Networking is an important part of events because it fuels connections between potential clients, suppliers, and future friends. These useful contacts can become powerful later collaborations and string relationships can solidify interest in your future events.
No matter who your audience, we have the perfect ice breakers to get your audience talking and connecting. Here are 70 ice breaker ideas that are easy, fun, inexpensive, and designed to loosen everyone up.
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.
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 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.
- What’s on Your Phone? – Ask people to share things on their phone like showing one another the 4th picture or make a scavenger hunt out of it using this sheet.
- Reframing Letdowns – Encourage attendees to share something they thought was a letdown that later turned out to be something great.
- Advice to Your 13-year-old Self – What would you tell yourself at 13 if you could have a conversation with that person?
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.
Find Your Match
This one works for smaller- to medium-sized groups. Think of famous duos or pairings. Then place one of them on your attendees’ name tag and another on another one. Then encourage “Batman” to find his “Robin” or “peas” to find her “carrots.” Add some fun by adding duos that could go with multiple things such as “butter” and “popcorn” or “bread.” That way even if they find their “pair” right away they’ll have to keep looking for the best one.
Give each person a small item (things like a jack, die, penny, etc.). Ask them to share something about themselves that the object brings to mind.
Create a Mad Libs about your event. Then call on random people in the crowd to give you words by giving them the type (example: noun, verb, etc.). When you’ve finished, invite a few people on stage to act the Mad Lib out impromptu as you read it. Make sure you get a video so you can post it to social media.
Build Something Together
Organize your attendees into groups and task them to build something with limited tools or materials. One such plan required building the tallest, most stable structure you could out of tape and dry spaghetti. The difficult part? A jumbo marshmallow had to sit on top of the structure without toppling over.
Musical chairs for ice breaking works the same way the children’s game does with one less chair than people. Play music and invite people to move around the room. When the music stops, players must find a chair. The one who doesn’t must share something about themselves. Then remove another chair and continue in the same way. Invite those who have been without a chair to get to know one another until everyone has a turn sharing something about themselves.
Let’s Make a Deal
Those old enough to remember this game show will remember at the end when the host would go out to the audience and ask them to hand him strange items in their purse. He might ask for a bolt or a can opener and the first person who could produce that item won the money. You can play a similar game with your audience. If your attendees don’t have bags with them, ask them to show you a picture of something on their phones.
Assign a scribe at the whiteboard and ask attendees to share their expectations or something they wish they would get out of your event. This is not only a good ice breaker, you can get some important (and hilarious) information here so make sure you capture it before erasing it.
If You Had a Magic Wand
Ask your group what they would change about your event “if they had a magic wand.” Again, capture their answers.
Karaoke is always a good ice breaker and bonding experience but save that event for late at night when attendees are feeling “uninhibited.”
Solve a Riddle
Have your group or groups solve a riddle together. There are thousands of them on the Internet. Watch the groups as they talk through solving it. Do your best to ensure groups are divided and people aren’t working with their besties.
Hand Holding Circle
Get all of your attendees in a large circle and get them to join hands with two other people, but not the two standing directly next to them. After everyone has done this you have a tangled mess. Now try to get to one larger orderly circle by only releasing one hand at a time.
The Shoe Game
This one is not for the squeamish. Invite everyone to remove one shoe and toss it into a pile. Then tell everyone to pick a shoe out, not their own, and try to find the match without speaking.
Just like the children’s game, participants must do what Simon says when “he” uses the command “Simon says.” Attendees shouldn’t do anything without that command.
Assemble the group in two lines, facing each other. Each person should extend their index fingers out in front of them so that there’s a line of index fingers. Upon that line place a long, thin PVC pipe. Tell the group to position their fingers so the stick is horizontal. Then, while keeping it horizontal, lower it to the ground without anyone removing their fingers or grabbing the stick.
Hula Hoop Island
Place several jumbo hula hoops (or chalk or tape circles) around the room and invite four people to stand in each hoop. They can’t get out until they find something they all have in common.
Divide the group into two, one group on each of the room. Give everyone a piece of paper and a pen and ask them to write a question on it. Then instruct them to throw it to the other side. If they get hit, they have to pick up the paper read it and answer it to the person to their right.
Break your group into 5-10 person groups. Instruct them to organize in the group in order of shoe size. Easy, right? Except that they can’t talk and they have to keep their eyes closed/wear bandanas.
Switch Side If…
If you have a larger group, get everyone in one room. Divide them on two sides. One side will be yes and one will be no. Read off a series of questions one at a time and invite people to switch sides so that they are standing on the side that reflects their feeling about what you’re reading. For instance: I’ve been to Paris.
