10 Icebreakers to Kick Off Your Conference

Juraj Holub
people on a ship on ice

If planned well, icebreakers are a great way to introduce participants to the event, clarify its objectives and create the right conditions to maximize their learning.

But before you dive into planning one, keep these three points in mind:

  • Decide what ice you want to break: Set a clear goal for the activity. Is it to help people 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. Just make sure it helps you achieve your event objectives.
  • Be sensitive: Remember people have different values, beliefs, experiences. Consider how you would feel if you had to participate in the activity yourself.

Below is a list of our favourite icebreaking activities to help you get started. Many of them are icebreakers we use regularly at our own events. Some are inspired by the events we have attended. We hope you’ll find them useful.

Introduction Interviews

For any meeting or workshop, it’s critical to learn about the people who are in the room. Yet obligatory introduction rounds are usually charged with awkwardness.

Do it differently. 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 then look something like this:

This is Peter; he lives and breathes technology. He built his first robot at the age of 5. 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 belong to Lukas Bakos, Managing Director at Maxman Consultants.

Icebreaking Polls

Live polls are one of the easiest ways to break the ice and capture the audience’s attention, especially when you want to engage larger crowds at conferences (50+).

So as part of your opening remarks, use a fun poll to enliven the atmosphere and also to set the tone for your event.

Here are a few examples that we love, which we’ve 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 grew 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)

Rating poll icebreaker example

Examples of icebreaker live polls
Funny icebreaker live polls will help you connect people and enliven the atmosphere.

Related Story: 30 Powerful Icebreaker Questions For Audience Live Polling

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.

Again, here are a few examples.

  • 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)

Multiple choice live poll to check the level of understanding of the topic

Word could icebreaker poll examples
You can use icebreaker polls to discover people’s expectations and learning objectives.

Snowball Fight

This dynamic icebreaker is a great way to boost the energy levels in the room and get people excited. It is 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 some papers 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.

And the result? An instant party.

Watch this video to see for yourself (the snowball fight starts at 03:01):

We took it to the next level at our internal training session to reveal the hurdles our team members face.

We handed out pens and paper and prompted the participants to write down their personal challenges. Then we instructed the people to crumple up the papers and throw the snowballs in the air on a countdown.

At the end, everyone grabbed the nearest paper ball and read out some of the anonymous challenges.

Two Truths and a Lie

This icebreaker works well both for small groups and large audiences. The main idea is that people are asked to share two true and one false fact about themselves and the audience guesses which one is the lie.

We use it to introduce our new hires in a form of a “Newbies Quiz.” It’s a great way to take the pressure off people and make the introductions fun.

To involve all the participants instantly, use live polls so everyone can guess the false fact by voting. To pull this off successfully, appoint a moderator who will guide the audience through the quiz.

Newbie quiz icebreaker activity
Newbie quiz is a fun way to introduce your new hires and help the team get to know them better.

When preparing the quiz, collect two true and one false fact from every new hire you want to introduce. Use these to create a multiple-choice poll for each person, e.g., “Martin: Which is a lie?”

Kick off the quiz by introducing each new hire and then invite people to vote for the answer they think is false. Make sure you hide the results before you activate each poll.

Once you have enough votes, comment on the results or prompt people to share the story behind each answer.

Newbie quiz live poll example
Once people have voted, invite each newbie to tell the story behind each answer option.

Time for a Story

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 then gave everyone one task. They had to write a story about the most innovative event that they had organized.

In the first step, people were given 10 minutes to reflect and also to note down the key points (pen and paper were provided). Then in turns, group members narrated their professional achievements to the rest of the group one by one.

This way, Martijn created an environment where people could not only inspire one another but also connect on a personal level.

People telling stories during storytelling icebreaker activity
Storytelling icebreaker will help people inspire one another and connect on a personal level.

Human Bingo

Have you ever played bingo? This icebreaker version will help people get to know each other quickly and start interacting.

Prepare 5×5 bingo matrices filled with a series of personal or business-related statements and hand them out to the attendees.

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.

Group Collaboration on Speaker Questions

If done right, panel or presentation Q&A can be the most interactive part of the session. But it often suffers from the lack of spot-on questions.

Q&A tools like Slido can help bring questions to the light (and the stage). But the real magic happens when you facilitate the collection of questions and turn it into an exciting icebreaker.

So before you open up the Q&A, get 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 further to present their questions to the group and collectively decide on the best one.

People exchanging ideas during an icebreaker activity at a conference
Turn collecting people’s questions into a fun icebreaker activity that will stimulate collaboration.

After that, get them to submit their own winning question through Slido. While they do it, they can also review the questions submitted by others and upvote the ones they like the best.

The speakers or panelists then address the questions with the highest support of the audience during the Q&A.

Credits for this activity belong to Miranda van Bruck, Creative Director at The Content Studio.

Ongoing TOP 10 Quiz

We’re all children at heart in the end. And a bit of competition can get even the most serious managers to participate with passion.

At the recent full-day workshop, our facilitator Lukas Bakos prepared an ongoing quiz competition to keep us engaged from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Lukas split the group into pairs and tasked everyone to write 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.

The rounds were spaced out after the breaks throughout the day, so the group had an incentive to get back to the room on time.

With a three-minute limit per round, the groups were told to write down their answers and were given two points for each correct answer. The score was kept on a flip chart so the people could see how their group was doing.

At the end of the day, the winners received a prize in the range of 0 to 10,000 euros. The prize was a scratch card.

Coffee Break Assignments to Endorse Networking

Coffee breaks are often one of the most underused aspects of events. While some people have mastered the art of networking at events, others might need a little poke to help them start conversations with strangers.

At Eventex 2016, meeting designer and facilitator Jan-Jaap In Der Maur prompted 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? How did you get to do what you’re doing?

Interactive coffee break icebreaker session
Freshen up your traditional coffee break with a fun icebreaker activity to help people connect.

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 caught holding the microphone shared one of the stories he or she had learned about the others during the break.

Related Story: 5 Creative Ideas for More Effective Networking Sessions

Wrap up

Using icebreaker sessions to kick off any event will help you to connect people and make them feel more comfortable in a group of strangers. It’s a great way to pull people in and get them to engage actively once the official event program starts. With these icebreakers, you can be confident that you will get people to interact.

Break the ice with live polls


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