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Ice-Breakers For Meetings & Training Classes: Providing Value…or Just A Game?

Do a google search for ice-breakers for training and you’ll find hundreds of them.  The question is:  are ice-breakers necessary?  The answer is: it depends!  If an ice-breaker has a specific purpose, is set up well, and debriefed effectively, an ice-breaker can provide an added value to your training.  If an ice-breaker is just a game without any clear purpose, it may turn off many of the participants and give the impression that this is not a topic or facilitator to be taken seriously.

A successful ice-breaker, when used for training classes, may include one or all of the following goals:

  • A getting to know you, participant introduction activity.  This is a great way to start a workshop where the participants have not met before.
  • Create a comfort level and interaction with the participants.  The most effective training occurs when the participants are focused and engaged.  Starting a session with immediate interaction sets the stage for more of this to occur throughout the workshop.
  • An introduction to the topic that begins the learning process.  When participants can immediately begin learning new information through an activity they are more likely to stay focused and involved during the rest of the workshop.
  • An additional benefit to the facilitator when an ice-breaker is used is to start to gauge current knowledge and interest of the topic and their willingness to work together.   It may be necessary to adjust content or activities based on the outcomes of the ice-breaker.

In TrainSmart’s Internationally Certified train-the-trainer workshop, we jump right into an ice-breaker activity that takes participants through a simplified version of the training process.  The participants are paired up and asked to “interview” their partner to gather the required information.  They then have an opportunity to consider how to organize the information to train the rest of the group on what they learned about their partner.  Their visual aid is their partner!  After a short practice time, participants teach us about their partners.

Whatever ice-breaker you choose, the setup and debrief are critical for success.  Using the example from above, the setup involves pairing off the participants.  The simple way to do this is to have them partner with the person next to them.  If you want to move people around so they are not sitting next to someone they already know, you could have note cards with shapes or pictures on them.  Each person selects a card and finds the person that has the same shape or picture.

Once the activity is completed, debrief by asking questions that help the participant identify what was learned and how to use that information.   Good debrief questions after participants have introduced one another might include:  “what did you learn from this activity?”, “what do you remember about each person and why?”, and “was it difficult to train about your partner without PowerPoint slides?”

Turn ice-breakers from “just games” to interactive learning and you’ll turn those that hate ice-breakers to participants that find value from the very beginning of your training.

What are some of your favorite ice-breakers?

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Anne P. Harlow is a creative, results driven professional with an eclectic background in leadership, consulting, training, sales and marketing, instructional design and technology. With proven success in managing people, budgets and projects; analyzing and managing business processes and change; assessing, developing and deploying skills improvement programs; a passion for working with people and making a difference; and a solid understanding of business processes, she is able to assist organizations maximize their most important resource: PEOPLE!