One of the hardest things to do is getting an audience to listen and engage with you. With the advancement of technology, so many people are connected to their phones making it difficult to concentrate on lectures or presentations.
Imagine speaking to a class of graduating high school students, and only a handful of them are listening to you while others can’t wait to leave the hall. Most likely, the speaker will become discouraged and may lose sight of the message because she doesn’t think it’s landing.
The good news? You can break the ice during a speech and in any networking setting to make others feel comfortable. Now, let’s talk ice breakers.
What is an icebreaker?
An icebreaker is an activity designed to engage the people around you by breaking some barriers to make people feel at ease. Tons of them work, but for this blog post, I’ll limit it to five and focus specifically on icebreakers for Toastmasters.
What is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of becoming a competent communicator, practicing public speaking, and sharing leadership skills. In a Toastmasters meeting, come prepared to give and hear speeches as well as receive evaluations for your next speech from fellow Toastmasters.
If you’re working on your first speech, covering important things with main points in a talk, learning how to maintain eye contact, or just want to tackle table topics for the first time, check out a local Toastmasters group and chat with Toastmasters club members. For more on Toastmasters, becoming a new member, and what to expect at your first meeting, click here.
How do you start a talk? Is it always with, “Good evening.”? Click here for a sample welcome speech that has worked wonders for many at corporate events. There are many sample speeches you can find online, but this one is a popular one here on Christina All Day.
If you want to learn more about the best icebreakers in a speech along with some speaking skills, I’ve got you covered. If you haven’t spent much time in front of an audience or given a Toastmasters speech before, here’s the first step: Ideas.
5 Toastmasters Icebreaker Ideas
1. Introduce yourself
Most public speakers don’t consider this as an icebreaker, but they’re wrong. When you arrive in a public setting with a group of people, it’s important to introduce yourself briefly by touching aspects of your family life, educational background, career, and general life experiences. But don’t make it all about you! Make it relevant to the person you’re speaking with or the event you’re attending. No one wants you to read them your resume. Keep this to a one-minute introduction.
Try to speak in a relaxed tone so that your audience feels comfortable and you appear less rehearsed than you may be. Whether you believe it or not, your audience may be curious and wants to know more. Introducing yourself by your first name alone doesn’t cut it.
If you successfully scale through this stage with some interesting fun facts about yourself, they’ll be drawn to you right away… so make sure to nail your introduction with a big smile.
2. Make a joke
Telling a joke in public is a tricky one, especially if you’re not a comedian. Imagine that you’re nominated to lead a presentation in an office where the company board would be present. Would you narrate how your five-year-old introduced you to her boyfriend? Probably not. If the same joke is told to first-time moms, they’ll probably laugh and relate. Do you see the difference? The topic of your icebreaker has to be relevant to your listeners and the setting you’re in.
One common misconception public speakers have with telling jokes is that they always expect full-blown laughter. One can be amused without necessarily showing it, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not making people bowl over in laughter. You can even fit this into your introduction!
3. Start with a story, but don’t finish it
I once heard a speaker tell his audience about how he made over $4,000 within his first few days as a freelancer. This grabbed the audience’s attention because everyone was excited about the revelation and wanted to know more. He knows you want to make extra cash and would listen to his tips, so he uses a simple trick. He starts telling us how he discovered freelancing and strategies to source for low-paying jobs. Then, he promised to open up and share techniques later.
This is a strategy many entrepreneurs use to sell a product or service at the end of a speech or webinar, but you can also use this in a bite-sized way as an icebreaker. It’ll get people talking, asking you questions, and draw people to you throughout the event. The key here is to not appear as if you’re trying to sell something. Don’t share a business pitch! Again, keep it conversational.
4. Open with a “raise-your-hand” question
This icebreaker can come in the beginning or in the middle of getting a speech. First, you want to ensure the question will encourage participation and it’s relevant. Just in case, be prepared with a follow-up if people don’t respond.
This icebreaker aims to increase audience engagement and convince non-participants that they are missing out. It’s like leveraging on the power of peer pressure but in a positive way. The best speaker will put a time limit on this. A couple of questions are great but don’t overdo it here.
5. Share some news
Sometimes, the beginning of a presentation is usually the hardest nut to crack. While there are no hard and fast rules to how you execute the first few minutes, a piece of breaking news can help. It makes the audience or the listener feel like you’re letting them in on a secret.
