My name is Lisa Jeskins. I’m a freelance trainer and I have issues with ice breakers. Some people really like them and some people HATE them. They’re a bit like Marmite.

Flickr CC: David Martyn Hunt:
Flickr CC: David Martyn Hunt:

As a trainer who designs interactive training, I know the importance of an activity that will get people gelling and talking. I know I can’t expect people to come into a training session cold and still be chatty and dynamic. So I really do see that ice breakers are hugely important for setting the tone for the day and it manages expectations by getting people to realise that you are going to be getting them to interact with each other.

BUT and it’s a big but. (and yes I’m singing it too)

I also know that as a participant they often fill me with horror. I get the heebie jeebies and turn into Kevin the Teenager. “It’s just not fair. I’m not joining in. I DON’T WANT TO”. They can make me feel like a berk.

Which isn’t conducive to my learning and makes all of my barriers come up. If this is how I feel, and I’m a pretty confident person and will talk to anyone, then how must they make people feel who aren’t like that? So I tend to avoid anything too way out. “Wacky” ice breakers just really annoy me. (And yes I’m doing the hand movement speech marks around the wacky too.)

I tend to stick to my comfort zone with them and do the usual. The “what are you expecting to get out of today” question/flip chart approach and all it’s variants. Sometimes I get people to contract their hopes and fears in groups, but essentially I’m not sure what I’m doing is really good enough – I don’t think it sets the scene properly for what I’m going to do. AND what I’m going to do, is get people talking and thinking.

The other problem I have as a trainer is that I also want my ice breakers to have something to do with the learning. I want it to have a point and get a message across at the same time. I don’t want people to think “well I felt like a berk AND what did that have to do with anything? What a waste of time”

The only time I have ever done an icebreaker that wasn’t to do with the learning was when I was in a room that was so hot we were almost all suffering from narcolepsy. We were about 3/4 through the day and everyone was sleepy. The group I did this with was great and had gelled well pretty instantly so by that point, they were up for anything.  I got everyone to stand up in a line from one side of the room to the other in order of birthday month – January to December. As there were about 16 people in the room, we had a pretty even line.  It had absolutely nothing to do with what I was training as we were doing a refresher course on Enquiry Desk Skills, but they were patient with me and after we had done that, I got them to position themselves in line with how confident they were feeling in regards to answering enquiries, so where ‘January’ had been recently was ‘very unconfident’ and ‘December’ was ‘very confident’. I was pretty pleased as everyone was moving around, chatting and laughing – which was essentially what I wanted from it.

But what else is there? Have you seen anything you thought worked really well?

Something that got you talking and ready for your training?

What do you think about icebreakers?

Answers on a postcard please. 😉