In an excerpt from her book “Great Starts for Great Meetings”, Marsha Egan shares her top tips for creating great icebreakers

When you get people together to work on things, getting them to know each other will spur on other positive results.

Believe it or not, adults like to interact, and play.  By getting your meeting or task force off to an energetic, fun, and interesting start, you’ll see a more positive aura in the meeting.

So, why do icebreakers work?

  • They set a positive tone for the meeting
  • They give the speaker or chairman an approachable aura
  • They loosen things up
  • They help build relationships
  • They give people something to talk about
  • They give people something to look forward to
  • They give folks an “excuse” to get to know people they don’t know
  • They’re fun

Some folks feel a bit awkward initiating icebreakers in a group when the group has not used icebreakers before.  Not to worry, a little advance work will help gain acceptance and have people actually look forward to them!

Let people know what you are doing and why

Start your committee, or meeting, or project letting people know that you will be using icebreakers. This helps manage their expectations.

If you change your behavior without explanation, some people may resist, or just plain think you’re nuts.  Depending on your situation, you might consider explaining that you are going to start having a brief icebreaker at each meeting, and the reasons.

Assign icebreakers to others

Sometimes it is effective to challenge each person in the group to come up with an icebreaker, instead of you having to think them up all the time.  That way you’ll see a lot of creativity (different than your own,) and you’ll give responsibility to others in the group.

Allow people permission to opt out of the icebreaker

It is important for you as the leader to recognize that some folks may not want to participate.  Be up front with them about this.  People should not be “bound” to join in the activity. So, make it easy for them to “pass.”

Don’t forget to ask if there are any questions before proceeding!

Give folks an opportunity to check their understanding of your directions.  It shows respect and might avoid some confusion for others…!

Here are some ideas for introducing people to each other:

How many times have we done this type of activity by just “going around the table?”  Effective, predictable and yes, boring…  Use your ingenuity to stir things up a little bit.  Remember, people of all ages like to have fun.  You have the same result, but in a more appealing way.

1. Tossing a kooshball

Start the activity yourself, then throw a kooshball or soft squeezy toy to another person in the group, until all people have shared.

2. Numbered agendas

Number agendas, then mix them up before you hand them out.  Have people go in the numerical order.

3. Numbered goodies

Hand out candy bars, or other goodies, that are numbered.  Have people go in the numerical order.

4. Select “as many as you need”

Place a large bag of M&Ms (or similar substitute) in the center of the table.  Tell each participant to take “however many they think they need.”  After they have done this, ask them to tell that many things related to the question about themselves.

Use your own creativity to come up with other ideas—and challenge others to do the same. Your icebreaking will add value to your meetings… every time.  Your meetings will never be the same; neither will your company or organization!

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Florida-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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