How to break the ice for a large group of people?
July 26, 2006 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Ice breakers for a large group of people.

I've been charged with setting up a 15-20 minute ice breaker at an event for approximately 75 people in a restaurant/lounge. The crowd will be young, but also fairly conservative. Does anyone have suggestions about specific activities or even what they know will or will not work based or prior experience?
posted by reformedjerk to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Names of famous people, or even animated characters, taped/pinned on everyone's back. You must guess who you are by asking questions (answerable by "yes" or "no") to others.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:27 AM on July 26, 2006

I attended a course with 41 other strangers (about 20% of the group already knew each other) last year. On the first day, we were arranged in a circle and told to, in order, tell the group our first name and an interesting fact about ourselves. The co-ordinator occasionally made a silly quip linking name with fact, like "Susie. Will she sue you?", or even "Adam Adam Adam mountain climbing Adam".

After going round once, volunteers tried to see how many names they could remember. If they forgot one, someone else would shout it out. This took about 40 minutes, so it might be a bit long-winded for 75 people, but we all knew each others' names afterwards, and it was fun.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:30 AM on July 26, 2006

Famous Duos.

You write the names of each person (or character) in a famous duo on a little scrap of paper (e.g., Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck; Bonnie & Clyde; Ben & Jerry) and put them in a basket. As each person enters the auditorium they take a slip of paper and are told to find their other half. It gives everybody an opportunity and motivation to introduce themselves to everybody else.
posted by GIRLesq at 9:33 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hate, hate, hate enforced icebreakers. If you have to do it with a suggestion that involves more general mingling and less "stand up and tell us about yourself" style crap. Don't force people outside their comfort zones.
posted by reklaw at 9:39 AM on July 26, 2006

What's the purpose of the exercise? Is it introduction only, or are you breaking down barriers/team building? Are you opening a day and trying to get people moving? Different exercises work well for different things - 75 is an awfully big group and will limit your choices if you only have 20 minutes.

The toilet paper game is always a good standby - have everyone take some toilet paper squares (without telling them why) and then ask them to say one thing about themselves for every square they have.

The "I've Done That" game is good and would allow you some control over subject matter if you want to pick non-offensive topics. Make up a list of 20-25 statements about home, work, life. "I've travelled to a foreign country", "I went to school out of state", "I am an only child", "I have brown eyes". You can do the next part two ways. 1) Have everybody stand in a circle and when the statement is read, if the statement isn't true about them, they sit down. 2) Or you can write the statemetns on a piece of paper and have each participant go and fill their sheet with the name of someone that meets that category.
The first is meant to identify that we can all find commonalities with someone else, even a stranger. The second is meant to help people meet the other participants and associate names with faces.

Hope those help.
posted by Cyrie at 9:53 AM on July 26, 2006

The only one of these I've ever liked was when one of our managers wanted to split people up for seating at the Christmas party (she wanted to make sure the same people weren't always interacting with each other). She placed a country name at each place setting, then had us pick slips of paper from a bag that had capital cities written on them. We then had to match our capital with the country, and sit there.

The trick was that she used difficult countries for Americans to guess -- lots of small Asian and African countries that we were unlikely to know off the top of our heads -- and said that we were not only allowed by encouraged to help each other find the right answers. To some extent it just made all of us feel stupid enough to bond as we laughed at ourselves, and gave us something to talk about once we sat down.
posted by occhiblu at 10:06 AM on July 26, 2006

I think occhiblu's answer is the only one that would not make me spend the entire time coming up with homocidal fantasies featuring you, maybe because it actually has a pupose other than "be really uncomfortable so we can pretend to be helping you socialize!"
posted by dame at 10:09 AM on July 26, 2006

Cyrie makes a good point - we can give better advice with more information.

Based on what you've provided, here are some suggested guidelines:
DO lead an activity that is based on groups
DON'T lead an activity that involves every individual sharing something in turn
DO use simple language and lead an activity with simple, intuitive rules
DON'T choose something with lots of props or physical set-up

This restaurant/lounge locale - will everyone have to negotiate and walk around tables, or is there an open space for folks to congregate?

Lastly, a suggestion that would work for your situation: a game called "Categories":

Set-Up: "OK, everyone, we're going to play a little game. I'm going to give you a question, and you have one minute to group up with all the other people here who have the same answer to that question. First question: how many brothers and sisters do you have?"

