Ice Breakers for Groups
Over the years, I have been rather involved in community work, which has landed me in front of thousands of people. I have helped to run retreats, have spoken at conferences and schools, held training seminars for groups of 20-60 people, have worked with small, individual groups, and (in high school) led assemblies. I have been in television commercials, on the radio, and in newspapers. I am not listing accomplishments to embellish my accomplishments, but to show that I really do have experience as a public speaker.
Even with my experience, speaking to and in front of groups can be intimidating. In fact, public speaking tops the ranks of phobias amongst the entire human race. Reaction is everything, and speakers have no control over the audience's reaction. Additionally, public speakers must keep the audience engaged. I do that by relating to the audience, by way of icebreakers. This can be as simple as cracking a joke to as involved as playing a game.
Icebreakers are not something that you would normally do at a conference or symposium. I do not mean to mislead; this hub will not necessarily help with either of those situations (you can certainly try, if appropriate). However, with any type of group setting (cessation classes, classrooms, business meetings, new-hire trainings, therapy groups, etc.), it is essential to establish a common ground between group members. That itself is a powerful way to start, and will lead to better focus, more togetherness, and more trust in you as a leader/speaker.
Introductions can be so impersonal, but, moreover, are sometimes awkward and uncomfortable, as "all eyes are on you". The following icebreaker ideas will help set the tone, ease tensions, and allow each person the glimmer of a spotlight, without the glare in their eyes as they gaze out at the audience. These are just suggestions, and work well in a multitude of settings. If one does not appeal to you, simply tweak it to fit your needs. The suggestions are broad, and not necessarily age-specific.
I made this up for a retreat. It was a hit, and I still have my ball, ten years later.
This suggestion is very inexpensive, easy to do (therefore, easy to instruct), and can be made to fit the needs of the group.
All that you need is a rubber playground-style ball (light in color) or a beachball, and a permanent marker. All over the ball, write numerous questions with the permanent marker.
You can use simple questions, like "What is your name?" or "Where were you born?" to questions pertaining to the reason that the group is together. For instance, if the icebreaker is being done at a therapy group, questions like "What is your favorite season?" or "Do you have any pets?" - questions that usually help cultivate good, relaxing feelings. For work, you could use questions like "What is one way you would improve the work atmosphere?" or "How long have you been in this field?"
Okay, now that you have the questions, lead off with the ball in your hands, and the rest of the group in a connecting circle. Bounce the ball to someone else. However they catch the ball, there should be an easily accessible question. Whatever that question may be, they must read it aloud, answer it, and then pass the ball to someone else.
Make it as silly or professional; personal or impersonal; fact or fiction... it's entirely up to you, the leader/speaker.
2 Lies, 1 Truth
There are not many variations to this one, but it is pretty well-known. This is a fun "game", and can be done for groups of any age, and any size.
Simply instruct everyone to (silently) think of 2 "lies" about themselves, and one truth. The lies could be a twist on something true, like if someone has 3 children/siblings, that person could say "I have five children/siblings." Or, it could be something completely off-the-wall, like "I have flown in a space shuttle."
Then, of course, the truth... You can make this specific to the group, or general. Specific, as in having everyone tell one truth about their battle with cancer (for a support group), something that they accomplished (work), or one thing that they did over the summer (school class).
Have each person tell their 2 lies and 1 truth - in any order - to the rest of the group. Then, have the entire group shout out which of the 3 they think is the "truth". Have the person advise the group as to which is true, and maybe tell a bit about the truth... Normally, people easily think of a "truth". That means that it is something either fresh on their mind, or meaningful. It may be a good conversation starter.
Would you rather?
I have heard teens play this before, and have seen versions of the game in stores. Funny, I am pretty sure that it started out as an icebreaker!
There are a few variations to this one. Here is my rendition:
Have everyone think of a "Would you rather..." question. You can ask that it be related to the group setting, if desired. Give everyone a few minutes to think. Once everyone has one in mind, have one person start, by asking his/her question. Then, have each person say which they would rather, or decide collectively as a group. Some questions may be more intense than others and may be provocative, and some may lead to a great discussion. No matter what, it will bring out one's personality, and could make for interesting fun!
Here are some suggestion "Would you rather..." questions:
- "Would you rather spend a day alone on a deserted island, or with thousands of people at a world event?"
- "Would you rather find true love or win the lottery?"
- (For work) "Would you rather have 3 weeks of vacation time, or work 6 hours a day, but be paid for 8?"
- (For kids) "Would you rather spend the day at the zoo, or spend the day at the library?"
Never Have I Ever..
I did this one, I believe, with a church youth group. I may have used it when working with a boys' home, too, teaching tobacco cessation. Regardless, it is fun, and thought-provoking. Make sure that it does not get too out of hand, though, as it easily can! (So, you may want to give boundaries.)
