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Innovative ways to get a meeting moving

By Michelle Warren

While the very mention of icebreakers fills some with dread, done right, icebreakers really are an effective way to kick off a meeting. Claudia Valle, program director at Oakville-based Summit Team Building, says she gets her audience onside by explaining the science behind icebreakers. “I remind them about brain states—alpha and beta—and the goal is to wake up the brain and get it into beta. It’s about focus, energy and being present.” And, relationship building. “Often people sit in meetings and never have the opportunity to connect,” says Valle. “To work as a team you have to know the people you are working with. A lot of our icebreakers are conversation based: A room with conversation is a room with energy.” One of the biggest complaints is that icebreakers are childish and make people uncomfortable, but Ian Kennedy, managing director of Toronto-based Essential Communications, says it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s important to know your audience and provide a structure to draw people in and spur conversation. “Don’t make it childish, but do make it creative.”

5 ways to break the ice

One three two Ask participants to use one word to describe what is going on with them now; three sentences to explain why; and two words (including the first word) to summarize. For example: “Agile I have so many balls in the air, but I am so successful currently. I haven’t dropped anything. I am kind of proud. Summarize: Agile and proud.” Ideal for meetings with intact teams, this is a great way to take the pulse of the group: If words include exhausted, miserable, horrible etc., address it pronto.

Book smart If you were going to write a book about this chapter of your life, what would the book be called? Ask participants to write their title on a card and pile them in the middle of the table. Read each aloud and ask people to guess who it is.

Claim to fame Invite people to share something unique about themselves. It can be anything, from having met someone famous to making the best burgers, travelling to all seven continents or running a marathon.

Commonalities Divide the group into pairs and ask each to find three unique things they have in common (beyond the obvious, such as gender). For instance, both got wisdom teeth out, both born in Sudbury, etc. There are no right or wrong answers. Ask the pairs to share, then partner them with another pair and ask all four to find two things they have in common. If you have time, move on to groups of eight.

Thumball These look like soccer balls, but each section is preprinted with a fun topic—favourite book, most recent concert, ideal car. Toss the ball around the table and wherever the catcher’s thumb lands, they speak to the topic. You can buy one (, or customize your own with more work-oriented topics, such as “The best leader I have had was...” Great for boosting flagging energy during afternoon meetings.

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