Ice breakers do a lot more than help your crowd get to know one another. While they are an effective part of the networking process, they can also set the tone for your event and be one of the first memories attendees have of your meeting, conference, or gathering.
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Bad ice breakers can feel like a forced summer camp activity, while good icebreakers can become the seeds of amazing friendships, business partnerships, and more. But how do you tell the good from the bad?
We’ve talked to event and meeting planners, researched practices at business organizations, human resources departments, and other networking groups to bring you the best business networking icebreakers out there.
Here are our top 10 event ice breakers, covering events of all shapes and sizes and different types of audiences:
- keyboard_arrow_right Like or loathe
- keyboard_arrow_right One word
- keyboard_arrow_right Toilet roll ice breaker
- keyboard_arrow_right Beach ball toss
- keyboard_arrow_right Take a picture
- keyboard_arrow_right Tweetable advice
- keyboard_arrow_right GIF commentary
- keyboard_arrow_right Paper airplanes
- keyboard_arrow_right Link building
- keyboard_arrow_right One lesson
For a complete list of ice breakers for events and detailed instructions for each, keep reading! In this post, for your convenience, we’ve broken them down into ten categories:
In each of the ten categories, we’ve chosen our favorite ice breaker games for events based on several criteria including:
Uniqueness. Ice breakers are often most effective when the crowd has never seen them before. Once they know the trick, it won’t be as fun to play along. That’s why we looked for fresh, bold approaches.
Ease. No one wants to spend a lot of time constructing an intricate set up with difficult directions. All of these ice breakers are easy to facilitate.
Application and Variety. The third thing we looked for was a wide variety of ice breaker types that could fit all ranges of sizes and personalities. We did not want ice breakers that all looked the same with the exception of a quick substitution.
Now that you know the criteria we used to select our top choice in ice breakers, it’s important to understand that not every ice breaker on this list will be a good fit for your group or organization. You want something that will fit the size, interests, and skills of your group. For instance, a complex math equation relay event may not be something your group of creative designers enjoys. That’s not to say creatives are not good at math but their skills and interests lie in finding multiple ideas and brainstorming creative solutions, whereas a math drill has only one solution.
This article can be an incredibly effective jumping off point for your ice breaker ideas. Use these suggestions and tailor them to your group. Keep in mind who they are, your company or event culture, and your event goals to create something that works for you.
Some of the easiest ice breakers to use are ice breaker questions. These can be used with any group size, in any size of room and room set up and still work even with very limited space. The host should explain the question to discuss and give clear instructions at the start for how long to take to discuss and the signal to stop talking.
Here are some of our favorite ice breaker questions:
Are you a sunrise, daylight, twilight, or night person?
What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?
If you could go back ten years in your life would you? Why or why not?
If you never aged, what age would you want to be for the rest of your life?
What do you think is missing from your career or life?
If you could create your own AI manager, what traits and skills would you add?
If everyone had a theme song, what would your manager’s be? (You can substitute any person here including the person you’re asking.)
Pick something out of your personal belongings and share it with the group. Why is it important to you?
Share your favorite picture on your phone right now and explain why it is. (You can share them all on the screen by using a specific hashtag or asking them to upload via your event app.)
If you could be the leader of an organization, country, form of entertainment, or sport, which would you choose and why?
Most of us take ourselves too seriously when it comes to business events or conferences. Starting your event with a funny ice breaker event is a way to help people connect quickly by letting their serious side take a break. These ice breakers are most effective with small groups, or larger numbers broken down into small groups.
Like or loathe cards
Write a single word on index cards and attach them to the back of each attendees shirt. Then instruct the group to introduce themselves to everyone based on how they feel about the word on the card. They can’t tell the person but they should convey their own like or dislike of the word. For instance, if the word is roller coaster the person may say, “You scare me.” For added fun, you can instruct the one reacting to act it out instead of saying it. Afterward, take turns sharing what card everyone was wearing on their backs.
Do your own thing
This ice breaker requires the facilitator to create a list of simple activities (such as acting like a goat or pretending your skydiving). You need one activity for each attendee. Walk around the room and randomly assign each person an activity. They must begin as soon as you assign it and continue until you tell the group to stop. The room will soon be abuzz with activity. After everyone is acting out their roles, ask them to try to speak/network with one another in character. It’s maddening but illustrates what happens when we each have our own agendas set.
Come to my party
Announce to your group you’re throwing a party but to attend they must bring something with them. It can be anything they like but some people will get in and others won’t. As each potential guest takes a turn asking the host if they can come to the party with their particular item, the host says yes or no. Eventually, people figure out what the similarities behind all of the acceptable things are. For instance, one attendee is coming to the party and wants to bring an apple. She may. The next person wants to bring a peach. He may not. Someone else may bring a pillow and attend. The similarity is that all the items must have consecutive, duplicate letters in the items, aPPle, piLLow, etc., but you can use any method of categorization to try and stump your audience.
