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On the Rocks: Best Icebreaker Questions for Meetings and Focus Groups

As a follow up to my post about Best Focus Groups Guides and Resources, here are some ideas about using icebreakers to get the session started on the right foot and not end up "on the rocks":

ABOUT USING ICEBREAKERS

FAST ICEBREAKER QUESTIONS

The following are quick questions to use at the beginning to get everyone to say something and loosen up. If possible, choose a question in the theme of the group session.

These questions are particularly good for web or marketing focus groups:

  • Tricked out Tech. What technology innovation made the most impact on your life and why? What innovation do you like the least and why?
  • Best/ Worst Ad. What is the best (or worse) ad or commercial you can remember and why?
  • Best or Worst Item X: What’s our Favorite (or Least Favorite) X? Have everyone identify their favorite [insert item or concept]. For example, if you are getting ready to do a focus group about usability testing a website, have each person identify their favorite most usable (or least usable) website and why. Everyone must list a different one.

These are good general questions for any meeting:

  • Rocking Your World. "What's rocking your world today?"
  • Best/Worst Week. Have each person share their best and worst moments from the previous week.
  • Weird Week. What is the weirdest/ strangest thing you saw/ heard/ did this week?
  • Most Unique. Go around the room and have each person share something that makes them different from anyone in the group, like, “I’ve never left the state I was born in” or “I am one of ten kids.”
  • All in a Name. If you were to change your name, what would you change your name to? Why?
  • Alternative Life. If you could have done anything else in life as a career, what would it have been?
  • Got it; Love it. What's your favorite material object that you already own?
  • Gotta Have it. What item, that you don't have already, would you most like to own?
  • Skill Envy. If you could have any one skill or talent you don’t already have, what would it be and why?
  • Slogan for Your Life. If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be? (Example: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, we all die.)
  • Shining Moment. What was the single most shining moment of achievement in your life?
  • Heroes. Ask each member to name one to three people, past or present, they admire and explain why. Or, ask them if they could interview anyone in history, who would that be and why? What one or two questions would you want to ask?
  • How Many Moves: Have each person count how many times they have moved in the last ten years. Give a quick prize ($1, candy bar, pen, etc.) to the one who's moved the most.

TEAM-BUILDING ICEBREAKER EXERCISES

These are good to use at a meeting or team-building session with a group that needs to work or collaborate together.

1. One-Word Icebreaker Exercise: This ice breaker helps the group explore their thoughts on a common issue.

  • Divide the participants into subgroups of four or five people by having them number off. (You do this so that your participants get to know fellow attendees.)
  • Tell the newly formed groups that their assignment is to think for a minute and then to share with their group the one word that describes X. For example, with a session about organizational culture, you could request that the group think about their current culture and come up with one word to describe it.
  • Upon completion of the initial spontaneous discussion, ask the participants to share their one word with the larger group. Ask for a volunteer to start and then, ask each participant to share their one word that described their culture. (Even your most quiet participants were comfortable sharing their word.)

2. What do we have in Common?

  • Divide the participants into groups of four or five people by having them number off. (You do this because people generally begin a meeting by sitting with the people they already know best.)
  • Tell the newly formed groups that their assignment is to find ten things they have in common, with every other person in the group, that have nothing to do with work (no body parts- we all have legs and no clothing- we all wear shoes).
  • Tell the groups that one person must take notes and be ready to read their list to the whole group upon completion of the assignment.
  • Ask for a volunteer to read their whole list of things in common first. Then, ask each group to share their whole list with the whole group.

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