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In planning a team retreat, customer appreciation dinner, educational session or any other event, there are many logistical and practical details to work out, such as the place, agenda, food, etc. 

But often what makes an event a “success” are the softer issues or how participants “feel” after the event. 

To help participants feel warm and comfortable, try using icebreaker activities. Using these comes with some risk.  Done wrong they can make the event MORE awkward and create the feeling of insincerity.  But by doing some deliberate thinking and planning in advance, you can help increase the likelihood that people will rate your event as a worthwhile experience. 

Begin by considering the following questions:

  1. What is the objective of your event?  At the end, what do you want participants to think, feel and do?  Is it just to relax and show appreciation, or is it to encourage communication and break down silos?
  2. Check out the history.  Was this event done before?  Same group or different?  What was done and what was the feedback?
  3. Who is coming, and what is their mindset?  Do people know each other? Do you have introverts that need to be brought out of their shells, or extroverts that need to be corralled into some structure?  How old are they?  Are there mobility issues or do you have energetic young people who need a physical activity? Do they like technology or feel intimidated by it?  If you are unsure, consider sending a pre-event questionnaire to get at the demographics and WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for each participant.
  4. Are there groups or specific people that you want to connect?  For example, clients with team members, or junior staff with senior staff.  People in a new situation will naturally gravitate toward friends and groups they know and where they feel comfortable.  You may decide to allow that default, or you may deliberately want to switch things up.
  5. What is the space and time of day?  Do you have multiple spaces where you want to encourage flow or a small space where you can barely fit everyone in the room.  How do people enter and exit?  How much time do you have?
  6. Do you have a theme? How can you tie in with your company brand?

Now that you have consciously considered who is coming and where you want to take them, you can select the right ice breaker activities or games. 

Here are some sites with creative ideas that can be adapted or merged:

Networking Icebreakers from Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives

20 Ice Breaker Ideas to Help Event Networking

Top 10 Ice Breakers from The Balance

After selecting the activities, enlist the help of a few other people working the event, and go through the process of informing, starting and closing the activity.  By playing this out, you can work out all the important details.  Have contingency plans to be ready for changes in timing, attendance, etc.

After the event, ask for feedback from participants.  Make notes on what worked well and what did not.