Networking is an important part of events, and allows participants to meet new potential clients, suppliers or useful contacts for later collaborations. Here are 20 ice breaker ideas that are easy, fun and should loosen everyone up.
With so much time nowadays spent on online interactions, real, face to face human interaction is even more important. Networking can however be a huge cause of large anxiety for many introverted attendees.
Here are some no-tech, low-tech and high-tech ice breaker ideas to boost networking, kick off your event conversations and have some fun with it.
Table Top Quiz
Provide table top quizzes and trivia for the whole table, to encourage whole table interaction, instead of just conversations with the people seated either side. Provide trivia in keeping with your event’s theme or random pop culture facts to get everyone involved. For the quiz, get everyone working from the outset by determining a time limit and have the winning team be the one with the quickest time and the most correct answers.
There are several options available, basically foam balls or cube microphones that are easy to throw, catch and fine to drop (there’s always one). They offer an energetic and fun idea that help with audience participation to break the ice and get everyone more involved. Plus it helps to remove the awkwardness and fear of holding a traditional microphone.
Name Tag Switcheroo
This is always a fun and interesting game that can be played from the outset but be warned you should either keep this for smaller groups or events because too many people can make it difficult! Start by giving the attendees the wrong name tags and task them with finding the person with their name. When they have found the right person they must answer 3 questions to get the name tag back and then this will continue until everyone has the correct name tag! This not only helps people to approach each other and learn more about other attendees but can also encourage groups of people to start having conversations that they can continue later on.
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Avatars and Virtual Networking
Many people find introducing themselves online to be easier than in person. Connecting your participants via social media can help reduce the anxiety of not knowing anyone else at the event. Create a private event group on Facebook or host a Twitter chat to help people to get to know each other.
Alternatively set up a medium where guests can create their own avatar and customize it to suit them and talk to each other in a virtual world. This is a fun way to transition to a real world situation and create talking points. Virtual reality networking is now possible.
Playing Card Meet-up
Hand a playing card to each attendee and group the attendees first with the pictures and numbers together (Queen, 2, Jack etc.) and then within the suit. Give them 5 minutes to find similarities and shared interests within the group or complete an easy task. This is a good way to encourage meeting new people and avoid people who know each other grouping together into cliques. For larger events you can opt to have the attendees find the same card as them rather than the suit, otherwise the groups become too large.
Business Card Collection
Remind attendees to bring a number of business cards but without telling them the reason. Once all of the attendees have arrived, give them 15-20 minutes for fast networking, with the aim to go around, talk to each other and learn as much as they can. The attendee with the highest number of business cards at the end of the time wins a prize.
As the name suggests, smart badges are a clever technology to improve networking. Fundamentally they use an app and mobile device to help pinpoint people of similar interests or specifically preset people to talk to and notify or light up when close to a match. These wearable devices can help to avoid the awkward “walking up to people” phase and give an immediate reason to strike up a conversation, as well as prioritizing those you specifically want to talk to.
It can be very difficult to break the ice within a theatre style layout because there isn’t the space to circulate, however you can open and gain focus from the outset with some ice breaking polling questions. Make them light, easy and relevant to your brand or event to keep it on topic but don’t go too in depth (you are trying to lighten them up after all). Get attendees in agreement to questions to stand and then they can also see like-minded individuals they might like to talk to later.
If you are using a polling technology merge this with an ice breaking opportunity by asking for discussion with the person next to them around some of the answers.
Toilet Roll Challenge
Give each table or small group a toilet roll and ask everyone to take some, without explaining the reason. Then ask everyone to count the number of squares they have and share that many things about themselves. So if someone has taken 3 pieces of toilet roll they must share 3 facts about themselves.
Personalized Name Tags
For a low-cost and easy idea you can aim to put extra tidbits of information about the attendee on their name tag. When filling out registration forms merely add an extra box that allows attendees to fill in the information and this allows similar minded guests to find each other at the event as well as starting interesting talking points to break the ice. Some ideas you could try are:
- Describe yourself in 3 words
- Talk to me about....
