You want your delegates to have a great conference experience from start to finish. To learn, to share, to participate. But when you’re in a new place, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, it can be tough to make the most of the opportunity.
Make it easy for your attendees to feel confident with these 10 great icebreakers.
This one’s great for getting people moving and chatting.
Get everyone up on their feet in an open space. Mark a line on the floor (using tape, rope, or your delegates’ imagination) and explain this line marks a spectrum of opinion, from ‘I totally disagree’ to ‘I agree completely’. Then throw out a series of statements and ask individuals to place themselves on the spectrum. Start with a few fun options: ‘I love chocolate,’ or ‘It’s too early,’ to help everyone relax. Then move on to more pertinent topics: ‘I know more than one other person in this room,’ or ‘I feel confident in my knowledge of this subject’.
Two Truths and a Lie
This works best with small groups – ten people or fewer.
Sit in a circle if possible, or ask the speaker to move to where they can be seen if not. Each attendee takes a turn to introduce themselves by name, then states three ‘facts’ about themselves – one of which is untrue. Take a poll to see if the group can spot the lie. Then leave enough time for a brief chat between attendees (you can start this off, if that’s needed) to explore the truths.
Five of Anything
Try this over breakfast, with groups of four or five.
Give each group a prompt to start the conversation, asking for their personal top five on a simple topic of your choice: five cities they’d like to visit, their top five TV shows, five favourite meals. After time to share, you can extend this activity if you choose by asking each group to nominate a speaker to share a few of the most surprising or funny revelations with the whole group.
This works well to support even the shyest attendee in large group environments.
Speed Dating is the basis of this simple icebreaker. Delegates have two minutes to introduce themselves to one another and chat, before one of the pair moves one space to the left and begins the process again. Use a bell or buzzer to keep things moving. It might feel artificial, but it gives a format to the usual meet-and-greet conversation, and makes sure no one is left awkwardly in a corner.
Test this one out in any large group situation where you want strangers to chat and need to help the conversation flow – like a drinks reception on arrival day, pre-start breakfast or an evening dinner.
All you need is to generate a list of light-hearted questions that anyone can comfortably answer in a fun way: if you were a biscuit, which would you be? if you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you take? Then print these up and deliver them to your delegates tucked under their coffee cups or placed at their seats. You could even get creative and deliver branded envelopes, personalised stationery or festive crackers.
Meet Three People
Use this to support networking at coffee time. Confident extroverts will seek out the quieter attendees, so no one will be left out.
At the end of the session before a break, give everyone a task: simply, to meet three new people and ask them: ‘what’s your story?’
Sometimes you want an icebreaker that’s about engaging people with the content of the day as much as helping them get to know each other.
Using a simple app like Sli.do or Participoll allows delegates to vote on their phones on a topic of your choice. Ask them which of five options they’re most interested in learning about while they’re here, what they want to achieve, or which word best describes them. An icebreaker like this helps show attendees that they’re all in it together.
Three Career Highlights
This works well with small groups of four or five, who can then feed back to the room.
Some people are great at talking about themselves with positivity; others less so. This icebreaker encourages everyone to feel positive about themselves, by taking a moment to think of three great moments from their career: a successful project, a promotion, a moment of recognition. After they’ve shared in their small groups, encourage them to think about how it makes them feel, and to note any commonalities.
Use this to break down barriers with a small group before an interactive discussion session.
Describing yourself and your skillset to a group isn’t always easy. This approach splits groups into pairs, who then ‘interview’ one another briefly – before introducing their partner to the room. It removes any discomfort about blowing your own trumpet, and often others pick up on surprising details and traits an attendee might not have foregrounded themselves.
Great for livening things up, this one works well with very large groups in a theatre-style environment, when there’s no time to have an informal chat before the start of an event.
Not all icebreakers need to involve direct communication with other attendees. Sometimes it’s about setting the tone, and giving permission for people to relax and have fun. In this icebreaker, your crowd simply needs paper and pens, and an onstage speaker who doesn’t mind a few snowballs being lobbed their way. Ask your audience a question: how they feel today, what they want to learn, what one word describes them. Delegates simply write their answer, crumple it into a ball, and throw it. Your speaker can pick up a few and read them out; the variety should raise plenty of laughs.
You’ll find plenty more bright ideas and practical advice for your conference or event here. Interested in great conference venues in the West Midlands? Start the tour.