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Conference Call Icebreakers

May 23, 2013

Great Icebreakers for Successful Conference Calls

How many time have you told a group of people who you don’t yet know “one fun fact about yourself?” At this point in my career, I practically have my Name/Title/Fun Fact on auto-answer. But, a good icebreaker doesn’t have to illicit a roomful of eye rolls. Done well, they are a great way to kickstart meeting participant engagement.

Many conference calls are made up of people who aren’t familiar with each other. Attendees could be new acquaintances or even complete strangers. Therefore, beyond getting to know new colleagues or clients, an icebreaker can serve a few additional purposes. Sharing a few details about who you are creates camaraderie and can dissolve nervousness or social anxiety. It also sets the tone of the meetings as positive and open to sharing. And ultimately, just like warming up for exercise, an icebreaker gets the creative juices flowing.

As the conference call host, get creative with the type of icebreaker you want to use. Shift your imagination into high gear and create a list of icebreakers that will work best for your group of attendees. Here are a couple of conference call icebreakers that I’ve used successfully to introduce and engage colleagues, clients, and new teams.

Conference Call Icebreaker Ideas

The Introduction Icebreaker

Go beyond participants introducing themselves and sharing a personal fun fact. Add new and intriguing questions. This adds a deeper level of personalization and potentially even a bit of humor depending on the answers given. It’s interesting to see how similar or not alike people in the group are. Try asking one of these questions to spark the conversation.

  • What was your first job?
  • What did you have for dinner last night?
  • Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?
  • What’s your hidden talent?
  • Which superhero would you be for a day?

Truth

Instead of asking questions to the group, let the participants ask which “fact” they think is true. Each participant tells three potential facts about themselves. However, one of the three is false. It’s up to the other meeting attendees to guess which is untrue.

Above and Beyond

Do you want to keep the icebreaker more business oriented? Have your participants tell you of a time when they received extraordinary customer service from a company. They can explain how the company went above and beyond for client satisfaction. This is a perfect question if the participants on your conference call are potential clients. The responses will give you an idea of how to earn their business.

Virtual Icebreakers

You can get really inventive and innovative with virtual icebreakers. Don’t just use a video conference to onboard new employees. Take advantage of face-to-face communication to bring remote team members into the fold and make them feel part of the company. Or, make the first introductions with new clients memorable.

Video conferencing is popular because it replicates the in-person experience. Body language and social cues can be picked up on. Moreover, relationships can solidify in a way that cannot be done on a conference call.

No Smiling

The no smiling icebreaker sounds like exactly what it is. It may be a throwback to childhood games, but it really eases the tension in a meeting that may feel too stiff or controlled.

Tell everyone on the video conference to try not to smile for 60 seconds. Then start telling jokes and see who cracks first. You may even get laughs for how NOT funny you are.

Photo-based Icebreakers

This icebreaker is a great way to get to know team members who are in remote offices or work from home. Instead of asking fun facts or answering questions, this icebreaker gives someone the opportunity to show more about themselves instead of telling. Ask participants to:

  • Take a photo from their window and have the group guess where they are
  • Share shoe shots. Have all attendees take a snapshot of the shoes they are wearing and share with the team. You’ll soon find out who works barefoot!
  • Have everyone take a pic of the weather where they are
  • Use the video feed to take a quick tour of the offices that the remote team members are working in

Painted Plants

Go with me on this one. I just made it up. If the usual icebreakers are becoming stale, get creative with a team project. This one takes a little bit of advanced planning, but the bonding benefits outweigh the upfront work. Send each team member a package that includes a small pot, a packet of seeds and a set of paints and brushes. The team can virtually decorate their pots together as a team building event. Or, create their painted pot masterpieces on their own time and then share at the beginning of the next online meeting. Once the seeds are planted, the pots can stay on the desktop so that everyone can keep track of their growth. Kick off status meetings or other recurring meetings by checking in on the plant’s progress.

Last Minute Icebreaker Tips

There are a few “don’ts” that you want to keep in mind when starting a meeting with an icebreaker.

  1. Keep it brief. The last thing anyone wants is to have a meeting run long or become unproductive due to a lengthy icebreaker. An opening activity or introduction game should not take away time or focus on the actual purpose of the meeting.
  2. Remember, even though you are on a conference call or video chat, you are still in a professional environment. You want to encourage levity, but you never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Never put anyone in the hot seat or force them to participate or divulge any information they are not comfortable sharing.
  3. Don’t get too personal. Don’t ask questions that are NSFW.
  4. Be respectful of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and religion.

Icebreakers aren’t only used to start your conference call. Use one to wrap up your meeting so that attendees leave the call on a positive note. When you’re getting ready to end your call, ask for feedback from your attendees in order to evaluate how the conference call went. Ask the attendees to express something positive they learned from the meeting. Their feedback will give you an idea of how successful your planning for this call was, and will help planning for future calls as well.