10 Ice Breakers to Kick Off Your Conference

Juraj Holub
Grid made of ice cubes.

Ice breakers are one of the most effective ways to kick off a meeting or conference. Event delegates often view them as standard procedure to meet others and have some fun before the official program starts.

If planned and executed well, icebreaking sessions can be a wonderful way to help people get to know each other, meet facilitators and learn more about the goals of your event.

What ice do you want to break?

When planning ice breakers, you need to understand what the ice that you need to break actually represents. Tim Hallett identified the following situations:

1. If you bring together like-minded people together, the ice represents the fact that people haven’t met yet.

2. If you bring together people from different backgrounds and cultures, the ice represents the different perceptions of one another.

3. If you bring together people at different levels of organization, the ice represents the perception of status differences within the organization.

4. If you bring together delegates and speakers, the ice represents the question “Why should I listen to you?”

How do you plan an ice breaker?

Choose the outcome that you want to achieve

Knowing what ice you need to break, decide on what you want to achieve at the end of your icebreaking session. Should people just get to know each other? Should people start collaborating more closely? Or should the audience pay attention to the speaker?

Keep it simple

Don’t complicate it. The simpler the activity, the easier to understand and engage in it. You’re supposed to warm up the audience and melt the ice, not to create a fan club.

Be super sensitive

Keep in mind that you’re to bring together people with different stories and various perceptions of privacy. Put yourself in the participants’ shoes and try to think how you would feel if you had to participate in the activity you designed for them.

Here is the list of our favorite icebreaking activities

1. Storytelling

Martin Timmermans facilitated a wonderful story-telling session at the FRESH14 conference in Copenhagen. After the introduction explaining the importance of storytelling, he divided the audience into groups of five and gave everyone a pen and a sheet of paper.

Supported by the ambient set-up, every group member was supposed to write a story about the most innovative event he/she helped to organize and share it with the rest of the group. Revealing, connecting, icebreaking!

2. Human bingo

Prepare 5X5 bingo matrices filled with various statements that range from personal stuff (visited more than 15 countries / have a pet / etc.) to business (have you ever fallen asleep during a conference call / been with the company over 10 years, etc.).

Tell the players that they must interview each other. Have each player go around the group and ask other people to check off one box that applies to them. The person with a completed card is a winner!

3. Question ball

Take a beach ball and write “ice breaker” questions all over it. Tell delegates that the index finger of the hand that they write with will determine the question that they will answer. Toss the ball to the first attendee who needs to catch it and answer the question that his/her index finger lands on. Then he tosses the ball to the next person and so on.

4. Two truths & a lie

This is an all-time favorite! Divide people into smaller groups (5-10) and ask them to take turns telling (or writing down) three things about themselves – two true and one false. The group then guesses which one is false by asking additional questions related to the statements.

In the end, participants vote which statements were true and which were lies. Repeat with all the other group members.

5. Guess my job

Let the delegates write down, on a slip of paper, the most interesting or different job they’ve ever had and place it in a bowl. The others have to guess who had that job. Surprisingly, fun and enlightening…

People exchanging ideas during an icebreaker activity at a conference

6. Penny

Place a handful of pennies on every table. Instruct the attendees to select one randomly. Delegates introduce themselves by stating their name, company and the year on the chosen penny.

Then they need to say an interesting thing that happened to them in the year marked on the penny. Quick, fun and informative!

7. Find the man

At the networking event, give a delegate someone else’s name tag. He/she needs to find the other person, interview him, and introduce him to the group. It’s a great fun and forces delegates to approach new people.

8. Astronomer start

Don Reid’s favorite is the Astronomer Start where the speaker has everyone stand and reach for the stars (sky) and then introduce themselves to the North, South, East & West and then says, “Now you’ve had your Astronomy Lesson all you star gazers can relax as I motivate your inner star.”

9. Prepare the questions

June Ramos gives a great tip for an icebreaker before the panel discussion. Ask people to talk to their partners (or trios or any other configuration appropriate to the room seating) and have them identify the top two or three questions that panelists should address.

Then let them share these with the rest of the delegates in the room. This activity will significantly improve the Q&A session during the panel.

10. Poll your audience

Polling the audience is one of the easiest and the most efficient way to break the ice before the panel discussion or presentation and get the attention of your audience.

With Q&A and polling platforms, you can engage hundreds of delegates at the same time and gain valuable insights about what your participants expect from your session or event.

Come up with a simple poll that pulls the participants into your presentation and also lets them get familiar with the tool for further Q&A session. For instance:

What brings you to the conference?

  • Knowledge building
  • Networking opportunities
  • My boss made me attend

You don’t need to be a rock star to turn such polls into a wonderful ice-breaking introduction.

Related Story: 30 Powerful Icebreaker Questions For Audience Live Polling

What are your tips for ice breakers that worked particularly well for you? Please share with us on Twitter.

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