A Cup of Creativi-tea: Icebreakers

Terri Wilson is a solo librarian at the law firm of Underwood, Wilson, Berry, Stein, and Johnson, PC in Amarillo, Texas. She has a BFA in Theatre from Eastern New Mexico University, an MFA in Theatre from Texas Tech University, and an MS in Library & Information Science from the University of North Texas. Prior to becoming a law librarian, Terri was a paraprofessional for six years in the reference department of the University Library at Texas Tech. And prior to that, she explored a cornucopia of employment positions while a laboring as a struggling actor (emphasis on the struggling part). Terri has recently started a blog for creative ideas for librarians.

Picking up from last month's column about jumpstarting your meetings with a little creativity, this month I have some icebreakers for you that will come in handy along those lines. Whether you are running your usual one or two hour meeting, a day long seminar, or a weekly class/training session, you should find something here to fit your needs.

For a simple meeting, you will want an icebreaker that is quick so that you do not take up too much of your meeting time. All of the following exercises should be done quickly with no lengthy pondering to censor your creative juices. Encourage your group to write the first thing that pops into their head.

  • If money was no object, list 10 places anywhere in the world that you would like to visit.
  • List 10 things that you would do that you would normally be too embarrassed or afraid to do.
  • If you had all the free time in the world, list 20 things that you would like to do this week.
  • Here is an old standby: List 5 people, living or dead, that you would like to invite to a dinner party.

The ground rule for these types of icebreakers is that no one will have to share their list. The assurance of privacy will make people feel more comfortable about letting their imaginations fly. If you do this at the beginning of a meeting, you can then tie the exercise into the work that your group is doing. For instance, if your group is looking at online catalogs, you could do the "if money was no object" icebreaker followed by asking folks to list what features they would like from an online catalog "if money was no object."

Icebreakers for half-day or all-day seminars or weekly classes are more about letting participants get to know each other, although having creativity exercises throughout long sessions can help keep participants engaged.

  • My acting students always loved this one. Before any introductions to the class or each other are made, have everyone sit in a circle. Starting with yourself, state your name and a vegetable. For instance, I could be "Terri Tomato." Then choose one of the people next to you to do the same. Then he or she has to repeat your new name and theirs. Let's say the fellow to my left is Andrew. He must then say, "Terri Tomato, Andrew Artichoke." And then the next person and the next all the way around the circle, each having to name everyone from the beginning and add their own name. It's fun. It's silly. And for some reason people will always remember your vegetable, if not your name.
  • Have everyone write on a piece of paper a job that they once had. Put all of the slips of paper in a container and have everyone draw a slip. Then everyone has to try and find the person who matches the job on the slip of paper that they drew. This is a quick meet-and-mingle, and it teaches us a little bit about not judging a book by its cover. This can also be done with everyone writing a hobby that they have or a piece of trivia about themselves.
  • Quick Draw. This can be done in groups, as a competition, or just one person at a time. A person is selected to draw. You give them a subject (for instance, "school bus"), and then that person has to draw the subject in 10 seconds. No words are allowed to be spoken or written. The rest of the group must guess what the subject is. (You can also give the guessing group a specific time limit to get the answer.) If you have a smaller group of people, everyone can take a turn as the person who draws the picture while everyone else guesses. If you have enough people to create a couple of teams, you can turn the event into a competition.

Icebreakers should be fast and fun and have some imaginative element to them. This will help loosen up your group and get them to think in less linear ways, a prerequisite for starting that creative flow.