This one is frequently used in the classroom. Have a sheet of paper placed face down on each seat. On it is a list of 10-15 easy activities such as shout out your name. At the top of the sheet is one line that reads, “Read the entire list of activities before starting. The last activity reads that they should ignore all other activities and only introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them. Tell them to flip over their papers and begin. This is a timed test. Hilarity ensues as people perform the activities without fully reading the instructions.
Telephone/whisper down the lane
This fun ice breaker begins with everyone getting in a line. The first person in line whispers a sentence to the person behind them. They can only say it once and may not repeat it. The person who received the message must then tell the person behind them. If they didn’t hear it or only heard part of it, they must convey some sort of message and they should try to make it as close to what they heard as possible. At the end of the line, the last person shares what was said to them. It’s hilarious how much the message has been distorted.
Ice breakers for large groups can be challenging because of scale and the space and room layout needs to be considered. Whenever possible, divide your group into smaller ones for a more effective ice breaker and to get everybody actively involved. If your group is sitting cabaret style this can work well though in terms of dividing up the group and this setting often gives more space to move around the room easily.
Candy bar discussion tables
Place a different kind of candy bar on each table. Instruct attendees no one is to eat them. Give each person a snack-size version of the same candy bars. Each person should then go to the table with their candy bar. For instance, Milky Ways will go to the Milky Way table. At each table is a discussion question. People at the table should take turns answering the question.
Create a scavenger hunt bingo card. Each card contains multiple statements that could be true about someone such as “I have a dog.” Attendees go around the room trying to find people that the statements are true about. Once they do, those people must sign the space on the card. The first one with a full card wins.
One-word ice breaker
Divide the group into smaller groups or tables. Whenever possible, split up groups that came in together. Then ask them to come up with one word to describe their _____. Could be family, job, this event, company culture, etc. The word almost always starts a discussion.
Give each person a playing card when they enter the room. Use multiple decks if need be. Tell them they must first find all of their number or their same face cards. (There will be 3 others per deck used) and then they must bring all of their suit together. Once they do this, give them a question to discuss.
Run a smartphone poll that is shown on the main screen as people come in. Ask a multiple choice question and see how results change as more and more attendees answer it. A question such as “If you could have one of these superpowers what would it be: flying, x-ray vision, reading minds, superhuman strength.” works well.
Small groups afford a great opportunity to get to know people quickly and spend more time one to one. There’s a chance to get deeper into discussions and a better chance participants will remember what’s said.
Toilet roll ice breaker questions
Pass out a roll of toilet paper and tell the group that they need it for the next task and in preparation they must help themselves, taking a minimum of at least one sheet. Then based on the number of sheets they took, they have to share that many facts about themselves.
10 things you have in common
Give people a piece of paper and challenge them to go around the room asking people questions. When they find they have something in common with someone, they can write it down on the paper along with their name. Participants are not allowed to use one person for all ten things, nor can they use the same question for everyone, such as finding ten people in the room who have cats.
The leader begins by saying the first letter of the alphabet. Then someone else in the audience will say that next letter. However, if two or more people say the same letter at the same time, you must begin again. Now try this exercise with your eyes closed.
Beach ball toss
Take a beach ball and write a question on each colored panel with a marker. Take turns tossing the ball. The person who catches it must answer the question on the panel that their left thumb touches.
Who’s your ideal manager?
List the name of a famous person (alive or dead) on a piece of paper and post it to the wall. Repeat this action with other names at different spots around the room. (For instance, Steve Jobs, Oprah, JK Rowling, Stephen Hawking, etc. They can be famous for sports, entertainment, science, or any number of things, but it’s probably best to avoid political leaders. Next, ask your group to look at the names and go and stand by name of the person you would most like to be your manager or mentor (if they were available and still living, of course). Once in the group, ask them to share the reasoning behind their decision with each other. Next, ask them to compile their best opinions and share them with the other groups. If anyone wants to change their mind at that time, tell them they can switch managers and encourage attendees to float around if they are persuaded by each group.
If you have very little time or you’re concerned you’ll lose your audience’s attention in hokey games, these quick ice breakers can get right to the point of getting to know people better without taking up a lot of valuable learning time.
Questions are among the quickest ice breakers out there but you don’t have to simply go around the room asking. There are a variety of ways to use questions as quick ice breakers such as:
- keyboard_arrow_right Questions are among the quickest ice breakers out there but you don’t have to simply go around the room asking. There are a variety of ways to use questions as quick ice breakers such as:
- keyboard_arrow_right Exhibit them onscreen and encourage people to talk about them at their table or with the people sitting directly behind them.
- keyboard_arrow_right Add them as a poll in your event app.
