Facilitated icebreakers are almost invariably the most awkward of moments in every event I’ve attended. They tend to programmed into networking events of 20 – 50 people, I suppose due to the logic that with smaller events everyone will get the chance to meet organically anyway and with larger events it’s a moot effort trying to know everyone no matter what. So in networking events of this 20 – 50 person size, some hosts like to make the well intentioned effort to design some sort of formatting that facilitate the attendees introducing themselves to one another. I have yet to see a format that works.
The simplest and frankly the least effective is to have everyone quiet down and perhaps sit down and then do a circle around the room of self introductions. There’s arguably the two merits that this first gives all people in the room a sense of what crowd they’re in, and second gives each person hopefully a sense of the one or the few other people in the room that would make a good connection. At events where these icebreakers are not followed up by a free reign mixer session though, both those merits are completely wasted.
Beyond this basic round-the-room self introduction format, we get into some of the more interesting yet mostly still ineffective formats of facilitated icebreakers. One that particularly comes to mind is speed networking. Invented in Australia as a reapplication of speed dating principles, speed networking sets up all participants in a designed sequence of stationed tables and rotates everyone in the room about every 5 minutes. In theory, this designed facilitation increases networking efficiency by creating a guaranteed dozen or so new “connections” each hour. In practice, one mostly walks away from a 2 to 3 hour speed networking event with a fistfull of business cards and not a single person to follow up with.
The icebreaker format that I’ve seen have the most potential are the events that give each attendee some sort of numbered or lettered designation that represents a pre-formed grouping. These events would then have a designated part of the program where people form into smaller groups based on having the same number (Group 1, Group 2, etc.) or the same letter, and each group competes in some sort of workshop exercise. When the workshops are well designed in terms of the exercise, the time allotment, the facilitation, and the ultimate purpose alignment with the event itself, then this format serves as an effective icebreaker. When something about the workshops is not optimally designed, it at least gives the attendees something to complain about to each other and build some camaraderie at the expense of the event organizers. At the end of the day, it is perhaps the most effective of the icebreaker formats.
The design of human interactions is the core craft of being an event producer. A well designed gathering is our ultimate art, and it is an art that we always pursue to perfect but never quite achieve to perfection. Innovations in icebreaker formats is a truly admirable pursuit, in the sense that these effort go into designing better ways for people to achieve connection with others once they’re in the same room. For event professionals, creating connections take more than just putting a group of people in the same space at the same time. I’ve said this before, that as tech professionals are developing truly useful tools for humanity to share information and access communication with one another, it is the responsibility of event professionals to continually develop better ways for humanity to come together to engage and connect in face-to-face interactions. Mobile, internet of things, augmented reality, and other consumer technologies are creating increasingly blurred lines between the digital world and real world. How does this change, evolve, or impact our human capabilities to form connections with one another?
See you at the next exploration!