When planning a meeting, a small but important task is to ensure a format that helps the delegates get the best possible start. An ice breaker exercise may be the very activity to achieve this goal. Before starting an ice breaker exercise, it is important to consider what kind of 'ice' needs breaking and what the exercise is meant to promote and achieve. Here is some advice on how to start and what should be taken into consideration:
Identify the 'ice'.
Start by thinking about whether your delegates:
- are relatively like-minded and homogeneous. Perhaps the 'ice' is simply the fact that they have not met before.
- are extremely diverse in terms of background, i.e., experience and culture. Here, the 'ice' may be that they have different ideas about each other.
- come from different levels of the organisation. The fact that they have a different status in the organisation may be the 'ice'.
- are a mix of contributors, experts and ordinary delegates. In this case, the 'ice' might be that some delegates are wondering ”Why should I listen to you?”
What should the exercise promote and achieve?
Once the 'ice' has been identified, it is easier to decide what the purpose of the exercise should be. Some ice breaker exercises support several goals. Here is a number of goals that may be relevant in the ice breaker exercise:
- Introducing the delegates to each other
- Preparation for working together
- Building trust
- Creating a positive mood/energy
- Creating a sense of community
- Preparing the subject matter of the meeting
Brief, but effective
Start the meeting with a simple exercise. Many impressions and emotions may be at stake at the beginning of the delegates' day. Think about how you can make the exercise quite simple and understandable so that everyone can assimilate and take part in it. You can provide visual support in the form of images or text (using a flip chart or Power Point presentation).
Think outside the conference room box
Explore the options at the hotel or conference venue. Leave the meeting room to see if perhaps there are other areas outdoors or inside where the atmosphere is different, where there is more space or a different physical setting where your ice breaker might work better.
For example, there is the lovely Fornebu Park, if your meeting takes place at the Radisson Blu Park Hotel, Oslo.
Something to hold on to
For many people, having something in one's hand can improve confidence. You might consider an activity that requires question prompts on cards, writing or solving a task.
What would you feel like doing? Remember that the delegates come from different backgrounds and have different ideas and approaches to the private sphere. They will naturally have different attitudes to the ice breaker activity. A good place to start is therefore your own feeling.
See three examples of ice breaker exercises here.
This article was written in collaboration with Ann Hansen, a meeting designer, facilitator and consultant ,concept+competence.