- keyboard_arrow_right Print a question on each name tag or instruct the attendee to add a question that they can be asked when meeting new people such as Jane Smith: Ask me about my most embarrassing moment.
- keyboard_arrow_right Give a prompt as homework to discuss during the refreshment break, for example: What have you done for the first time this year? When the event reconvenes the host can ask for a recap of the most interesting and exciting responses people unveiled.
Cartoon name tags
Place a different cartoon (or comic) character on each blank name tag instead of names and encourage each attendee to choose the character that best fits them. Then ask them to write their name below the character’s name and leave the name tag on for the rest of the event. It will serve as a point of conversation for events that don’t need to have formally printed name badges. This could be a good ice breaker game for social events.
Participants must explain what they do or who they are in five words or less. Buzz them if they go over word count. For even more fun, use a cowbell. One always needs more cowbell.
Take a picture
Instruct attendees to pull out their smartphones and take a picture with a colleague who they don’t know. Then ask them to share it under a hashtag, to your page, or in your group.
Give everyone five cards with the same five people listed. They can be anyone but you want to do your best to ensure they have someone in that category so be broad if you need to be.
- keyboard_arrow_right My boss
- keyboard_arrow_right My significant other
- keyboard_arrow_right My parent
- keyboard_arrow_right My pet
- keyboard_arrow_right My mailman (this could be any random person)
Next, ask them rapid-fire questions that they have to answer with one of the cards. Make the questions as unexpected as possible such as “The person I would most like to go skydiving with” or “the person I could never send on a peacekeeping mission.”
Just because you’re miles away doesn’t mean you can’t help connect your attendees, even though the mechanics and social norms are very different to a face to face environment. Here are a few easy and effective suggestions for virtual meetings to get participants talking and interacting with one another in an online environment:
- keyboard_arrow_right Ask each attendee to describe their weather (or day) with an emoji in the chat box.
- keyboard_arrow_right Take a poll asking them what season is their favorite.
- keyboard_arrow_right State two truths and a lie and see if your attendees can guess the lie.
- keyboard_arrow_right Describe where you are from in an emoji.
- keyboard_arrow_right Share: What’s your favorite thing you purchased recently? (Can also use favorite app, tech, etc.)
Conferences can be intimidating for introverts and those that don’t know anyone and so any steps you can take to help attendees feel more relaxed and get people talking can be most welcome. Conferences often involve many attendees, perhaps hundreds, and they can pose similar challenges which require large group ice breakers. The goal here is to get people circulating. Here are a few corporate event ice breaker games:
Before attendees arrive take 5-10 pictures of places around your conference room or within the wider venue or hotel. Crop and zoom so they are harder to recognize. Then ask people where they think each photo was taken. They can do this activity in the room or send them out in teams on a photography hunt to locate these spots.
Use your data and social media
Once RSVP’s or registrations start coming in, compile a list of specific facts about your attendees and challenge them to find one another. For instance, “Find the person who graduated from Duke.” They then have to get their signature and race back for the next question. The first person to solve them all and get them signed, wins a prize.
When people check-in, ask them to add a problem they’re struggling with or something they want on their name badge. They should also add one thing they are an expert in. For instance: someone might want help learning to speak in public more confidently and they may be a gaming expert. This serves as a good way to see just how different attendees, sponsors, and venues can help one another and spark conversations.
Encourage people to tweet the best advice they’ve ever been given under your conference hashtag. You can also use a new topic each day or several times throughout the day. These types of icebreakers can increase your social media posts and shares. You can even use them as image memes.
Give the ‘GIF’ of shares
People are amazingly into sharing GIFs to explain how they’re feeling, what they think, and what they want. Capitalize on this as a stellar ice breaker through flash GIF sharing calls to action on your social media platforms. Topics can include:
- keyboard_arrow_right Your opinion of the food at last night’s gala
- keyboard_arrow_right What you thought when you’re plane landed in the host city
- keyboard_arrow_right What you most want to learn at this conference
- keyboard_arrow_right What you were like first thing this morning
- keyboard_arrow_right How you are feeling right now
- keyboard_arrow_right Who you’d like to see as next year’s keynote
Ice breakers for adults don’t need to involve red plastic cups or lots of alcohol. There are several adult ice breakers that can bring out the kid in your attendee again.
If you know the group well (or have good data on them), create duos on name tags. You can use stickers or simply write the name of one-half of a duo on their name tag. They must then find the other person and find out why you matched them up. For example, you might write “Batman” on Joe’s name tag and “Robin” on Frank’s. You paired them up because they are both from the same hometown. They will have to discover the reason why after they find their partner.
Each attendee is handed a piece of paper when they enter. On it, they must write the answers to two designated questions of your choice. Next, instruct them to stand in a circle and launch their airplanes into the middle. Then instruct each attendee to pick up one airplane that is not theirs and read the answer. Their goal is to circulate and converse with others until they find the airplane’s owner.
