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Virtual Icebreakers

Several trainers looking to make their webinars as interactive as their live training sessions have asked about “virtual icebreakers.”  My favorite source, after seaching the web and a myriad of discussion groups, was Guided Insights, a facilitation, training and strategic communications consulting firm founded by Nancy Settle-Murphy.

Virtual icebreaker resources

10 online icebreakers posted onthe Lasagna and Chips blog (sorry, I have no idea why the blog is called that . . .).  Icebreaker titles include:

  • Two Truths and a Lie
  • Childhood Dream
  • Miscomm-puter-unication
  • Three words
  • Six degrees of separation
  • Personal Cards
  • What’s on your reading list?
  • Would you rather?
  • Same and different
  • Video messages.

Virtual icebreaker activities submitted by Southern New Hampshire University faculty. Activites include photo introductions, “where are you?”, Share a Favorite…, Discuss a Statement).

GoToTraining offers a few best practices ideas, such as: launch a poll and share results; share a blank page, maze, or word search and give attendees Drawing Tools; create a “meet and greet” using chat; launch a test and use Chat to collect intial reactions.

Pre-Meeting Introductions by Guided Insights

(Guided Insights is a terrific source for many virtual icebreaker ideas)

Invite people to informally check in 10-15 minutes prior to the start of a working session. Or ask them to stay on for a few minutes afterward if they can. Some may relish the opportunity to chat, while others may be anxious to bypass that chat time for “real work.”

  • Introductions:  Ask people to introduce themselves in advance of the meeting/session by setting up a special section on a shared website, or using a web meeting tool.
  • Photos:  Invite participants to post a photo of themselves, state a few comments about their background, expectations for the team/meeting/course, and other pertinent information. Depending on the culture and comfort level of participants, you may want to ask them to include some personal information as a means of building relationships, such as hobbies or favorite sports.
  • Photo Matching: Another variation on the photo theme: Try asking people to send their photos to a central place that others (except the facilitator/leader) can’t see at first. During the first call, you can ask people to try to match the voice to the photo
  • Social Greetings: Greet each person as s/he hops on the call. Ask people a “social” question of each person as s/he joins. (Examples: “It’s 10 below in Boston this morning. How’s Tokyo?” or “Steve, where are you headed for vacation next week?”) However, don’t delay the start time just to prolong this social check-in. Once everyone has joined, or once you’ve decided to begin, you should be ready to jump right in with your agenda

During the meeting (also from Guided Insights)

  • Who’s There?: Right before you officially begin the meeting, you may want to announce who’s on the call, time permitting. If you’re using a web meeting tool that allows everyone to see who’s online, you can avoid the verbal roll call.
  • Key Questions: If you choose to start with a traditional ice-breaker type of question for a remote team, try one of these. Some are more appropriate for teams whose members know each other, and some work better for a new team:
    • What’s one thing you need to share with us to help you be fully present at this meeting?
    • Give us one word to summarize where you are right now?
    • What achievement are you proudest of so far this week?
    • Reveal something about yourself that others would be shocked to learn ?
    • What really made you laugh recently?
    • What would you most rather be doing right now?
    • What’s your favorite food of the season?
    • Where would you most like to go on vacation if money were no object?
    • What skills can you contribute to the team that may not be obvious to the rest of us?
  • Clock: At the start of each meeting, ask participants to draw a clock. As each one joins the call, assign a number as s/he joins, starting at 1:00. If you expect more than 12 participants, use half-hour increments. When you want to poll the group quickly, start anywhere on the clock and go in either direction. This is also helpful to remember who you have not yet heard from.
  • Shared Guidelines: Spend time up front agreeing on operating guidelines for this meeting and for ongoing meetings. By creating operating principles as a group, participants will have a chance to learn more about each other’s values and beliefs
  • 1-10 Check-in: Assess the “temperature” of the team intermittently. For example, ask: “On a scale of 1-10, let’s go around the virtual room and ask how close we are to achieving our objectives for this call.” Or if you’re using a web meeting tool, post a quick survey that can be anonymous to assess where people are. For example, using a scale of 1-10, ask about the relative energy level of each participant
  • Quick Poll: Encourage brevity when polling members by asking them to crystallize thoughts or feelings. Asking for the “top one or two things” or “fill in the blank” tend to work well to elicit top-of-mind responses
  • Paraphrase: If some have a limited command of the predominant language, let everyone know that you will paraphrase frequently to ensure shared understanding. Invite everyone to ask others to slow down or provide an explanation, or to admit confusion

Post-meeting check-ins (from Guided Insights)

Have an optional 15-minute call each week dedicated to personal check-ins. Try to avoid Mondays and Fridays. Encourage those who don’t participate on the team calls to join these check-in calls periodically

“I Am” icebreaker

Denise Grissom Bradford, M.Ed. suggested this icebreaker for synchronous or asynchronous online learning

Overview:  Allow students to connect with one another by introducing themselves in a way that 1) uses alliteration, 2) shows an interest or a self-perception and 3) displays a favorite color. Students will connect with/chat with at least one other student in the class.


  1. Ask students to introduce themselves by writing an adjective in front of their name that starts with the same letter as their name. The adjective must either describe something they like or something about their personality.
  2. Teacher demonstrates, using his/her own name and an example name (a name that no student in the class has). i.e. Dancing Denise, Daring David, Jovial Joy, Sewing Sarah, Laughing Liam.
  3. If synchronous, students write their names in the chat box or on the whiteboard using the following template. “Hi. I am… Dancing Denise.” If asynchronous, students (and teachers!) introduce themselves on the class discussion board.
  4. If synchronous, students are to use the whiteboard tool to highlight their adjective+name in a color they like. Teacher models (i.e. Dancing Denise). If asynchronous, write adjective+name and favorite color on the class discussion board (i.e. Hi! I am… Dancing Denise and I like turquoise.)
  5. Students match up with a fellow classmate who either has the same adjective (unlikely but possible) or likes the same or similar color (most students will be matched by color). The pair is a team for the task ahead — and now each has a real connection with another person in the online class.
  6. The team task is: Find out two things your new class mate likes: one thing that you share in common (you like it too!) and one thing that is different than what you like.
  7. Synchronous: write the two things about your team mate in the chat to share with your teacher and the class. Asynchronous: write the two things on the class discussion board for teacher and team mates to see.

(Teacher models the sentence set-up. i.e. The Turquoise Team: “I am Dancing Denise. My partner is Singing Sam. Sam likes running like I do, but he likes chocolate and I don’t!” “I am Singing Sam. My team mate is Dancing Denise. Denise also likes running but she likes rock climbing which scares me!”)

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