It’s tough to come up with a monologue about yourself on the spot, even for the most eloquent of public speakers. All too often we encounter the same tired, broad icebreaker questions to kick off professional events—like “Tell me about yourself” and “What do you do?”
There’s nothing glaringly wrong with these questions, but people usually have canned answers to them, probably a quick answer about their background and current position. They represent a straightforward way to get the conversation started, sure. But they’re not necessarily the most dynamic way to do so.
Whether you’re planning an event or attending one soon, consider these six types of icebreaker questions to use as creative conversation starters.
#1: Event-Related Questions
The most obvious common ground for attendees of an event is, well, the event itself. Everyone in the room has chosen to be there for some reason or another. Getting people to share why is a solid way to open the door for further conversation.
Inc. recommends asking “What motivated you to come to this event?” because it allows people to talk about their interests, goals and relevant background without getting too personal right off the bat.
#2: Would-You-Rather Questions
Before you work your way up to multiple-choice or open-ended questions—which can be overwhelming for people if they’re not warmed up to think on their feet—you can always throw out some would-you-rather questions.
With only two options from which to choose, people can answer quickly. Plus, people tend to have strong opinions on why they’d choose a certain option over another, which can lead to some lighthearted discussion.
#3: Finish-the-Sentence Questions
Finish-the-sentence questions are a bit more intensive, but the answers tend to be quite creative. Asking people to complete phrases like “When life gives you lemons…” or “There’s no place like…” will yield a variety of interesting answers, depending on whether people stick to the script or decide to mix it up completely.
#4: Nostalgic Questions
When in doubt, tap into people’s sense of fond nostalgia. What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled? What was your favorite snack as a kid? What’s something fictional you used to believe was real growing up? What was the first album you owned?
Although people’s answers will vary wildly, nostalgia is a universal experience to which we can all relate. Attendees might just find out they have more in common with colleagues and people sitting near them than originally thought if these questions open up the floodgates of conversation.
#5: Word-Cloud Responses
Word clouds from Poll Everywhere pair well with fun icebreaker questions because they allow everyone to contribute their answer as a word or emoji, which then becomes part of a collaborative experience. The cloud updates in real time based on participants’ responses—popular answers get bigger while more niche answers stay small. People then get the enjoyment of finding their answer, reading through others’ and talking about what they see.
#6: Philosophical Questions
If you’re asking icebreaker questions to a group at large, it’s up to organizers to decide which natures of questions are most appropriate for the event. Some situations call for surface-level questions, some for more professional queries. Sometimes fun, zany icebreakers are the way to go. And sometimes you may want to dive deeper, asking philosophical questions that make people stop and think before answering.
You could ask audience members to discuss a philosophical prompt for a few moments with someone sitting next to them—like “Are we in control of our destinies or do things happen by fate?” or “Is happiness the most important thing? If not, what is?” Just make sure the question is appropriate for the event and doesn’t spark any conversations too heated.
Icebreaker questions extend well beyond asking people to recite their resumes to the group. Get creative. Think outside the box. Ask people to engage on a meaningful level. This is the best way to keep people interested and generate quality conversation.