11 Ice Breaker Methods for Dynamic Online Meetings and Workshops

6 Min.
Ice Breaker Methods for better online sessions

Online meetings, virtual conferences and digital workshops have become indispensable. Compared to offline events, it's often more difficult for participants to warm up and participate in discussions in a virtual setting. Agile coach Oliver Wüntsch has eleven ice breaker methods for you that make it easier to get started in digital events and promote interaction. Have fun trying them out!

Especially in digital meetings via Zoom and the like, there's a danger that the participants switch off mentally. A good online workshop, on the other hand, focuses on interaction and exchange. It's therefore important to speak clearly in short sentences and to keep the content as varied as possible. Nothing is worse for attention than a monotonous voice reading out the slides of the presentation. Practical examples and questions to the participants help loosen up the atmosphere. Plan ice breakers where all participants can become active themselves and contribute their perspective. You'll quickly notice that enthusiasm is contagious, as is humor and fun.

Since online workshops lack direct social interaction, you should plan the entire meeting in advance. Are you tired of the participants of your workshops hardly participating and hiding behind switched-off cameras? In order to increase the participation and engagement of all participants and to keep the attention high, I present eleven icebreaker methods below:

  • Breakout sessions for exchange in small groups
  • Chat waterfall for ideas, questions and comments
  • Rename for more info
  • Three hashtags for quick rounds of introductions
  • Round robin for more flow in feedback rounds
  • Closed eyes to check mood
  • Speed dating for a plus of adrenaline
  • Desk exercises for better circulation
  • Quick drawings for more fun
  • The craziest device as an exercise to loosen people up
  • Short breathing exercises to calm down

1. Breakout sessions

The focus of a good online workshop is on the interactivity of the participants and actively involves them from the beginning. As the moderator of the meeting, you act as the leader but you always give the participants space to interact with each other.

Breakout rooms are a real game changer for particularly interactive workshops. These are independent small working groups that can be dynamically created by the facilitator. In the group rooms, participants have the opportunity for focused exchange on specific topics. The great advantage of breakout sessions is that the virtual work in small groups helps to break up your online meeting and stimulate the participation of the participants. 

Which participants are assigned to which group room depends on the default setting in the respective tool. Either you leave the decision to chance or to the visitors of the event. After the predefined time for group work has elapsed, everyone automatically returns to the main room.

2. Chat waterfall

Often the very beginning of a meeting determines the willingness of the participants to listen attentively and participate. People show more commitment when they feel connected to a cause. Therefore, it's important to pick up everyone from the beginning and create a sense of community.

The so-called chat waterfall helps to get the attention of your virtual audience right at the beginning. With this method, all participants are asked to answer a question by sending short messages in the chat. Each participant only sends their answer when the moderator asks for it. The question about previous experience with the respective topic is suitable for introductory rounds, for example.  

Depending on the composition of the group, however, a witty introduction can also be useful. Possible questions include: What object are you looking at when you look up from your PC? How awake (on a scale of 1 to 10) are you right now?

A chat waterfall not only shakes up the participants, but also comes along without any hurdles. Everyone's thoughts are focused on a specific topic, and each person in the chat can express an idea. As the moderator, you can read the answers aloud and respond to some of them if necessary. This activates and connects the group right from the start.

11 Ice Breaker Methods for Dynamic Online Meetings and Workshops
Possible questions for the chat waterfall

3. Rename

This method is used to get to know each other better in the group or to work out certain groupings. It's very simple, you just ask the participants to change their names in the settings of the tool. For example, first and last names can be changed to nicknames. Or you ask everyone to include not only their name, but also the city they are in. When looking at the new names afterwards, comparisons can be made and similarities identified. This little icebreaker is not only fun, but also promotes a sense of community.

4. Three hashtags (3#s)

This method is used to introduce the participants to each other and to get to know one another. It also works for large groups. Each participant is allowed to use three hashtags (or keywords) to introduce themselves to the others. The hashtags are used to describe oneself and can be, for example, characteristics or hobbies. Especially with new groups, this icebreaker helps to make the participants more tangible. Of course, the method can also be applied to other topics. 

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5. Round robin  

Round robin brings more dynamics into brainstorming as well as into welcome and feedback rounds. It's a special variant of brainstorming. It starts with a question or problem that's answered by one participant. Immediately afterwards, this person nominates the next speaker, who follows up on the content of what was said before. This creates a flow in which all team members have their say. The aim is to get everyone involved, to generate and improve ideas and to bring a positive dynamic into the conversation.

6. Closed eyes

Ask the participants to close their eyes and answer a question only with "yes" or "no". For a "yes", participants hold their hand up with their thumb facing the camera. A thumb pointing down means "no". With this method you can quickly gather authentic feedback. It's also suitable for a quick mood check: "I understand what the next steps are? Moreover, it's a good way to ask about current needs, as in "I really need a break".

7. Speed dating

In this method, two people come together for a short time (for example, three minutes) in a breakout session. Afterwards, the allocation to the rooms changes so that everyone has the opportunity to get to know the other participants "in private". The focus is on communication, the topic plays a subordinate role. To make the conversations as entertaining as possible, creative questions are good: Today I was particularly happy about...? Would you rather be extremely intelligent or extremely good at dealing with people? If a robot could do just one thing for you, what would it be?

8. Desk exercises 

Entertaining gymnastic exercises keep the attention high and release physical tension after hours of sitting. Online, for example on YouTube, there are many exercises that can be done at any time, both in the office and at home. Shared movement also promotes community. For example, ask the participants to walk around the chair, activate the group to do simple yoga or stretching exercises for the neck and throat, or have the participants show their current mood through gestures.

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These exercises are easy to do at home

9. Quick drawings

Small drawing tasks can be used to check the mood and motivation of the participants. In addition, they offer the possibility to ask the participants tasks related to the topic of the workshop. The results can then be shared by holding the drawings up to the webcam. Here you should tell the participants to get pen and paper or they can draw on their digital device and share it later via screen sharing.

10. The craziest device

In this method, the participants have one minute to bring the most unusual device from their home in front of the camera. If necessary, you can extend the exercise by asking the participants to present their device to another person in breakout sessions without showing the device beforehand. The other person should guess which device it is based on the clues.

11. Short breathing exercises

Regular short and active breaks increase performance and aid concentration. Short meditation or breathing exercises are a real "energizer". These allow participants to calm down and switch off for a short time. Here you can find a few examples of breathing exercises.

Conclusion: Interactive elements for successful online workshops

Like meeting room collaboration, digital collaboration from your desk chair at home has its advantages and disadvantages. The icebreakers described here will help you to make your next online workshop interactive and create space for a productive working atmosphere. It is important to let all participants have their say at the beginning of the workshop. Breakout sessions, small group discussions and activating exercises will help you to connect the group and keep them engaged.

Your questions about the Ice Breaker

What questions do you have for Oliver? We look forward to your comments. Are you interested in online marketing? Then follow RAIDBOXES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

Oliver Wüntsch is an expert in agile change management. As a business coach and process consultant, he has successfully supported advertising and digital agencies, creative executives and startup founders in challenging change processes and complex decision-making situations since 2008. Agile thinking and lean working principles are for him the most effective answers to the increasing digitalization of markets.

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