25 Icebreakers to Kick Off Any Event - Brought to you by Natwest

25 Icebreakers to Kick Off Any Event - Brought to you by Natwest

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Make light work of meetings, conferences or networking events by using these tried-and-tested conversational gambits.


It’s said that we have just seven seconds to make a good first impression – and what we say in that time is paramount to how we are perceived and received.


The gentle approach

Eve Menezes Cunningham, a self-care coach, says:

  1. Before you speak to anyone, ask yourself: “How am I hoping to feel when I get home? What will the event/day be like, in an ideal world?”

This will help ease any anxiety you feel about attending, and encourage you to focus on what you want to get out of the event.


  1. “Who are you most looking forward to hearing from today?”

While it’s possible that they won’t yet know, they’re likely to be able to respond with useful information that can get you both talking.


  1. “This is my first time here. Any tips?”

People generally want to help others feel more at ease and, if they’re new too, you can bond over that.


  1. “This coffee/croissant/breakfast buffet is delicious. Do you know what we do for lunch/breaks etc?”

This will not only give you practical information but you might end up making plans to meet later in the day, too, helping you relax more into the first part of the event.


  1. And if none of those work out? Check in with yourself again: “That didn’t go as I wanted, but it’s OK, I can talk to someone else later on.”


The breaking-down-barriers approach

Tom Charman, tech start-up co-founder, business mentor and speaker, says:

  1. “What’s your favourite bar in this city?”

This gives the person a personality, and lets you understand the sort of things that they’re interested in.


  1. “If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?”

I saw this on television series ‘An Idiot Abroad’, and couldn’t stop laughing the first time I heard Karl Pilkington say “bulls*** detector”. I haven’t yet been in a situation where people don’t laugh when I explain the story.


  1. “Are you a morning person or a night owl?”

This normally divides a room and people have different reasons and experiences as to why they’re one or the other.


  1. “What’s your favourite thing to do in the summer?”

This reminds people of good weather, which lifts spirits. Plus, people will usually come up with some pretty interesting things, which will give you a better sense of the person you’re talking to.


  1. “Who’s your business role model?”

It’s a clichéd question, but it’s always really interesting to hear any answer other than Richard Branson or Elon Musk.


The business approach

Marc Ford, business coach and host of The Best Kept Business Secret podcast, says that thinking of FORM (family, occupation, recreation, message) gives structure to a conversation:


  1. Family: “So tell me about yourself... Are you local? How long have you lived here?”

This gives you information that will be useful at the next meeting, giving you the chance to follow up and ask about, say, their son’s football match.


  1. Occupation: “Tell me about what you do? How long have you been in business? How did you start up?”

This shows you are interested in them and not just their business (or just a sales pitch).


  1. Recreation: “For someone who works so hard, what do you do to relax?”

This gives people the opportunity to open up as an individual, rather than just a business person.


  1. Message: a good icebreaker should then lead nicely into: “I can see we have some mutual benefits to each other’s business – perhaps we could catch up for a longer chat over a coffee?”


  1. If all else fails, go for current affairs, such as: “What do you think will happen with the Sainsbury’s and Asda merger?”

Keep it topical but light-hearted.


The personal approach

Guy Clapperton, who runs media training and facilitates conferences, suggests these tactics as a useful starting point:


  1. Introduce yourself, then listen.

Your prospects will respond better if you get to know about them, rather than lecturing them about you.


  1. Tell people what you achieve rather than just your job title.

“I help people with anxiety” tells someone more than “I specialise in meditation techniques”.


  1. Approach people who are tapping their phones and anxiously glancing around the room. They probably don’t want to be staring at their phone, and will welcome a bit of personal contact.


     19. Find some common ground as quickly as possible but make sure that it actually is common               ground. There’s no point in launching into a monologue about that day’s football/rugby match if             team sports are not their thing...


     20. If you really can’t think of anything to say, say so! You’ll soon find a load of people will pile in with       “Me neither!” and you can start to have a laugh.


The making friends approach

Janet Murray, author, keynote speaker and founder of Soulful PR, says:

  1. “What made you decide to come along to this event?”

Not the most imaginative start but open-ended questions help to get the conversation flowing.


  1. “I like your... hat/shoes/bag.”

When you give someone a compliment they usually smile – which is great for breaking down barriers – and then tell you where they got it from, which opens up a conversation.


  1. “How do you know [insert name of event organiser]?”

This helps you find common ground with the person you’re talking to, which is good for building rapport.


  1. “I love your Twitter/LinkedIn profile.”

This is a great conversation starter: it shows you’ve done your research on the event and the attendees. Most event organisers now create Twitter lists of guests, which means it’s easy enough to do your research before you attend.


  1. “What are you hoping to take away from today?”

This encourages people to share information about what they do and what they value – which should give you plenty to talk about.


Keep these three points in mind:

  • Have a clear goal: is it to help people get to know each other, start collaborating or engage with speakers?
  • Keep it simple but purposeful: open and friendly, but not cheesy.
  • Be professional: remember people have different values, beliefs and experiences. Remember to listen.


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