- Your most interesting quality
- How they take their coffee
- Place they would most like to visit in the world
Or you could opt to make it a question about the event theme, their job role or event experience (e.g. previous events that they attended)
Ask a 4 attendees at random to pick one their most played songs on their playlist, and play a snippet of each song through the sound desk with an audio jack. Ask participants to go to the corner of the room designated to the song closest to their music preferences to determine the winning soundtrack for the event. This is a great way for people to find others in common who may not initially look as though they like the same taste in music and can lead to great conversations and a mixed group of people. It is also a light game that people find fun because their most played song can be an unexpected one and music is uplifting! You can then have them stay in these teams for the day or move on to something else.
This idea is so flexible and you can scale it up or down depending on the size, theme and demographic of your event. Create bingo cards in advance. On these cards should be human characteristics, qualities or interests that they need to find and cross off. Some examples you could try are:
- someone who hates sprouts
- a brown eyed male
- someone who sings in a choir
- a gemini
- someone younger than 25
- a person from a specific state or geographical location
- (really the possibilities are endless)
Whoever finds an attendee for each of the criteria first shouts bingo and wins. This is an excellent (and speedy way) to get people talking and learning about each other.
These are the types of ideas that you can throw around for a couple of minutes while you are waiting for everyone to arrive and are very flexible. Usually they are about asking questions but you could play specific ones such as:
- Two Truths, One Lie – As the name suggests, an attendee tells two truths and one lie and the other person (or people) must guess which the lie is.
- Desert Island – Ask what 3 items (or people) you would take to a desert island with you.
- 3 Questions – essentially it is 21 questions but you are only allowed to ask 3 questions instead.
These are all quick and easy games that can be played in pairs or small groups to get people talking initially and help to lead on to other conversations as they find they have things in common.
One Word Icebreaker
This can be adapted to any situation and is a great on topic introduction to any conference. In small groups of up to five people ask everyone to think for a minute of one word that describes X (insert any topic). This will give a great variety of responses and insights which sparks spontaneous conversations as they question each other and discuss the meanings behind the chosen words. A few volunteers can then be asked to share with the wider group. The small groups can then delve deeper into follow up questions.
Quick Fire Questions
This is a fun and easy game that costs nothing. Tell your attendees to find a partner and give them 60 seconds each to fire off quick questions to the other person (you could display them on your plasma screens or on the home screen of your event app. Make sure to add some interesting and funny questions such as if you could be any cartoon character who would you be?
Using online drawing or notepad apps give everyone a category (e.g. animals, food, sports or something in keeping with your event theme) and 30-60 seconds to draw whatever they want in that category. When the time is up they must find a partner with the same or similar drawing as a “snap”. You could expand this by then giving them the opportunity to have a few quick-fire ice breaker questions and then start the next round.
This is an excellent way to help attendees find others with similar interests, backgrounds and hobbies who will ultimately be looking to network anyway. Have everyone stand in a group and then have them organize themselves according to certain criteria, for example; by job role, sports team, favorite movie genres, school or work history. This immediately gets everyone to start talking and interacting with each other as well as asking questions and helping to rank and group each other.
To encourage friendly competition, scavenger hunts are a great idea. Most people enjoy them and they involve putting people into teams and having them find preset clues to a main prize. If you want to use tech you can mix the hunt up a bit by using QR codes to scan for the clues and incentives at each stop. Working in teams in this way is beneficial for bonding and it is also an excellent team building exercise from the outset.
After separating attendees into small groups you should set them a photo or short video challenge. Give them 15 minutes to come up with a fun and interesting concept that is related to the event and share via the event hashtag. Judge them based on their innovation and how fun they are. Creative ideas that automatically get people working together can break the ice by giving them a common goal to aim for and they forget about the awkward ‘getting to know you’ phase which is useful if you want to jump straight in.
For something a bit more hands on you can opt to have a graffiti wall (or a digital graffiti wall if you prefer less mess or clean-up) which gets people inspired, creative and expressing themselves. Ask everyone to draw a picture or word that represents them and break the ice. You could also tie this in with your gift or goody bags and have the design printed on mementos such as bags or t-shirts for the end of the event.
Breaking the ice at an event helps to get everyone relaxed and more likely to have a positive experience. Your attendees are more likely to make friends, build a community and return to future events if they feel they got more involved because it makes it more memorable for them. You now have 20 great ideas to suit all events.
What are your favourite and most effective ice breaker ideas? Please share in the comments below.