Imagine perusing the internet a few minutes before your speech and see breaking news published five minutes ago… and it’s relevant to your expertise. Since most of your audience hasn’t seen the story, not only will they be interested to learn more, but they will view you as an authority in your space with loads of credibility.
This icebreaker can be quite tricky and technical since we’re relying on something we can’t control – knowing all the details about news as it breaks, but it doesn’t always have to be. You can also share news of something that is odd or unique that you’ve personally experienced.
Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb to icebreakers. They are not created equal. Some work in specific environments, while others turn out to be a colossal disaster. In this next section, you’ll learn how to break the ice effectively and ensure it works for your audience.
5 Tips to Make an Icebreaker Work
1. Know your audience
If you get an invitation to speak to a group, the first thing you need to do is research your audience. This will help you stick to general icebreakers and the kind of speech that everyone can relate to.
2. Ensure that it is enjoyable
Why would I want to participate in an activity that would bore the life out of me? It is not an icebreaker if it makes your listeners uncomfortable. A successful icebreaker goes back to the first point. Knowing your audience (as just mentioned) helps you curate an enjoyable exercise for everyone.
3. Involve everyone in the audience
An icebreaker will only be successful if it is inclusive. While preparing the best ways to break the ice, consider a few possibilities. For example, if there is a physically disabled person in the crowd, stay away from any icebreakers that involve lots of movement.
4. Identify your presentation objective
Before you grab the microphone and take the stage, ask yourself some crucial questions like, “What do I want to achieve? Am I here to motivate, inform, or entertain?” Finding an answer helps you formulate an icebreaker that works.
5. Do not call an icebreaker by its name
One of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make in public speaking is calling an icebreaker its name – an icebreaker. It makes your audience feel awkward that they’ll be subjected to a task they may not even enjoy because many people will tell you they hate icebreaker games or events.
When people don’t know it’s an icebreaker, it’s more enjoyable. Often, people participate in icebreakers excitedly without even knowing. If you tell them to expect one, they register it in their subconscious and get bored (or even annoyed) before it starts.
5 Benefits of Icebreakers
It is common for people to get distracted, zone out, or even doze off while you’re talking to them. If they’re not engaged, it’s not entirely your fault. Maybe they’re the wrong audience or the topic isn’t of interest to them. Maybe your icebreaker fell flat and you need a new one. Here is why icebreakers are beneficial and you should include at least one in every talk.
1. Icebreakers help people relax and have fun
This works perfectly in serious conversations or in situations where people aren’t exactly thrilled to be listening to a speaker. A mild joke or witty story will go a long way in opening people up as you speak to them. This is especially important if you’ll need some audience participation along the line. When they cue into your flow, they’ll likely participate in any activity outlined for them.
2. Icebreakers break down awkwardness
For some beginner Toastmasters, they wonder how someone can grab the microphone and speak to dozens, hundreds, even thousands as though they’ve been friends forever. Icebreakers crack that awkwardness within the first few minutes.
3. Icebreakers create a positive atmosphere
Do you remember the previous point about getting people to raise their hands? You can only achieve that when you ask positive questions. No one wants to be associated with negativity. A positive atmosphere is created when people reduce their defense mechanisms and eradicate their barriers.
4. Icebreakers boost the energy in the room
After telling a story, one or two people could be prompted to ask a question. Better yet, when you give your audience a simple puzzle, they spend their time finding ways to unravel it. Instead of falling asleep or scrolling through social media, they’re energized and want to participate like everyone else – the fear of missing out (FOMO) is real!
5. Icebreakers offer additional networking opportunities
Your audience belongs to a particular demographic, and you’re speaking to that demographic for a reason! If you can get people to interact with you and one another, million-dollar ideas can be born. New businesses have kickstarted in conferences because of introductions made during icebreakers. You’ll become the talk of your industry as stories are told for years to come about that special meeting or event.
In a 30 second conclusion, try to encourage networking after your talk. It’s a great way to meet interesting people, hear about their past experiences, and meet some important people at a key event.
Implement these icebreaker tips shared in this article and watch your speaking career grow. If you think I missed out on a great icebreaker tip or icebreaker game, please add it in the comment box below.
I’d also love you to find me on Instagram at @ChristinaAllDay and tell me the best speech you’ve ever heard. Maybe it was an impromptu speech? Something with a lot of different contexts? Maybe you witnessed someone’s first attempt with a talk, saw them come up with a better idea, then they totally hit it out of the park? Share the positive feedback with me on Instagram!