Do You Love…
This is similar to the Switch Side If ice breaker from above but instead of a group divided on two sides, everyone sits. One person is “it” and asks a question that starts with “Do you love….”. Those who answer “yes” to the question must rise from their seat and pick a new one. For instance, those who love chocolate must switch seats if asked if they do. The last person to find a seat is “it.”
Where Were You…
Post a large world map on a wall. Give each attendee three markers: one yellow, one black, and one blue. Invite people to put a dot where they were:
- Born (black)
- Where they currently live (yellow)
- Where they most want to go if time and money were not an issue (blue)
Beach Ball Toss
For smaller groups, write several questions on each side of a beach ball. Then toss it to one person at a time. The person who gets the ball must answer the question that is closest to their right hand when touching the ball.
Invite your attendees to select a “few” M&Ms and then show them this board. They then have to share according to the color codes and as many as are in their hands.
Like speed dating, everyone has a few minutes to get to know one another before the bell goes off. This ensures attendees meet a lot of people quickly.
Photo Booth Fun
Place random people in a photo booth with props. Play some music and let the hilarity begin.
Would You Rather?...
Give everyone two large objects that would be visible when raised in one’s hand but small enough to do so often. For instance, a banana and a party hat. The banana is “#1” and the hat is #2. Then read a “Would you rather” question and answer. If the attendee would rather do #1, they raise the banana. If they’d rather do number 2, they raise the party hat.
Fortune Cookie Fun
Give everyone a fortune cookie. Now they must tell a story or share something about themselves that illustrates that fortune in action. You can do this with fake fortunes on post-its as well.
Get an item that can easily be tossed and is commonly known. Begin tossing it among the group. Each person who catches it must shout out their name, something interesting about themselves, and an alternative use for the item. For instance, a ball could also be used as a paperweight. The trick is you can’t name a use someone else has said or name what it is commonly used for.
Hula Hoop Race
Create several teams/groups and invite them to stand in a circle facing one another. Tell them to join hands and introduce themselves to one another. Then place a hula hoop over one person in each group. The purpose is to circulate the hoop around the circle without dropping it and without breaking the chain. The team that does must start over with the hoop on the original person. The first team to get the hoop around the circle wins.
Give everyone a map of the country your event is being held in. If your country is on the smaller side, use a map of the continent. Next, have your attendees tally up all of the places they’ve visited on the map with a point for each. The one with the most points wins. Invite people to share their travels with one another.
Name Tag Match Game
On the name badges, center the attendee’s name. On the top/above their name invite them to write their favorite food; on the bottom their favorite place. Invite them to find their “match” at some time during the event. Give them something if they find a match for one or something really special if they can find someone that matches both of their favorites.
This is a variation on the popular tourist attraction but it involves networking for the key. “Lock” your participants in a room and set the timer. They have 60 minutes to figure out how to get out by discovering clues. As the clues are discovered, post them for all to see (on a whiteboard or screen). The final clue should lead them to a person (you selected ahead of time) who knows the way out. But the only way to find that person is by asking questions of everyone in the room. The person may not come forward on their own. They have to be “found.” Once they are, they may share their secret and everyone can get out.
Murder Mystery or Jewel Thief
Like the famous dinner theater shows, a crime has occurred and your attendees must solve it by finding clues. Make sure your clues are known by people in the room that others can discover by asking them questions. These people may not come forward on their own. They must wait to be asked. Not only is this fun, but it encourages people to mingle and gives them an objective.
Guess My Name
Encourage guests to mingle and get to know one another. However, they can not tell each other their first name. They can give clues by telling them songs their name is mentioned in (without saying the name like “I’m so fine, I blow your mind.”), celebrities that share their first name (without saying it, like my “name” is a judge on the Voice, or books whose characters share their name (my name is in a popular boy wizard’s book). If a name is not in any of these types of popular media, they will have to act it out or use words that sound like it (like rhymes with Gia). When people have to work to learn a name, they’ll be more apt to remember it.
Sing for Your Supper
Divide the group into several smaller teams of between 5-20 people. Start the first group with a popular song that you sing to them. They must then take a word from the lines you sang and sing a song together that contains that word. The next team must do the same. This continues until a team can’t think of anything and they forfeit. For instance: Happy birthday song (word: happy) might become Somewhere over the Rainbow (happy little bluebirds sing), might become Little Red Corvette (little).
