An ice breaker is any short activity held at the start of the workshop. Its purpose is to lower any affective barriers that may exist within a particular group. The rationale is that when people share something about themselves, and when they hear about others, they are more likely to have a positive attitude towards the group, the workshop and the presenter, and to want to work together. Although this is what the research tells us, many participants (and presenters) have divided opinions on ice breaker activities, perhaps as a result of some presenters taking such activities a bit too seriously and dedicating considerable amounts of time to them. Here are some general considerations: Firstly, the time spent on an ice breaker activity should be in proportion to the length of the workshop. A two-hour workshop may not need an ice breaker activity at all. A week-long retreat style workshop may dedicate two hours to one. Although the purpose is to ‘break through’ participants’ reluctance to open themselves up to the group, this should not be done at all costs. Some participants simply take some time to feel comfortable in a group. Choice of activities should consider the age and background of the participants. Silly games may work with teenagers but may not be suitable for older participants. Be careful with activities that require participants to touch one another. This may not be acceptable in all cultures or even age groups. Although many ice breakers involve participants sharing something personal, be careful about the level and type of information you ask them to share. A safer option is to ask participants to share something about their opinion on a professional topic, rather than a highly personal one, or about a fictitious situation or other person (such as ‘What should colleague X do in this situation?’).
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