The thing about presentations is this: You can’t just talk and talk as if no one was there in the room with you. Presentations are not monologues. They cannot be deemed successful if the speaker did not manage to engage her or his audience.
That’s why many speakers want to know how to break the ice in public speaking. Icebreakers make members of the audience comfortable during the presentation. And when people are at ease, they are more likely to listen to the speaker. They are also likely to participate in other activities (if there are any) and ask the speaker questions.
In other words, icebreakers can help engage members of the audience and, therefore, make your presentation successful. Put another way, if you want to be a good speaker, you need to learn icebreakers.
So, how exactly can you break the ice? We’ll discuss how you can do that in this article. But let’s discuss what those critical public speaking elements are in the first place.
What Are Icebreakers?
If you’ve ever attended an event (not as a speaker), you might already be familiar with some of these. You must have heard the speaker say something funny. That’s an icebreaker. If the speaker suddenly blurts out song lyrics. Or if the speaker suddenly asks you how you’re doing. Those are all comments that aim to break the ice.
In other words, icebreakers can come in many forms. Contrary to popular perception, they’re not just those team-building activities we were asked to play in class or in a seminar. They can be as simple as a comment or a question.
So, based on that, what are icebreakers?
Well, I’d define them as activities or statements that break down the perceived barrier between the speaker and the members of an audience. I say “perceived” because, in reality, such a barrier does not exist. It’s only an imaginary barrier in the minds of members of the audience (and sometimes, unfortunately, also in the mind of the speaker) who see the speaker as “the supreme being” on the basis of her or him being up there on stage.
Because the speaker is the source of information, members of the audience tend to view her or him as the “other.”
The problem, however, is that this model of public speaking doesn’t work at all. While it is true that members of the audience learn new things from the speaker, the speaker also learns (or at least should learn) from the audience, too. A successful presentation, in other words, requires learning to be universal in that public speaking space.
As in all other things in life, it should definitely be a two-way street.
See where icebreakers fit into the picture there? Because icebreakers break down that perceived barrier between the audience and the speaker, they encourage members of the audience to contribute to the conversation that takes place during a public presentation. In the process of sharing, the speaker learns from them as well.
In other words, icebreakers ultimately ensure that, in a presentation, learning remains universal, too.
How to Break the Ice In Public Speaking
Now that we know what an icebreaker is, we need to know what types of icebreakers there are out there so you can use them yourself when presenting in public. But before I enumerate your choices, you need to understand that when we talk about public speaking, we don’t just refer to the TED-talk-type presentations some speakers make. The term covers all types of events that involve a speaker talking in front of an audience. So, that can mean employee meetings, seminars, and lectures.
That means you need to remember that each occasion is different. Some are more formal than others. So, you need to pick an icebreaker that suits the tone of each occasion (note, though, that some icebreakers can be used for both formal and informal speaking engagements).
That said, here are some of your choices:
Casual talk icebreakers
This is an example of an icebreaker that can be used in all types of public speaking engagements. Whether formal or informal, casual talk icebreakers are perfect for literally breaking the ice at the start of a public presentation. Speakers who want to break the perceived barrier at the start of an event typically ask the audience questions that are similar to these:
- Where did you come from?
- Did you have breakfast?
- How was your commute?
- Have you watched that "ABC" movie on Amazon?
You basically can ask your audience anything under the sun. Just make sure they’re not too personal. At this stage, it’s better to stick to the “how are you doing” types of questions. Remember, you don’t know the members of your audience and they don’t know you either.
These are typically done somewhere in the middle of the public presentation. Quiz icebreakers, after all, are perfect for gauging what your audience learned from what you just discussed. If you spoke about SEO, for example, you can ask them about basic SEO concepts. If you gave an introductory lecture on biology, for example, then ask them about basic biology concepts.
Don’t make the quiz too boring, though. You need to ask questions in a fun and casual tone, not in a terror professor way. Remember, you want to break the barrier, not intimidate them even more.
Your quizzes don’t have to be related to what you discussed, too. You can ask pop culture questions, for instance. Ask them whom X actor is dating for example. Or when the next Spiderman franchise is due to come out. Just fun things like those. People, in general, love pop culture, so you’re sure to get their attention there.
To get your audience to participate fully, you can dangle an incentive before you even ask your questions. Make sure it’s a good incentive. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be expensive. An Amazon gift card, for instance, or a free Starbucks coffee may just do the trick.
You can engage your audience with game icebreakers. Unlike quizzes, games don’t typically involve you asking direct questions. They’re the “Where’s Waldo” types of games. Just think of a game you might have played in the past and that you enjoyed (emphasis on this). These are games you can ask members of your audience to play to get their attention.
Off the bat, apart from Where’s Waldo, here are some game icebreakers you may want to try:
- Guess who? - For example, show pictures of the backs of actors and actresses and make your audience guess them.
- Pick the odd one out - This is quite self-explanatory. You can again show pop culture references, just to make the game more fun. Or any other type of reference. Just make sure your audience will relate to them.
- Bring me - This one’s a fun one. If you have the time, you can get the adrenaline of your audience pumping by making them run on stage to give you that item you’re looking for.
- Team-building activities - This is a great option if your audience is composed of employees from the same department, for example. You can ask them to brainstorm ideas on a new marketing campaign, for instance.
There are many other games you can get your audience to play. It pays to do some research on your listeners so you’ll know what their hobbies, wants, among others, are and leverage those. You can get that information from the event organizer or you can do the research yourself!
You don’t have to do all of these activities to break the ice, of course. Just pick the ones you think will work on your audience, based on what you know about them.For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check out the article ‘‘. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement please read the article ''.
Public speaking isn’t about you talking to a blank wall. It’s about you engaging your listeners so they, too, will be encouraged to contribute something to the discussion. Always remember, public speaking is an opportunity to learn for both parties. Your audience should learn from you, and you should learn from your audience, too.
That’s why icebreakers are important. Icebreakers can help you break that perceived barrier between you and your audience. Ultimately, icebreakers ensure universal learning within that public speaking space.
You learned several ways to break the ice from the article. Take your pick from the casual talk icebreakers, game icebreakers, or quiz icebreakers. Make sure your choice was based on your audience research. The key is to get them to enjoy so you can get them engaged and ensure a fruitful discussion. By extension, you ensure a successful presentation.
All the best!
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