I don’t like ice breakers.

From the first workshop I remember attending to the workshops I attend now, I don’t like ice breakers.

I don’t even like including ice breakers in my own workshops. When you’re done developing your workshops and you’re all excited, nothing let’s you down quicker than remembering you forgot to include an ice breaker.

“Tell us one interesting fact about yourself”. “Choose an adjective that describes you using the initial of your first name”. “Two truths and a lie”. Announce that you’re about to start an ice breaker activity, and be prepared for the deep sighs and low groans.

(And everyone knows your two truths are lies too.)

I thought it was because I’m an introvert. There’s nothing more anxiety-provoking than sitting in a circle and waiting for your turn. Your heart begins to beat faster at the thought of speaking in front of strangers, hoping that your voice doesn’t crack or that you stutter. For me, I don’t like being the center of attention (which is kinds odd as a workshop facilitator, but anyway). But it’s not an introvert thing. Even the extroverted of the extroverts I know don’t care for ice breakers.

One of the reasons we hate ice breakers is because they feel forced. Participants come to your workshops already with the mindset that they’ll be interacting with each other in some capacity. The difference between an exercise within a workshop versus an ice breaker is that the interactions within an exercise can be more natural and allows participants to talk to one another without the icky discomfort that comes with ice breakers.

Whether you like ice breakers or not, they’re here to stay. Here are some tips on creating ice breakers that make sense and are enjoyable (at least as much as an ice breaker can be enjoyable):

Know your reason for doing an ice breaker: Other than “breaking the ice” or being concerned over the fact that the people in the room may not know each other, ice breakers can help to introduce the content of the workshop, introduce the participants to each other if they don’t know each other, showcase the various learning styles and thinking patterns of participants, highlight your expectations as well as your participants’ expectations for how the workshop will go, and more.

Tie it into the topic: This ties into Tip 1. Ice breakers make more sense when they are related to the topic of your workshop. Taking “two truths and a lie”, for instance. If your workshop focuses on self care and burnout prevention, a participant can share three things she’s done to incorporate self care in her life, with two of the activities being things she’s actually done and the “lie” being something she would like to do.

Keep it short: There’s no reason why an ice breaker should drag on. Anything more than 15 minutes is really just a workshop activity. This can be difficult, however, if you have more participants than expected. Make sure to inform your participants to keep their responses to the ice breaker at a minimum.

Change the name: People may sigh at the word “ice breaker”, but they may be more open to an “engagement starter”, “opener”, “attention grabber” or “setting the tone”. Duh, they’ll know that what they’re doing is an ice breaker, so for some reason, calling an ice breaker by any other name than an ice breaker seems to open participants up into doing an ice breaker.

…or don’t mention a name at all: Instead of announcing that you’re about to being the ice breaker, don’t mention that you’re about the start an ice breaker. Simply launch into an interactive discussion or content related activity designed to build relationships or set the tone for the learning that’s about to take place.

Be mindful of personal boundaries: Don’t do ice breakers that involve excessive touching, that reveal too much personal information, involve controversial topics, or makes participants feel they are being put on the spot. Do try out ice breakers that compliment different learning styles.

So, should you include an ice breaker in your next workshop? The question isn’t whether or not ice breakers have a place in your workshop, but how best to incorporate them. While I still don’t care much for ice breakers, keep in mind that ice breakers can be a great way to introduce the content of your workshop and can help you set the tone for the workshop ahead.

RAISE YOUR VOICE: What are your tips for making ice breakers more enjoyable? Do you have a favorite ice breaker? Share in the comments below.

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