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Learning and Knowledge Exchange


Set the tone for active contribution and engagement by all participants

Every event or workshop has participants, but often they don’t participate actively enough. Sometimes this is because the event has too many presentations, with ‘participants’ being put into the role of passive listeners for the most part. But sometimes an event may have plenty of opportunities for participation, but it may start off on the wrong foot with a lengthy speech or ‘keynote’. This can have a negative effect on the level of participation. Experienced event facilitators have observed that the first couple of sessions often set the tone for the remainder of an event; if these sessions are non-participatory, then a nonparticipatory tone is set for the event, and participants will usually behave accordingly.

Hence the value of icebreakers, which are informal activities and exercises to help people get to know each other quickly, and start communicating and connecting early in a meeting or workshop. Icebreakers are powerful tools to set the tone for participation, and encourage those at the event to play active, contributing roles.

Icebreakers help establish connections quickly and informally. This sense of connectedness and free communication will help the group achieve the work-related or learning objectives of the event. Icebreakers are especially useful when participants are from diverse cultural, ethnic or organizational backgrounds. When used correctly, icebreakers can also energize the group, highlight participants’ particular strengths and subtly introduce themes to be explored later in the event.

The following effective icebreakers are described in detail below; the last two are the quickest and most informal:
A. Speed Dating (Speed Networking)
B. Four Quadrants
C. Portrait of My Job
D. River of Life
E. Walking Billboard
F. Mistaken Identity
G. What Do They Like?

There are many other icebreakers not covered here, which you can learn about from the
references listed at the end of this document.

Download the full module on Icebreakers (PDF), including when and why to use, how to apply, tips for success, variations, and references. 



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