Divide your group into two on different sides of the room. Give each team a large piece of foam board and a marker. The first person must draw some sort of line (straight or curvy). It cannot be a complete drawing. When the emcee yells stop, the “artist” must pass it on to another artist on the team. That person will then add their marks until the emcee yells stop. The goal is to create something recognizable among the group but with each person contributing. Share the results. Many people feel they can’t draw but they’ll be surprised what the group can do together.
Arrange for someone to be a “shark” and instruct them to look for something among the networkers of their choosing (for instance people who like pizza). The shark must strike up a conversation in order to find out if that person likes or dislikes whatever item or activity they’ve chosen. Once they find someone who shares that they must quietly convey that they’ve been “bitten” by the shark. They must now think of their own thing they’ll look for and they go out into the crowd. Now there are two sharks looking for different things. This continues until there’s only one person left among a room full of sharks.
Building a Hive
Break your group into smaller groups of at least 3 and up to 10. Encourage the members of the group to talk amongst themselves until they find a common denominator (something out of the ordinary, not “we all have hair.”). Once they find a common denominator, they become that team. For instance, they might be the “we’ve all been to Paris team.” Once every team has a common denominator, the teams should circulate as a group looking for others who share their common denominator. When they find them, they should invite them to join their group. As the mingling continues only a few large groups will exist and attendees will see what they have in common with their fellow participants.
Invite people to network but give them this exercise to use. The first person begins a sentence (such as “I have a pet _____.”) and the person they’re speaking with has to finish it with the answer they think best fits the person who made the beginning statement (such as “dog.”). If they get the answer right, their duo will move onto someone else and pose to them a different question. If that person gets the question right, they will join the group. They, amass people with them as they get it right. If they don’t get it right, they’ll go onto someone else until they get it right and follow their group too. The group should take turns being “it” and asking the question.
Pair everyone up and tell them they have to create a new “hot duo” based on their likes, dislikes, passions, etc. You cannot use something common like “we are peas and carrots.” They must invent something and explain why such as “We go together like hops and butter. One of us is into craft brews and the other is a southern chef.” Share them with the group.
Attendees have five minutes to complete this exercise in silence. Without speaking they must organize themselves by date of birthday from January 1 to December 31. They cannot speak or write dates out so they must figure out what month and day everyone is born in through a fast game of charades and quick thinking.
Give everyone a piece of paper, a pen, and a crash course in making a paper airplane. Before they fold their airplane, ask them to write a funny intro about themselves on the paper, fold it into a plane, and launch it when instructed. Next, tell everyone to pick up a plane (that’s not theirs) and take turns reading an intro. At the end of the intro, the person who wrote it should wave or claim their plane.
Break the groups into teams and have them construct vision boards of what they’d like to get out of the event or their professional lives over the next year. They can draw, write, or paste pictures onto the board. Then post them around the event.
Post It Note Games:
Have lots of post-it notes ready for these.
Hand a note to each person and ask them to write a question on the back. Then have them post it at the front of the room so the question does not show. Now make each person select one and give their answer.
Hand each person a note with an animal on it that makes a sound. You’ll want to use at least two of each animal. Next, invite them to “find their kind” by making the sound their animal makes and listening for others who are making the same sound. When they get together they should introduce themselves.
Most Likely To…
Invite people to write on a post-in what their best friend would say they were most likely to do at your event. Then encourage mingling while they wear their post-its.
Truth or Lie
Have each person write a truth or a lie about themselves on a post-it. Tell them to attach it to their badge and then invite others to mingle and decide whether their statement is a truth or a lie. The person who fools the most people can win a special prize. Here’s a similar version:
True or Opposite
Invite everyone to write a word on a post-it and wear it. The word must either describe them or be the exact opposite of who they think they are. Then people must mingle and figure out if the word is true or the complete opposite.
Give everyone a Post-it and invite them to write their favorite movie quote on it. They should then wear it as a badge and circulate through the crowd. Every time someone knows what movie the quote is from, the wearer gets a point. The one with the most points wins.
Ask the question “if you could pick a theme song what would it be?” Then invite attendees to write the title of the song on a Post-It they wear as they mingle. The theme song should have a special meaning to them and they should be ready to tell others why they selected it when they mingle.
Each person adds an adjective on a post-it that describes them and begins with the same letter of their first name (like Bashful Brittany). They must stick it to their name badge and wear it for the event. You can substitute a place they’d like to travel for the adjective too (like Boston Brittany).
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 70 great ideas to suit all events.
What are your favourite and most effective event networking ideas? Please share in the comments below.
Related reading on improving event networking: