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Icebreakers the Focus on Content

This collection of icebreakers was drawn from various LinkedIN groups as well as a few other online sources (noted below).

Icebreakers – with a content focus

Stand up – Sit down

Ask participants to stand up if a statement is true for them (i.e. stand up if you commuted more than 30 minutes to get here). Ask them to sit down after each inquiry. Continue with a series of questions that grow increasingly provocative. For a team-building class, you might end with statements such as: “stand up if you’ve ever felt that someone has taken credit for something you’ve done,” or “stand up if you feel your opinions haven’t been recognized,” or “stay standing or stand up if you fear you may have done the same to others”).  This exercise is physical, begins to identify shared experiences, involves everyone, and gives people a “voice,” without putting them on the spot.

Years of experience

Add up the number of years of experience in the room and draw out the collective wisdom. Identify the most common challenges that your group faces ahead of time. Present your findings to your audience and have them add to it. Continue to tie their best practices and your key concepts to the identified challenges. Posted by Chris Old

Planned interrupt

Explain that an opening activity is a way to “interrupt” their day, their concerns, and their worries over extraneous issues—what you might call “the clutter of life.” For participants to be fully engaged, it’s first important to break through that life clutter that plagues us all as individuals. Posted by Virginia Corbett

Group Whine

Encourage groups to have a 60-second “Whining Session.” It lets them express their concerns and worries about participating, being away from other work needs, wasting time, etc.

Why are you here? Vacationer? Explorer? Prisoner

Another take on the Group Whine exercise is to ask, “WHY are you here?” This gives the “whiners” an opportunity to say, “My boss made me come” and it’s helpful for me to gauge my audience and meet their needs through the session. Secondly, my next question for them is to think about their role during the training. I have a pre-made sign that says, Are you a: -vacationer, -an explorer, or a prisoner? I then explain that I understand he/she may have entered thinking he/she was going to be a vacationer but hope that he/she will view his/herself as an explorer and approach the session with an open mind.  Posted by Jennie W. Trovinger

Leadership disasters

For a leadership-skills seminar, ask everyone in the small group to define leadership and share a best- or worst-case example, or fear, if they have one.  This facilitates introductions and gives the group a common starting point for deeper discussions.

Good/Bad Posters

Break people into groups, give each group a piece of butcher’s paper and some markers and ask them to create a poster relevant to our training topic. For leadership courses, I ask them to draw a line down the middle of the page, and list good and poor examples of real leadership in their organization on each side of the line. For project management, I ask them to draw a picture that represents the project outcome (or the project process, or the project stakeholders, or the project resources).

Folks can use words, pictures, Venn diagrams, flowcharts, process charts, and illustrations—anything to share their perspective with the rest of their group. We then hang these around the room, and ask each group to present their poster to the rest of the class.  Posted by Geoff Higgins

Presentation Skills

I ask the learners to introduce themselves at the front of the class and I give a few prompts on what I’d like them to include. The final piece of information they are asked for is: “If you were hosting a dinner party, and you could invite any three guests (alive or dead, real or imaginary, famous or infamous – anyone you like) who would they be? Now, before you all say, ‘Yawwwwnnnn !’ – I promise there is a point to this.”

When the last introduction has been made, including mine, I give them a few minutes to write down all the names they can remember. Then I write the names they have remembered on a chart. Because this is a Presentation Skills workshop, follow up with a discussion about why some names were remembered, which links into what makes an excellent presentation (told a funny story; was enthusiastic; repeated names at end; wrote on a flip; etc.)

These are all positive aspects of the learners’ first presentation on the day (but folks rarely recognize that their introduction was actually a presentation) and I can continually refer back to them as the session goes along, which reinforces the learning.


The Thumball™ is soft soccer-type ball with various questions printed on it, such as: “what’s your favorite board game,” “where is the best place to live,” etc. If the goal is simply to foster introductions and get people moving around, the ball works great as is. The students throw it around the class and have fun answering the question on the ball. To dig deeper, give them a second question specifically related to why they chose to attend the class or what they hope to get out of it. We keep tossing the same ball around, or I’ll put a customized Thumball into circulation with more content-specific prompts printed on it.

Imagining Success

Divide participants into groups of three or four and ask them to think about a peak experience of whatever the topic is (e.g. the best meeting you ever attended; the most interesting presentation you remember; or the most successful piece of writing you’ve done etc.).  Ask them to think about what made this so successful. Working in small groups, have them share the experience and come up with some of the elements of success.  Collect these “Elements of Success” on the flip chart and discuss how those can be translated to the workshop to insure that it meets their success criteria. Posted by Melissa Biro

Origami – Why Training is important

I would suggest a hands-on activity, perhaps creating a small origami. Half the participants get detailed instructions and the other half just gets the materials and an illustration of the finished product. The point is very simple: without training the product will be inferior!  Posted by Sharon Hamersley

Icebreakers – General

A Rising Tide… [respecting prior knowledge]

Before training, I write on the board/flip chart the following aphorism: “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.”

During the introductions, I give everyone a chance to explain what it means. As you might expect, I hear a variety of explanations. Finally, I explain my interpretation of the expression: since each of us brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience to the class, the result is a learning experience in which the total is greater than the sum of the parts; hence, all ‘boats’ are lifted when just ‘one’ rises.

Proactive learning (and contributing to decisions about goals, break times, or when to take lunch) gives learners a vested interest in the class. They appreciate knowing that their knowledge and experience are valued and welcomed.