Choose a “mystery guest” ahead of time and record five things about that person. Share them with the group without telling anyone who the guest is but ensure they know the person is circulating among them. It is their job to take those five facts and find the person who matches all five.
Create a Jeopardy-type board (you can do this using cardboard or a whiteboard covered with paper) with categories and dollar values. Under each one place a funny question. The person who asks for the questions must answer it or defer it to someone specific in the audience. If they defer it, the person in the audience must answer. Then that person can select a category for the person who deferred answering and they must answer it this time. This fun ice breaker is a good way to learn about your group.
Have everyone write down the title of their first job on a piece of paper as they come in. Collect them from the registrants. The redistribute each one to someone new, ensuring no one gets their own. Next, challenge the group to find out who held that job.
Even if they’ve worked together for a while, if you want to build an effective team or bring them together through an activity, ice breaker games for corporate events are a great way to do that. It can help pave the way for brainstorming and contributions throughout the rest of the event. Here are a few ice breaker activities to bring your group and teams together - effective ice breakers for team building events.
This activity requires one person in the group to stand with their hands on their hips and make a statement that is true about their lives. If anyone in the group also shares that fact, they must all connect/link arms with the person. The person who joins and ends up at the end of the arm chain then says a fact about themselves and more people link until everyone in the room is linked up.
Select a cause and an activity that will take 1-2 hours and use that as your ice breaker. When your team is working together toward a common plan, they’ll get to know one another. If this is a corporate event, select people to be team leaders who are not usually in a leadership position.
Hole tarp activity
Put several people around a 5’x5’ tarpaulin that has a few holes slightly larger than a golf ball cut into it. They should each have both hands grasping the tarp. Label one corner of the tarp Point A and the farthest corner from it Point B. In between draw a curving line that comes very close to the holes. Give them a golf ball and ask them to place it at Point A. By raising and dropping the tarp, they must work together to get the ball to follow the curving path without dropping into any of the holes. The first group who does it successfully wins.
The tower team building ice breaker
Give each team 20 sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), a marshmallow, a yard of string, and a yard of tape. They can combine these pieces any way they would like as long as the marshmallow goes on top. The group that can build the tallest, freestanding tower wins.
Gather jigsaw puzzles of different sizes and difficulty (50 pieces or less) which roughly equates to the number of participants attending the event. Each attendee randomly gets a puzzle piece upon check-in. Any extra pieces can be left on the tables as starter pieces. Everyone must then work together to assemble the puzzle by meeting others and seeing who has which pieces and completing the puzzle in the fastest time. This activity is a good way to mix people up into random teams and avoid cliques.
Whether you’re hosting an intimate meeting with strangers or just want to get some positive energy flowing, these opening activities for meetings will help to energize the room and prepare for the time ahead. These are also good ice breaker games for networking events and ice breaker games for corporate events.
Nuts and bolts
This activity provides every attendee with a small item (for instance a nut). They must then circulate and try to find their matching piece. In the case of the nut, they’d be looking for a bolt that would fit.
This is certainly not a new idea but you can place a new spin on it. Seat everyone across from someone else at a table if possible - classroom style seating is perfect. If you have standing room only you can still improvise and just specify that attendees need to find someone close by that they don’t already know and haven’t yet spoken to at the event. Give them three minutes to figure out two things they have in common or two ways they could help each other. Because of the speed element involved some hilarious and helpful scenarios unfold. This can be repeated a few times to fit the time you have available.
Create a questionnaire ahead of time of 5-10 questions that can be answered with very brief either/or answers such as “Do you prefer to work in large groups or small teams?.” Take turns putting someone in the hot seat and getting them to answer the questions as quickly as possible. If you want to do something deeper with the answers, group people based on how they answered each question. With a game like this, there’s no time to think, just give a fast reaction.
Just as it sounds, loosen up attendees with a snowball fight. Ask each person to crinkle up a non-important piece of paper. When the music commences, begin throwing. Keep picking them up and throwing them until the music stops. Go ahead. Try to keep a straight face.
Divide people into smaller groups or duos, if you already have a small group. Ask them what they most want to get out of this meeting or what they most want to learn. Give them time to discuss it among themselves and then come up with a question about what they want to know. During the session, they should listen to see if that question is addressed to their satisfaction. If not, when the speaker opens the floor up to discussion there will already be several questions ready.
Later in the day, they could find their partner or group members to share one action that they will take as a result of the event. Bonus points if these individuals connect and follow up after the conference to hold each other accountable!
There are tons of ice breakers, ice breaker games, activities, and questions out there. In order to find the ones that are most beneficial for your group or team, select those that fit the culture and learning themes of your event.
Now over to you:
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