Breaking The Ice

by Speaking Tips | April 5, 2004

Have you ever attended a training session or other presentation where you didn't know anyone, or felt out of place or unprepared? These feelings are common among audiences. One way to help minimize or replace these feelings is to use ice breakers. These are activities and other techniques which break the ice and create a warm ambience. Try to include them in the design and delivery of your training. Ice breakers are effective ways to help improve group dynamics and get your presentation off to a good start.

Some trainers mistakenly think trainees need to be totally serious in order to learn. They see fun group activities as a waste of time and an impediment to the learning process where in fact the opposite is true.  When people are comfortable with their surroundings and peers, they are more likely to grasp and accept new ideas. Frequently, people come to training sessions tense from a prior activity. Some don't think they need training and resent the fact that they are present. Ice breakers can help to relieve such tension and negative feelings.

Ice breaker activities can be used throughout training but are especially useful at the beginning. Such activities have several important benefits:

  • involve and relax people immediately
  • open the lines of communication
  • help foster a sense of trust
  • promote content flow
  • revive failing energy
  • stimulate creativity
  • encourage trainees to look at the world in new ways
  • equalize differences among trainees

There are many types of ice breaker and group activities. Match your objective for a particular segment of training with the relevant type of activity. The guidelines for using ice breakers and related activities are straightforward: keep them simple, explain clearly and make that sure everyone understands, try to relate the activity to the competency or principle, and be non-judgmental with responses.

There are dozens of print and online sources of ice breakers and games but some of the best group activities are the ones you create and customize to fit your group and material. Well known games can be easily modified and have the benefit of being familiar. Here are a few broad categories and ideas:

Introducers

Use an introducer at the beginning of a program, especially when the people present are unfamiliar with each other and need to become acquainted.  This can be a simple as self (or partnered) introductions.  It can sometime be helpful to ask people to include some specific details on their attitude, experience or learning style. You can prompt them by having them complete sentences: such as "People say I have...".

Energizers

Use energizers to emphasize a point, transition to a new topic or revitalize the group when energy is low.  Energizers tend to be loud and physical so be sure you have space and can make noise without disturbing others. Some common ideas for energizer activities include: having the trainees change seats or re-arrange the room, changing the format of delivery to one which uses more audience participation, doing aerobic, stretch or breathing exercises.

Simple lead ins

Lead ins are activities designed to ease the transition into your next presentation topic. Some examples are: finding out what learners already know via discussion or informal quiz, having volunteers role play a problem related to the next topic, asking your audience what questions they hope to have answered by the next module.

Review

These are activities designed to help the trainees review the material you have covered. Try preparing a rhyme that sumarizes your presentation and have them memorize it and then recite it as a group. Another favorite is to have the trainee take turns at sharing a point that they have learned. A variation of this idea allows the chosen trainee to then choose who goes next until everyone has had a turn. Pop quizes can be another good way to review the session.

Reflections

Reflections can be used to calm people down after exuberant or emotional sessions and can be a powerful learning tool. They are appropriate for a reality check after an imaginative brainstorming. Encourage your trainees to reflect for five minutes with their head down. You can enhance the reflective mood by playing soothing music or sounds of nature in the beackground.

Diversions

You may never need a diversion but if an unexpected interruption or delay occurs you must be prepared to occupy the time. A diversion can make such dead time come alive.

Windups

End the training with an activity that offers closure and connection. Individual action plans are an excellent way to end and so are team action plans if the training involves team skills.  Brief individual summations are another way to end.

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