Why have them? and how can they be used differently in virtual training?
Although some people don’t enjoy them, icebreakers play a vital role in live training whether that's face-to-face or virtual. It’s difficult for people to contribute when they don’t know who each other is, so it’s a good way of introducing everyone to everyone else. Even if people already know each other they can be useful for many reasons including:
- Making sure everyone in the room knows who everyone is (which helps to build networks)
- Making the first contribution an ‘easy’ one (helping to relax people)
- In virtual sessions, it sets the scene - this is NOT going to be one-way. People need to be present and participate!
- Introducing the topic in a light-hearted way (acting as a mental warm-up before you get stuck into the meaty stuff)
- Helping the trainer to learn names (in a face-to-face environment) and think about how to mix small groups later in the workshop - whether F2F or virtual.
Be mindful of time though…with large groups ice-breakers can eat into your session, so make sure that you keep them pacey. And if you are running a short session with a large group, don't take people one at a time in the traditional way.
In a normal scenario, lead by example and demonstrate what you want people to do by introducing yourself first.
In a virtual session, the same rules apply. Groups of 12 or less can still engage in a traditional icebreaker (as long as the session isn't very short) otherwise use an alternative approach such as:
- Doing the icebreaker in advance. This is particularly easy with online programmes, and if you are using something like GiraffePad or LMS or shared drive to host the sessions. Ask people to introduce themselves in advance via chat/text or even uploading a 2 minute video which can be very insightful. Again, go first so people can see what's expected.
- Splitting people into smaller groups (breakout rooms) to do introductions - OK they won't get to know everyone, but they will know enough people to feel a connection. You can always ask for a spokesperson to use 'one word' to introduce each member or (perhaps more usefully) summarise the general feelings/ideas if the icebreaker was an exercise relevant to the topic.
- Doing a non-verbal icebreaker. For example a show of hands... asking a few questions of the group "hands up if you..." Or if you are in a face to face environment, stand up, sit down. Asking around 5 questions can be fun, insightful and energising and needn't take up much time.
- Going visual. Use picture cards (or virtual picture cards) to ask people to select an image that best describes them. It's nice to discuss the reasons for their choice, but not essential. OR ask people to draw something that represents themselves allows everyone to complete the exercise simultaneously. This doesn't have to be done on screen - people can use old-fashioned pens and paper! Everyone can show their pictures together and (if desired) you select a few to discuss in more detail.
- Get active! If everyone is working at home, send them on a 3 minute mission to bring something to show to everyone else. Almost a mini 'Taskmaster' task, it can be something trivial like bring something blue, or a challenge bring the oldest thing, or something relevant - bring something that represents equality and diversity (if that is the theme of your session). However, if you run a challenge, you will have to spend time discussing the objects, so make sure you build that in. On a longer programme, you can probably afford to do this.
- Another simple way to run an icebreaker virtually is to do a 'delayed chat'. Ask a question and tell delegates to type their answers into chat but NOT to press enter until you say so. When everyone has indicated they have written something, press enter together and see what comes up. You can then comment on themes or anything that catches your eye.
- Use slide annotation to get everyone involved in a virtual session. It's also a great way of checking everyone knows how to do this if it's part of your session without the pressure of having to work out how to do it in a 'proper' exercise. It may be as simple as using the stamp tool to select a picture or word/sentence. Or perhaps everyone can write a sentence of their own, e.g. "a leader you admire" or "best film" and then (if desired) other delegates can guess who wrote what (though this is not essential).
So just because training is virtual at the moment, or because everyone knows each other already, or because we are all zoomed out, it doesn't mean that we should necessarily drop the icebreaker exercise. They can still add a lot of value if selected carefully and run well.
There's a booklet of 21 virtual icebreakers in the VIP members area, and we are compiling a list of introduction questions that can be used as icebreakers. Why not become a VIP member to get your hands on this and much much more?