Meeting new people and making friends is great, but it takes a long time before you get to the point of having inside jokes, sharing interests, and showing off puppy pictures. Some people are understandably guarded or nervous around new folks, especially in larger groups. Icebreakers help ease that initial awkwardness, provide some comfort for everyone involved, and start what will hopefully be a positive relationship.
An icebreaker is a prompt, activity, or game that is designed to help ease any tensions or awkwardness among new people. Think of it like a warm-up exercise for building relationships while also giving people a chance to learn about each other.
The term comes from the idiom “breaking the ice,” which initially meant “to start off on a journey or enterprise” or “to prepare the way for other people” before its reference to facilitating conversation.
In a group, the purpose of icebreakers is to get everyone working together, talking, and sharing information about themselves. For large groups, it's important to consider time and logistics.
The activities below can work well for large business meetings, such as conferences or all-employee meetings, or other big events, such as college or high school orientation sessions.
Challenge people to complete a scavenger hunt that requires them to talk to each other.
- Ask people to find others in the group who meet certain criteria. This can include finding someone:
- Who has an unusual hobby
- Who has traveled the farthest to be here
- Who shares the same ideal pizza toppings as you
- Who has visited the state you were born in
- Whose birthday is within one day of your birthday
- With the same hand size or shoe size as you
- Wearing the same colors as you
- Use this printable scavenger hunt template to help everyone keep track of their progress.
- You can give a prize to whoever completes the most prompts, or you can put all completed entries into a drawing for a grand prize.
Divide everyone into groups of three or four.
- Give them a time limit of ten minutes.
- In that time, they have to name their group and find three things that every single person has in common. We’re not talking basics here either (things like “we’re all human beings” or “we all breathe oxygen” don’t count here). Something more akin to:
- All three of us are only children.
- We have all owned a red car at some point in our lives.
- All of our mothers have the first name of “Martha.”
- At the end of the time limit, have each group share their group name and the facts they discovered.
People Bingo involves giving out cards with attributes or information in each bingo square. For example, one square might be "has brown eyes" and another might be "is an only child." You may want to use this printable people bingo template.
- Everyone has to mingle and try to find someone who meets a particular attribute.
- They can then put that person's name in the box that matches the attribue on their Bingo board.
- The idea is to get a bingo by completing a row of five names.
- Have some prizes to award to people as they finish.
The idea behind Mural Mingle is to provide a way for people to meet each other and interact over common interests.
- Set up large whiteboards or very large sheets of poster board in a common area where people will mingle.
- Assign a theme to each board, and encourage participants to visit each board and contribute throughout the event. For a college orientation, for example, the boards could be for things like "home state," "major," "favorite class," "goals," or similar.
- Allocate time during breaks for attendees to visit the boards and add something.
- Have photographers circulating to snap photos of the participants and include them in a slide show at the end of the day.
When people register for the event, ask them to share their favorite animal (or other topic).
- Include a small image of the animal each person listed on their name badge, being sure to include a symbol for those who didn't answer or who said "none" so that everyone is included.
- Use the animal images to assign people to network at different points in the day. For example, consider having everyone break into groups by favorite animal at the beginning of a session.
Having the same favorite animal gives them an immediate jumping-off point for conversation: Why is this animal your favorite? People probably won’t have the same reasons. Some people may come up with cool animal facts, while others might have memorable stories involving that animal.
Break the group up into pairs for this funny icebreaker activity.
- Give everyone a random phrase written on a scrap of paper.
- Have each person in a pair trade off asking questions.
- The goal is for each partner to get the other person to say the exact phrase as written on your piece of paper (without obviously telling them what to say or giving them any keywords).
- Phrases can be as mundane (“I ate an apple.”) or as out there (“I dated a cactus.”) as the host wants.
For large in-person gatherings, consider an art activity.
- Drape a large paper tablecloth or similar paper over each table where participants are seated, and place markers, crayons, or drawing pencils on each table.
- Assign the group to work together to create an illustration of a concept, such as their expectations for the event. If the attendees are coworkers, consider asking them to illustrate the company mission.
- The only rule is that they have to use pictures rather than words.
- Have the contributors sign their artwork.
- Post the finished products on the wall, and have participants vote on the best or most creative illustration. You may even want to have several categories, with prizes for the winners.
When groups are relatively small (under 20 people or so), icebreakers can be more individualized. The activities below are great for new project teams, youth groups, classroom icebreakers, and other relatively small gatherings. They can also work with larger groups that have been separated into small groups.
Fill a box with random items (a stapler, a Rubik’s cube, a single gummy bear, a self-help book, whatever you can find).
- Have your group split off into pairs and randomly select an item from the box.
- Give each pair 10 minutes to create a short presentation to sell the item they selected.
- Once each pair has given their presentation, everyone can vote on the product they would purchase.
This is a classic activity. You come up with two truths and a lie, and people in the group try to guess the lie.
- To add an extra wrinkle, break off into pairs.
- Spend five to ten minutes allowing the partners to get to know one another.
- By the end of that time, have them come up with two truths and a lie about their partner.
Most everyone has a set of keys of some kind, whether it’s a house key, car key, bike lock key, or all of the above.
- Have everyone sit or stand in a circle and present their keyrings.
- Everyone should say at least one thing about every key, but that can be anything from what it’s used for to any special meaning it might hold.
Consider playing a fun geography word game to get people talking and interacting.
- Start by having someone name a location.
- The next person must name a location that starts with the last letter of the previous spot. For example, if the first person said "Spain," then the next person would need to name a location that started with the letter "n" and so on.
