It can be tricky to know how to start a meeting. In fact, the introduction is often the hardest part to get right. But with a great ice-breaker you can relax yourself and your audience, making them more alert and receptive.
Here are five simple ways to put an audience in the right frame of mind.
Show the audience photos of yourself
At the beginning of your presentation you will of course introduce yourself. A great way to create rapport is to spend a minute of your introduction talking about your life outside work. Show a few photos of your pets, your hobbies, or any holidays you’ve taken recently. This will humanise you, and can get a laugh, depending on your choice of pictures.
Showing that you are a well-rounded human being will make you more relatable. The audience will be on your side and interested to hear what you have got to say.
Get participants to introduce one another
It’s always good to have participants share a little information about themselves. So why not use this as a way to get people talking?
Buddy everybody up. Instead of introducing themselves, they are going to introduce their buddy, with their name and a few details. It doesn’t have to be anything too personal, just some key facts about their life and interests. Give them a few minutes to make notes about one another and then ask them what they have learnt.
This is bound to trigger a few laughs and means that even the shyest and most retiring people have spoken.
Do a straw poll
Posing questions can be both an ice-breaker and a way to get insight into the audience’s understanding of your topic.
Ask alternating relevant and irrelevant questions to make this more fun.
- Who thinks our current sales figures are better than last year’s?
- Who thinks Brazil will win the next world cup?
- Who thinks we should budget more for sales support?
This will help the audience engage with the subject and enjoy themselves.
Truth and lies
This is a brilliant ice-breaker for occasions when you have time to spend on team building and introductions.
Ask everyone to write two facts about their life and one lie. Anything will do, although the more interesting the facts, the better. Split the group into two teams. One person at a time will read out the three statements. The other team must determine which is the lie by asking up to three questions. The winning team is the one that smuggles through the most lies.
This is a really fun way to learn about the participants, and it works best with small groups.
The old theatre adage is ‘Open with a joke, close with a song.’
Comedy and singing might be a tall order, but you can achieve similar engagement with interesting facts. Sharing unusual and surprising information will grab the audience’s attention. Try to find related facts that will lead into your topic.
For example, some businesses “facts” that you could call out:
- One in ten Europeans are conceived in an Ikea bed.
- The iPad retina display is made by Samsung.
- Google originally traded as ‘Backrub’.
The audience then have to answer true or false.
Some ice-breaker Do Nots:
You can expect people to engage, but don’t put them on the spot. Ask their name, but not their opinion on national service, or the opening line of their favourite novel. Most people will freeze up in that scenario.
If you are going to ask for contributions, do it in advance.
“In a moment I’m going to ask you your favourite ice cream flavour.”
Then give them a moment to think about it. If your question comes out of nowhere, it will confuse and disorient people, which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Don’t criticise the subject of the presentation. It might be tempting to say “before we get into the boring stuff…”. This attitude signals to the audience to disengage with the topic because you yourself have shown little respect for it.
Don’t get personal. It might seem obvious, but sometimes a joke that goes down well in a social setting just has a bullying tone with strangers. Telling a young person “You don’t look old enough to be here” might not seem particularly offensive, but what does it actually achieve? You might get a laugh from the room, but only by putting that person in the spotlight.