Hull of an icebreaker parked in the ice on Antarctica

Virtual Icebreakers

Just because you’re not in the same room as the people you’re meeting with doesn’t mean you can’t feel close to them. Icebreakers are a tradition that helps people who have to work together get to know each other through activities that range from straightforward to silly. It lightens the mood and gets people talking. In a videoconference, this is all the more important, as feeling comfortable on the screen has a lot to do with how you feel about the other people on the call.

A virtual meeting or training poses some limitations for what icebreakers you can do. Physical challenges or activities that require the use of cards or objects are out of the picture. On the other hand, being remote from each other opens up the icebreakers to some interesting topical possibilities. There are dozens of icebreakers to choose from – our list includes some that work especially well for virtual meetings. Try some of these icebreakers next time you’re working with a new group of people online, and you might make a new connection beyond the one keeping your web conference running.


Common Experiences Make Connections

Web conferences are prone to technical mishaps. An icebreaker that addresses this in a lighthearted way – we’ll call it “Mis-computer-cation” – has each participant share a time when they had an embarrassing or frustrating technical difficulty that they experienced – like replying to the wrong person via e-mail or having to do a presentation on the fly because you didn’t have access to a computer. We’ve all been there, so everyone should have something to share.


No More Impromptu Introductions

“Tell us your name, where you’re from and something unique about yourself.” That’s your typical go-around-the-room icebreaker, and frankly, it’s pretty boring. There’s also the surprise factor – people aren’t always prepared to talk about themselves and may not be able to easily think of something interesting to say. Instead, have each participant pre-record a short (about 1 minute) video message introducing themselves and broadcast them over the videoconference. They can make it as funny, quirky, and personalized as they want. Best of all, they can talk about what they want to without having to follow a prescribed formula, and probably act more like themselves without pressure of a live audience. The loose rules of this icebreaker will help participants feel more relaxed and ready to work together from the beginning.


Tell Me Two Lies

You want to know that your team members or classmates can be trusted. No one wants to work with a liar. But there’s one exception – when you’re playing Two Lies and a Truth.  In this guessing game, each person lists three things about themselves, only one of which is actually true. The trick is to make the lies seem just plausible enough to be factual, but not so crazy that it couldn’t have happened to you. To do this in a videoconference, have the participants read or type out their answers on screen or share them on a whiteboard. The truth may shock you!


Check Your Vitae vitals

A person’s work experience tells a lot about their personal and professional interests, where they’ve lived, and their goals and ambitions. Ask each participant to share their CV or resume with the entire group and make them available to all participants beforehand. Match them up with one other person and have them read their CV or resume. Then, at the beginning of the meeting, each person tells three interesting things that they garnered from their assigned person’s document. Then that person can elaborate on these experiences. This works because people are usually willing to share their professional data – less so their person information – and it’s easier for most people to talk about other people than themselves.


What’s in Grandma’s Toy Chest?

Memory games are a classic icebreaker strategy that gets the blood flowing to the brain. A classic game for bored kids in car rides is Grandma’s Toy Chest – children start with “In Grandma’s Toy Chest, I found a [blank].”  The next person adds to the list of what’s in Grandma’s Toy Chest and has to repeat what the previous person said. In a variation of this for online meetings, the main presenter starts off by stating their name and an adjective that describes them. The next person has to repeat that adjective and give a unique adjective for themselves, and so on, until the poor last person has to remember all those adjectives. Not only does this prime the minds in the room for thinking and paying attention, it also helps them remember the other people they’re conferencing with.

As you can see, there’s no reason to leave out icebreakers from a webinar or virtual meeting. Laughs and shared experiences act like pick axes to the ice that is a room full of strangers – especially a virtual one. People learn and work better together when they feel at ease, and that’s just what these activities are made for. With a little creativity, classic icebreakers – or ones you make up yourself – will get the ball rolling so people feel more relaxed in front of the camera.

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