When you extend respect to adult learners they almost always respond accordingly.”

Posted on LinkedIN by Griff Gregory, MBA/MOS


My icebreakers vary by audience. Here is one of my favorites: Have each participant draw a logo that represents themselves next to their name on the name tent. I use an example “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the golden arch”. Allocate just a few minutes for the design, and then each participant introduces themselves and their logo. It definitely breaks the ice.


We have done a pair/share with everybody being assigned as a famous pair (burgers and fries, Sonny and Cher, mashed potatoes and gravy, Cheech and Chong and so on) They get 5 minutes to find out 3 or 4 specific things that we have written on the board; then they get introduced as their assigned famous pair and have to get up and introduce each other. Since we usually want to know something about previous exposure to training, that is one of the questions. And one question is always something fun or unusual you would want the rest of us to know about you. It’s fun to see who takes on a persona from the famous pair and it is amazing what we find out about our participants in such a short time frame.  Posted by Melanie Elick

Concentric Circles

Ask the participants to divide themselves into two equal groups and form two concentric circles as quickly as possible (if you have an odd number of participants, include yourself, so the number will be even).  Once that’s done, ask the inner circle group to turn and face the folks in the outer circle. Once they are paired off in this way, give them one minute to introduce themselves to one another briefly (name, job, role, etc.). When the minute is up, instruct the inner circle to rotate like a clock, all stepping in one direction so that they are each facing a new colleague in the outer circle. Again, have them introduce themselves for one minute. Continue until everyone is standing in front of the first person they met.

Ask your group: “have you got to ‘connect’ with everyone?” Usually you will get a loud yes first and someone will volunteer a quiet “NO” because inner and outer group members have not ‘connect’ with one another.

Give them another 3-5 minutes to do just that…you will observed the dynamics in the way they ‘connect’ will be very different from the first “systemic process.” After the second round of introductions, ask again: “now, have you get to ‘connect’ with everyone?” – Observe their responses and debrief accordingly.  Posted by Allen Lim


I like to start my new hire orientations with this exercise: I pass around a pack of M&Ms and ask all participants to take a random number of m&ms (between 1 and 5). Once they all make their choice I tell them that each m&m stands for something they have to tell about themselves. For example, red – favorite vacation spot, green – favorite food, yellow – dream job, blue – favorite thing to do outside of work, brown – wild card (can talk about anything). You can modify the questions based on the purpose of the exercise. Posted by Mykola Soldatenko

Penny for your Thoughts

Have each participant select a penny from a jar. Tell them to look at the year of their penny and introduce themselves, where the came from and something interesting they did the year of their penny. If they were not born in the year of their penny, they add ten years or if they still were not born after adding ten, they add another ten. It’s a great way to start introductions, learn names and learn something about each one in the group.  Posted by Erica

Do you know your neighbor?

Arrange chairs in a circle and have all students but one sit. The unseated student is to be in the middle of the circle. The person will then make a statement about themselves; for example, I have a dog. Everyone who has a dog must get up and race to find another seat. This creates fun chaos. When they get seated they should ask their neighbors their name. Some one will be left out because they didn’t get to a seat fast enough. When people are seated the odd man out (one in middle) can quickly as any participant in a chair, Do you know your neighbor? And if the person seated can not name the persons on the right and left of them, they have to trade places and “be in the hot seat. ” This process repeats itself. I like this activity because it introduces the participants and perhaps they may have things in common. Posted by Linda Bozza Varner

ABC of Me

This activity is really useful because you end up with a name badge as well so it acts as a memory aid for you. Ask your participants to write their name down one side of the page and then ask them to come up with some positive words to describe themselves on their interests that can be used when they are searching for jobs, so for example:

Argentinian tango

Posted online by Gemma Blagbrough

Illustrate your Qualities

To get people thinking differently about how they introduce themselves so I ask for a drawing or symbol of some of their attributes or interests and have it posted on the wall. Big flip charts or 1/2-page sticky notes work well. For example, one person’s chart might have a golf club, 3 stick figures representing children, a book cover, and the History channel icon. It’s an activity non-artists can do too because a symbol might be as simple as a heart, hand, eyes, etc.  Posted online by Jeanne Etcheverry

An alternative to this might be to ask people to draw their “Coat of Arms.” I once saw this as a question on a job application for a very creative company.  Suggested by Susan Landay

What would you do with a Million Dollars?

I teach job search skills to a socioeconomically disadvantaged population. The other day returning from lunch, I wrote on the board:

  • $10,000
  • $30,000
  • One Million Dollars!

I asked them to write on a piece of paper, what they would do with the ten grand (then give them some time to think) then ask for thirty grand, and so on. Then most of the students shared what they wrote. It was fun and interesting to learn what was important to them. The point was– just to get them to dream of a better life even if for a moment and to understand the reality of the first two figures are quite attainable. Posted online by Linda Bozza Varner

Human Bingo

Distribute a BINGO grid handout to each participant. The grip should contain details about people they need to find in the room  (i.e.  has met somebody famous; has a tattoo; is a blackbelt in karate; etc.) Participants circulate the room seeking people with the attribute and getting their signature. The first person to complete all the grid boxes gets a prize. This is a fun exercise that gets people circulating and talking, doesn’t take much time, and is quick to set up. Find a sample of this exercise here (scroll to team building exercise 2). Posted online by Bryan Edwards


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