Have everyone stand in a circle, while you stand in the middle. Have everyone hold up one hand, with three fingers up, and two down (as if signing the number 3). Then, say "Never have I ever..." followed by something that you yourself have not done. So, myself, I would say "Never have I ever been to Australia". Then, anyone that has done whatever it is, puts 1 finger down. Pick someone else to say a "Never have I ever..." statement. Continue until the group has collectively decided that they are done, or until everyone's fingers are down.
Another way that this could be played is:
Have everyone stand in the circle, with you in the middle. Say a "Never have I ever..." statement. Whomever has done that thing, races to the middle of the circle. If more than one person does, whomever gets to the middle first, remains. You join the circle, and the person who raced to the middle then says a "Never have I ever..." statement. Let the game go for about ten minutes, as it may get somewhat exhausting, or -as previously mentioned- out of hand.
This icebreaker may be more suitable for a younger group, like middle school to college range.
Acting Mixer (I just made up a name for it; not very clever, I know...) is great for both kids and adults.
Regardless of the group size, this is rather easy to do, and very entertaining. You will need one index card for each person attending. Decide whether to go with a theme or not. A theme could be "movies", "school subjects", or "holidays". On the front of each card, write down a noun, like "Marilyn Monroe", "Godzilla", "smart phone", or "Christmas tree". When everyone arrives, pass out the cards, back/blank-side up. Advise everyone not to turn the card over (not to read what is written on it). Then, ask everyone to find another person to pair with, or randomly pair them yourself.
Now, from here, you can have one person go at a time, or both at the same time. There are many ways to do this. Here's the most basic:
Have each person stick the index card to their shirt or forehead (use tape, or just hold it there). At this point, the other person in the pair will see what the card says, still no one should know what their own says. Advise that the pairs have 5 minutes to act out (or act like) what the card says (like charades). You can add rules, if you would like, such as "You can not say what is on the card." That, though, should go without saying. Anyway, each person tries to guess what their card says.
Another way to do this, is to still attach the card, but have each person introduce him/herself and have a conversation, while acting as/like what is on the other person's card. Again, trying to guess what their own card says.
If you do not feel the need to have the group on their feet and moving, but would rather have them thinking and talking more, conversational icebreakers are the way to go. Here are a few ideas:
- "My movie". -Ask everyone to think about their life as a movie. Who would be the starring actor/actress, in what language would it be, where would it be shot/made? Have each person share.
- "Name and number." -Ask everyone to introduce themselves by telling the group their name, and then a number... The number of children/siblings they have, the number of years they have been in remission, worked in that particular department/location, been alive, lived in their current house, etc. It could be anything! I do not, however, recommend giving a phone number or address! =]
- "Name game." -Have each person explain how/why their parents named them as they did. If someone does not know (explain this ahead of time, to avoid an uncomfortable moment), have them make up a story.
Here are some other questions that you could ask to evoke a response, and have each person share his/her answer:
- "Would you want to live forever?"
- "What is your favorite quotation?"
- "If you could have dinner with anyone famous (dead or alive), who would it be?"
- "If you won the lottery, what is the first thing that you would do?"
- "What is one humanitarian effort that you would do, if you had limitless resources?"
- "What is your favorite love song?"
There are endless thought-provoking questions that could be asked of a group. Try not to ask too difficult or too personal a question. The idea of conversational icebreakers to ease and relax people; to spark creativity.
A couple for the kids
You may remember doing one or two of these at summer camp. They're cheap, fun ways to foster team building and trust in younger people.
- "Inside out circle." - Have everyone stand in a circle, and hold hands. Then, without breaking the circle, try to turn it "inside out"! (Instead of facing inwards, everyone would face out.)
- "TP time." - Have each person take some toilet paper from a roll (however much they would like, but try to limit it). Once everyone has some TP, have each person say one nice or interesting thing about him/herself... for each piece of TP he/she has!
- "Human knot." Have everyone stand closely to each other (as if in a huddle), and hold out their hands. Then, have everyone grab two other hands. The thing is, though, the two other hands can not belong to the same person. Everyone should be somewhat intertwined. Once everyone is connected, have the group try to disassemble (and ultimately form a circle), without letting go of each other.
- "My name starts with..." Have each person say their name, and then say one nice/interesting thing about him/herself using the first letter of their name.
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No more "chill" in the air
Break the ice with something light-hearted, thought-provoking, or relaxing, and you will have a more willing and attentive group. Whatever the occasion, icebreakers are a great, inexpensive way to boost confidence, ease tensions, get to know one another, and foster team building.
These ideas can be used for many other occasions, like holiday get-togethers or kids' birthday parties.
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