The dreaded icebreaker

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A volcano seen recently

It’s a phrase guaranteed to set fear into the heart of the toughest speaker and alienate your audience before you’ve barely started.

The dreaded icebreaker.

Everyone’s sat down, the day’s starting full of promise. You look across the lectern at an audience of bright professional people all dressed to impress and you tell them they’re going to have to pass a marmite jar using only their knees. Or something equally absurd.

I can see the thinking, it gets everyone in the mood to talk at the workshops, it brings people together who may never have met and may now be sitting opposite one another at the cabaret style conference tables for the first time.

But honestly, is it anyway to treat an audience of highly trained professionals?

I mean, really, is standing on one leg and acting like a pirate (ok I made that up) really going to break the ice? Well yes, at a teenage party where someone forgot to pack the Twister game perhaps.

But at a conference of professionals who’ve spent years building up their careers?

All this speculation is prompted because I’ve just been chairing a conference of educational professionals in Leicestershire.

And what a fine, friendly, enthusiastic bunch they were.

As I welcomed them and outlined a day full of promise, they seemed happy to regard me with good will and listened attentively to the programme. But when I told them we would kick off with an icebreaker, well, I could feel the waves of resentment flowing my way across the conference floor.

But having scoured the internet and rejected plans that would have got them to introduce themselves with an animal name; “Hi, I’m Monkey Michelle‚Ķ” or blindfold one another and guide their partners through the room like an air traffic controller whilst the blindfolded one held their arms out and made aeroplane noises.

I decided on something much simpler. A quiz.

What’s more there was a prize. I didn’t know whether to go for a box of chocolates, or a Greek Island. In the end, the box of chocolates was more expensive so I plumped for that (yes, that was my opening joke).

And do you know what? It really worked. As I went through the questions, I could see people at each table talking and working out the answers.

It got better still. I’d craftily bought two boxes of Heroes (in case of a draw, I like to think ahead) and by the end of the day they’d been passed around every table — a real icebreaker.

Here are the questions by the way, see how you would have done.. answers below.

1 How many seats did the Conservatives win in the general election?

2 Who was relegated from the Premiership this season?

3 Who is the manager of Chelsea?

4 Who’s number 1 in the charts?

5 Name the six counties in the Government’s official definition of the East Midlands?

6 Who is the Prime Minister of Greece?

7 What percentage of the MPs in the new House of Commons have a background in a career in education?

8 How do you spell the name of the Icelandic volcano that’s causing disruption to flights?


1 306 seats.

2 Burnley , Portsmouth, Hull.

3 Carlo Ancelotti.

4 Roll Deep with Good Times (well they were that week – give yourself a point if you know who’s currently number 1).

5 Notts, Leices, Lincs, Derbys, Rutland and Northants.

6 George Papandreou.

7 Five per cent.

8 Eyjafjallajokull (one point for every letter in the right place!)

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