A group at a corporate icebreaker in Austin

Corporate icebreakers have an even worse reputation than team building. And that’s saying something. I think it’s because the term icebreaker brings up memories of uncomfortable moments as far back as kindergarten. 

Being forced to engage in seemingly irrelevant games can really make us uncomfortable. In fact, if I’d known the word irrelevant in kindergarten I probably would’ve screamed, “I’m not doing this stupid irrelevant activity, it’s nap time”. Obviously, I still have some trauma from all of that!

And perhaps this is why I want to share my thoughts and expertise here, because well conceived icebreakers have a valuable place in corporate meetings. 

An icebreaker activity can be just the catalyst you need to get comfortable with new colleagues or connect more with people you’ve been working with for a while. Conversation starters and shared activities can jumpstart either a small meeting or a large event. 


These types of programs aren’t just fluff. Establishing rapport, easing tension and building communication is always a good thing. Effective icebreakers can help do this. So try to get past the preconceived notions and then dig into the substance of what you can provide through this type of programming.

I’ve had the pleasure and the displeasure of taking part in lots of different events. The key to success is to find and deliver short activities that feel authentic for the people taking part. 

At large corporate events, speed meeting introductions allow hundreds of people to move from seat to seat, meeting a new person for one or two minutes. For small groups, you could simply throw a ball around with the group and see how many catches you can have before someone drops the ball. 

Those are just two examples. The point being that you’ll want to find the best icebreaker programs to serve your meeting or event. You’ll want to have a variety of tools in your tool chest. Sometimes an idea that works with one group will flop with another group.

Advantages of Using Icebreakers at Events

The main advantage of incorporating an icebreaker into your event is to set the stage for a successful meeting that follows. 

  • A positive kick-off should help people get comfortable. 
  • It should help with introductions.
  • It should increase buy-in for participation at the meeting.
  • It can increase collaboration and this will make the rest of your conference more successful. 

At the beginning of every corporate conference, and even many small get togethers, a meaningful percentage of people there may not feel comfortable. So the goal of you icebreaker program should be to get past the awkward beginnings; to transition attendees from hesitancy to engagement. 

Keep these simple goals in mind when you plan a program. An effective activity could be five minutes or up to thirty minutes. You need to plan carefully because you don’t want your program to backfire. An awkward icebreaker can be a disadvantage; exactly the opposite of what you’re after!

When to Use Corporate Icebreakers

The best time to use an icebreaker at a corporate event is…at the beginning to um…break the ice. Sorry, I couldn’t resist and now for more specifics.

Let’s say your conference attendees arrive on a Sunday night. You have a reception planned for Sunday night and Monday morning is the start for your more serious content. Your icebreaker event should kick-off Monday morning. 

People will walk into your main meeting room with coffee and smart phones in hand. Everyone is a self-contained unit. With a cup of coffee, my phone and a seat at a table and I can stay by myself, even when I’m in a large group. 

Now is the time for a program that will encourage me to put down my phone and meet the people nearby. When planning an event to break the ice keep in mind your primary goal is getting people to engage with other people. You want to build comfort and camaraderie. You want to open lines of communication. 

If you can do this, then your meeting will be off to a very good start. 

6 Effective Meeting Icebreakers

  1. One word – Pick a word and ask everyone to very briefly talk about what it means to them. For example, briefly talk about “trust”. Then ask each person to describe what they think of when they hear the word trust. Or you could use the word “awkward” to help people describe what they’re probably feeling at the beginning of most conferences. If you have specific themes and goals for your meeting, pick a word from your goals to get conversation started.
  2. Sharing the best and the worst – What was your best moment at work? What was your worst moment? Sharing a worst moment shows humility and helps your colleagues to empathize with you. Empathy builds trust. And sharing a best moment can build pride and increase motivation.
  3. The hardest thing about getting here – “So what was the hardest thing about getting here?” I really like this question as an icebreaker activity because the answers reveal so much about ourselves. Some people always leave late, oversleep, arrive way to early – you name it. Whatever the answer, this will lead to casual conversation and laughter.
  4. One thing you didn’t know – This is for groups of people who already know each other. Everyone will share one thing about them they assume most people don’t know. Sometimes what you think is a mystery may already be known! Or it may be something fun and off beat that helps you get to know someone better. Here’s a personal example. For a promotional biography for a conference where I was a speaker, I was asked to share a fact no one would know about me. I mentioned that I made up a language I use to talk to my dogs at home. It’s silly, rhythmical and probably non-sensical to anyone except me and my dogs. But it makes me happy and I think the dogs understand me. You’re probably now thinking about me in a different way. 
  5. A dream vacation – Give everyone two minutes to share their dream vacation. After everyone has shared, go around again and ask if anyone’s dream vacation has changed after hearing what other people would like to do. This exercise will help people find common ground as you discover shared interests, like hiking or lying on the beach, etc. 
  6. Sharing a song – Everyone listens to music. We all have favorite songs that bring back memories and reveal a little something about ourselves. Ask everyone to share a favorite song and explain why it’s their favorite. You’ll hear stories about childhood experience, about falling in love, or falling out of love! I was at a conference sitting next to someone who grew up in India and I’m from the US. We discovered we shared the same favorite song from our teen years. We were quickly engrossed in conversation; realizing that we had much in common. This is a great way to break the ice.

Professionally Facilitated Programs

Professionally facilitated conference icebreakers may be the way to go in certain settings. You should consider these programs for large conferences and formal meetings.  

If you’re planning a semi-annual or annual gathering you can ensure a great kick-off by bringing in a pro to facilitate. Of course, I’m partial and a bit biased to the musical programs my company provides. Story telling programs also work well for large groups with time frames that fit the concept of a conference starter.

Read more about icebreakers for large groups

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.