Play: So everyone mills around, and there will be a few bigger groups for 0,1,2 and smaller groups for 3,4 and maybe a few loners. When folks stop moving (probably more than a minute), ask where the Zeroes are. Hopefully, a group will cheer. Then ask who are the 1's, two's, etc. Make sure everyone gives a round of applause to the person with the most sibs... or rather, applause for that person's mother.

Then introduce a new question, then another, and another til you're done. The strength of this activity is that people are actually learning things they have in common with one another.

Here are some questions that are generally well-received:
In what state, or country if not the US, were you born?
What brand of toothpaste did you use this morning?
What kind of animal was your first pet?
Are you a righty or a lefty? (handedness)

More risque: Do you crumple or fold your toilet paper?
And my personal signature favorite: What's your favorite type of cheese?
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:46 AM on July 26, 2006

When I read this post I started thinking of the "Wonder Joint" from Revenge of the Nerds, but it sounds like that won't go over too well.

Strongly agree that forced icebreakers SUCK. I don't see any way around this without friendly stand-up introductions (which are indeed kind of monotonous), but please don't put people on the spot. I'd probably head in the direction of maybe having a showdown of who can do the funniest stupid human trick or has the funniest story.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:09 AM on July 26, 2006

with my last comment pertaining to volunteers in the audience... let the extroverted people do the hard work of bringing out the rest of those who want to participate..
posted by rolypolyman at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2006

Here's a previous thread on the subject. Specifically "Get-to-know-you games you actually enjoyed playing?" This was my answer.
posted by jessamyn at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2006

"If your life were a TV show with a cultish following, at what idiosyncracy would your audience members probably drink a shot?"
posted by clairezulkey at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2006

Like others have said, what you do depends on why you are doing it. Is it to get people talking to each other? To learn about other people in the room? To warm them up for other tasks?

With 75, I'd probably split them into smaller groups for the activity, simply because they have more chance to get to know some people well, rather than lots of people a little bit.

15-20 mins is too short to sit everyone in a circle and get them to talk about themselves or something else. They would only have about 20 seconds each to talk.

My favourite ice-breaker is human bingo, which is a version of the second option Cyrie mentions. It's also explained on the other thread Jessamyn links to. I like it because if you choose the right categories, everyone will have at least one box that applies to them and there is nothing people like more than talking about themselves, particularly if it's something a bit unusual or suprising. It is also a fairly lo-key activity, it mostly encourages one-to-one conversations, and no one has to stand up and shout about themselves. Even the ones that stay seated get involved, so the 'I don't see the point' brigade can't escape...

There are loads of other ideas here, so I'm not going to add to them, but really you need to think about the size of your group, the time you've got (not a lot!) and what you want them to achieve from the activity.

To all you ice-breaker haters, I know you don't like them, but as a trainer, I find them invaluable. But it does depend on what you are trying to achieve. The stuff I train is quite practical, and the subject matter usually needs discussion and exploration by the participants so that they can fully understand it. If I am starting with a room of 40 people who don't really know each other and I have 4 hours to get something through to them, I need that first session to get them warmed up and comfortable with each other. Even if that comes from a shared hatred of ice breakers. Otherwise it all falls flat and everyone ends up snoring on the back row and coming up with one word solutions to problems that should require 20 minutes discussion.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2006

I do this type of thing professionally. It's an art form to get energy and interest rising in generally resistant people. Two things work everytime: either intense high energy or intense one on one.

1. Have the group mill in a mass (not a circle). As they are milling ask them to silently rate their current energy level on a 1-5 scale (1 low, 5 high). Then tell the group that each individual has 4 minutes to shake hands with everyone in the room, introduce themselves, and share their energy rating. Give the instructions and get out of the way..

2. Get about 25 feet of newsprint and tape it to a wall. Provide about 30 markers in various colors ( Mr. Sketch is best). Tell them to get a partner they don't know well and then have a ten minute discussion in which they discuss the following:
What is their favorite recreational activity?
What is one very unique thing they have in common? (not gender, not where they work, etc.)
How do they connect within the sponsoring organization, if it's work related how do their jobs connect?

At the end of the conversation they must draw a small drawing each that represents their recreational activity. They must write their name next to the drawing then they draw a line connecting the two drawings and write down the unique thing they have in common in the middle of the line. The group is then given the instruction that they must use the next 15 minutes meeting as many persons as possible. At the end of each meeting they must draw a line from their picture to others picture and write what the have in common. The connections build quickly and in a very short time you will have lines going everywhere on the paper. It will be a source of interest throughout your event. And people can add to it everytime they make a new connection.
posted by Xurando at 6:10 PM on July 27, 2006

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