For example, try questions such as:
What’s your current job role?
- What has been your biggest professional achievement?
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
- What’s your hidden talent?
Toss the ball in the audience and tell your delegates to throw it around. Each time someone catches the ball, they would answer a question their right index finger landed on. They will then pass the ball on, and on it goes. The more creative the questions, the more fun!
14. Guess my job
Looking for an icebreaker activity for smaller sessions or group discussions? You’ve found it.
Let the delegates write down on a slip of paper the most interesting or unconventional job they’ve ever had. Place a bowl in the middle of a table and ask each participant to toss their paper in.
Every delegate would then pick a paper for the bowl and guess who had the job written on a paper. They can, of course, ask the rest of the delegates additional questions that would help them guess. Questions such as: “Show of hands, who here has ever worked on a field?” or “How many of you have ever worked with animals?” will help the delegates narrow down the options.
Here’s an icebreaker game that will please even the introverts for it’s very simple and placid.
Place a handful of pennies (or cents) on every table. Tell each of the attendees to pick one randomly. Next, let the delegates introduce each other one by one by stating their name, role, the company they work for and the year embossed on their chosen coin.
They, they would need to tell a story about an interesting thing that happened to them in that year or share with others what made that particular year exceptional. Quick, fun and informative!
Icebreakers are powerful kick-offs to any event or conference. They will help you engage your audience right at the start and make them feel more comfortable within a group of strangers.
All of the icebreaker activities that we listed above will motivate your attendees to interact and create valuable connections.