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Ice Breakers For Training: Think Of Them As Your First Impression

Leslie Ciborowski
President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

Icebreakers are one of the most misused and misunderstood elements of a workshop. Sometimes they are funny. Sometimes complicated. Sometimes embarrassing. Sometimes invigorating. All too often, participants scratch their heads wondering why they just had to do what they did.

Somehow the real purpose of an icebreaker has gotten lost and has been replaced with,” let’s do something fun to kick off the workshop.” There’s nothing wrong with fun, but fun usually should not be the primary goal of an icebreaker. Choosing the right icebreaker depends on understanding your audience and the goal of the workshop.

If you walk by a workshop session about 5 minutes before it begins you can tell a lot about the group dynamics.  If the people are introducing themselves to each other, chatting, smiling, laughing and exchanging information then you probably have a group of anticipatory participants. These are often people who signed up for the workshop because they wanted to learn what was being taught.

If you walk by the same room and see a bunch of people busy on their smart phones, not bothering to get to know the people sitting right next to them, chances are this is a group who is required to be there – mandatory training. In these cases, the participants rarely talk to each other, avoid looking at the handouts and maintain a serious, bored or unhappy expression on their face.

Is an icebreaker more appropriate for one group over the other?  Not really.

It’s just that an icebreaker serves a very different purpose for eager learners than for participants who see themselves as prisoners. The icebreaker is the first impression you make as a facilitator. Simply doing a throwaway activity that in no way relates to the subject matter will do more harm than good.

In the case of the prisoners, an icebreaker needs to break the tension. The more relaxed participants are, the more receptive they are too learning.  Having a great icebreaker with the dynamics of this group lets them displace their feelings of resentment for being forced to attend, with a feeling that “maybe this workshop won’t be as awful as I think it’s going to be.”

With people who looking forward to the workshop, an icebreaker needs to confirm their belief that signing up, spending their money and investing the time to take the workshop was a smart decision. With this group, a poorly executed icebreaker can result in a feeling of misgivings and buyers remorse.

There are great resources both online and in books that can help you craft a great icebreaker. The key is to keep the icebreaker uncomplicated and to make sure the activity reinforces the goal or theme of your workshop.

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Leslie Ciborowski
Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.