On Icebreakers

Every year I’m asked about how to jump into a conversation and introduce oneself without appearing awkward or fake. How to present one’s business card as part of an organic process of a conversation or introduction?

Honestly, I say “just do it” but it’s a challenge for most. As a teacher, I was always instructed to begin the first day by revealing something about myself and then asking each student to do the same. After the first semester I stopped doing that. Why? As a student I remember always being put on the spot to state “where I’m from” and if I answered “I’m American” the teacher would press further, “No, I mean where are you really from?” which would create an odd situation. Was I not American? I wasn’t the only person in the room who had answered that way. Perhaps we’d all seen Schoolhouse Rock’s “Melting Pot” cartoon a few too many times, but we all held a firm line on that response and the rest of that icbreaker activity felt bittersweet. The positive connections were immediate (among the students who maintained their identity as “American” regardless of race, color, gender, etc.), but the teacher had apparently not realized that he had asked an inappropriate question and made a few poor assumptions in addressing his audience.

Today, I just ask my class how they’re doing, do a quick “Who are you?” circuit so I can get to know everyone’s names, and then launch into a conversation about the topic posted online — an icebreaker? OF COURSE. Interaction needs to be organic, regardless of the setting or the formal lines of authority that are clearly in place in such scenarios. Be formal, but informal. Get the group to learn something new and to laugh a bit in the process. ENJOY the experience of communication!

SO a confident speaker’s issue is that he/she has to watch for pitfalls and be mindful of his/her audience to maintain respectful contact. An unconfident speaker is, perhaps, overly concerned with such issues, or perhaps is self-concious about speaking as a result of previous unsuccessful interactions. The key? Balance. Be modest, but not too modest; be cocky, but not too cocky. Striking up a conversation, whether in a formal or informal setting, never has to be too serious or complicated. It could be something as simple as cracking a joke or asking for the time.

Striking up impromptu conversation will be included in our September 14th workshop on Table Etiquette — a social business function is meant to serve as a setting for organic conversation and networking. Bring your business cards!

In the meantime, Jackie Carter shares her perspective on Icebreakers in “Icebreakers that Aren’t Awkward” (LinkedIn 06/30/13): “The best icebreakers are simple activities that facilitate easy discussions. The goal is to break down barriers and build trust, but you don’t have to take a serious approach to make this happen. If you’re conscious of time, make sure to pick an activity that elicits short responses. It’s also important to factor in how many people will be participating, if everyone already knows each other, and whether you want to primarily talk or do a team-building activity.” Jackie’s findings are inspired by Connect: Professional Women’s Network, a LinkedIn Discussion group.

Everyone is encouraged to browse for this and related topics offered in the Connect and Philo4Thought discussions on LinkedIn. Enjoy!