- If someone contributes a word that isn't a geographic location or doesn't start with the correct letter, then that person is out.
- Award prizes to the last few players in the game.
Somewhat similar to the geography word game, the linking word game involves coming up with creative ways to link related words to each other.
- The first person would say something like "green," and the next person would have to come up with a related word like "grass" or "apple."
- If the second person said "apple," then the next person would need to come up with something related to that word, such as "pie," "juice" or "tree."
- If someone comes up with an unrelated word, that means they're out.
Have prizes on hand for the last few remaining players. This is a great activity for kids, though grown-ups are also likely to enjoy it.
Break the group off into pairs.
- Set a time limit of 10 minutes, during which time each person should come up with facts about their partner matching the letters of their partner’s name.
- At the end of the time limit, have each person introduce their partner.
This is my new friend Bart.
B stands for baking, his favorite activity.
A is for Amsterdam, his favorite city in the world.
R is for raccoons, his favorite animal.
T is for theremin, his favorite musical instrument.
This works great if you have a whiteboard or a large pad of paper and some markers.
- Break the group up into small teams.
- Have one person (designated as the artist) blindfolded.
- Give the remaining team members a word or phrase, along with a list of words they’re not allowed to say out loud. For example, if the word is cat, the team may be forbidden from saying paws, whiskers, tail, or fur.
- The object is for the non-blindfolded team members to instruct the artist to illustrate the given word.
- Set a time limit of five to ten minutes. Once the time is up, have the artists remove their blindfolds to reveal the picture.
Sometimes you just need to break the ice at a faster clip. You may not have time for a full game of charades, but you can still break the ice no matter how much time you have.
This classic game presents two opposing ideas that people have to choose between, but with a slight variation.
- Put a piece of tape down in the middle of the room.
- Present the group with a “would you rather” question or scenario.
- Each person should stand on one side of the room or the other based on their answer.
A few questions to get the brain juices flowing:
- Would you rather fight 50 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?
- Would you rather never have access to the internet again or never be able to watch a show or movie again?
- Would you rather have the ability to jump 10 feet high or teleport seven feet within your line of sight?
Go around the room and have people take turns telling each other the worst job (or job experience) that they’ve had. It’s a good way for people to commiserate while also putting things into perspective. Maybe your time working at Unnamed Big Box Store wasn’t as awful as you thought.
Team-building activities are great icebreakers, especially for those with a competitive nature.
- Give everyone one minute to create the biggest, “best” human circle by linking hands.
- They can use any number of people, but every person must be part of a completed circle by the end of the time limit.
- As the host, you can judge the best, biggest circle.
While forming a circle harkens back to your preschool days, this type of activity also gives everyone insight into each other’s personalities. You may have a person who formed their own circle with their own two hands, or the group mentality could kick in and you end up with one giant circle.
Have everyone write down a simple fact about themselves. Fold those papers and place them into a box or hat. Take turns pulling out a fact and trying to guess who the fact applies to.
Go around the room and present each team member with the simple scenario: You’re stuck on a desert island. What five items do you bring with you?
With the advent of telecommuting, working from home, and hybrid work situations, more teams operate virtually through Zoom and other video conferencing programs. Thankfully, a lot of the above icebreakers still work on a video call, but you can also use the digital platform to your advantage.
In the vast expanse of language, we have the beauty and pure poetry of emojis. At the beginning of your meeting, ask your team members to describe their day or how they’re feeling in a single emoji.
People naturally seem to like showing off random things around them, so go ahead and have a quick show-and-tell session with the team. Have team members share things that are near them. That could include random desk items or pictures saved to your phone or desktop. This is the type of icebreaker that you can also repeat with different themes.
A riff on the traditional scavenger hunt, a virtual scavenger hunt challenges people to find items in their own home. Set a time limit of five minutes for team members to find objects in their home based on a theme (objects bigger than a quarter but smaller than coffee mug, things that look like an animal). Whoever brings the most items in that time wins.
Okay, “art” might be a bit of a stretch, but Gartic Phone is a free game that involves players making drawings based on suggested prompts from other players. If you don’t want to go the Gartic Phone route, you can have people draw via Paint and send those to the host, who can show them to the group to maintain anonymity.
You can split into teams and try to guess the drawing, but the true fun is seeing the weird, ridiculous drawings that come out of it.
Have everyone write down a ten-word general or personal fact on a piece of paper.
- Each person must take turns trying to tell that fact to you, the host. The catch: Everyone has their mic muted. They have to mouth that fact to you (no miming or signals allowed).
- Each person gets a point for each word that you understand and repeat properly.
- At the end, you can give an extra point to what you deem is the “best” fact.
In some cases, you may want to break the ice when you are having a conversation one-on-one. When looking for icebreakers for these situations, it is best to ask open-ended questions that give people a chance to share something about themselves. Everyone appreciates people who are good listeners and who want to listen to what they have to say.
Some good one-on-one questions to keep in your backpocket:
- If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be, why, and what would you eat?
- Who was your childhood hero or role model?
- What is your favorite thing about your hometown?
- If money was no object, where would you travel in the world?
- What’s your favorite place that you’ve actually visited?
- If you could be a candy, what candy would you be and why?
- If you had all the time and resources, what Olympic event would you want to train for and compete in?
- What is the best meal that you have had in recent memory?
- What food do you wish could be turned into a beverage? Or alternately, what drink do you wish could be turned into a food?
- If you wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
- What is your preferred sock height and/or style?
- If you could grow facial hair, what would be your preferred style? Mustache, beard, mutton chops?