3 Training Icebreakers That Don’t Suck


Okay, kids. We’re going to kick off this blog post with an exercise to get to know one another a little better. Let’s do the tried-and-true icebreaker “3 Truths and a Lie”.

Yes, now.

(Did you think I was kidding?)

I’m going to share 4 statements about myself – three of these statements are true, but one is a lie. Below, in the comments, you’re going to try to guess which of these 4 statements is the lie. I know you know how this works! Here we go:

1. I graduated 20 years ago, but I still hold a school record in swimming at my high school.

2. I have a crippling fear of hamsters.

3. I have been to 45 of the 50 states.

4. I own over 100 pairs of shoes.

How well do you think you know your friendly phase(two)learning blogger? Tell me what you think. I’ll give you a day or so to add your comment, and then I’ll confess which one is the lie.

Icebreakers can be a great way to kick off a training session. But I’ll admit, I have been using this same “3 Truths and a Lie” exercise for oh-so-many years. So many years, that I’m surprised no one has ever called me out for using repeat material… ;)

I know other icebreakers, but sometimes in a pinch, it’s just easier to stick with what you know will work.

Earlier today, a non-trainer friend of mine leveraged the power of Facebook to crowd-source some icebreaker ideas for an upcoming meeting (social learning, anyone??). Naturally, I was intrigued. I offered her a couple of no-prep icebreaker ideas that I’ve used in the past, and thought I’d share them with you all here.

1) “Common Ground”

Divide into small groups of 3-5 people, have each group list as many things as they can think of that EVERYONE has in common – “We are all the youngest sibling in our families,” “We are all wearing black shoes,” “None of us have been to South America” – etc. Give them about 3 minutes. It’s always fun to see what they come up with.

2) “Combined Experience”

This is quick – you can split into small groups or stay in a large group. Everyone shares how many years of professional experience they have (or years with the company, whatever is relevant for the group), then add the individual years together to get your “combined experience” total. If you’re in small groups, you can have fun with “veterans” vs “rookies”, etc. If there is time, people can share a little about their professional background or experience.

I got both of these ideas quite some time ago from my good friends at Langevin – check out their blog for more great tips!

For the third icebreaker that doesn’t suck, I modified this from one of the crowd-sourced suggestions on my friend’s Facebook status:

3) “What’s for Dinner?”

As you do introductions, everyone gives their basic information, but then also shares their favorite restaurant. If you have a group of locals, you might come up with some great tips on new places to try. If the group is geographically diverse, it gives a neutral glimpse into others’ cultures and interests. Either way, people typically enjoy talking about food.

And you call it “What’s for Dinner?” because chances are you’ll be craving something yummy by the time the exercise is over…

These are easy to use. Honestly, a good icebreaker should require little-to-no advance preparation. As facilitators, we should always have an arsenal of good icebreakers and energizers to utilize in our sessions. What are your go-to exercises? After you guess what my “lie” is, please share an icebreaker idea in the comments below. Because as you know, facilitators are constantly on the lookout for new ideas…

Preferably ones that don’t suck.

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24 thoughts on “3 Training Icebreakers That Don’t Suck

  1. Brian Washburn says:

    I think you’ve been to more than 45 states.

    When it comes to icebreakers, my go-to is generally the 6-word memoir, or write a quick haiku about yourself (or the topic at hand).

    Congrats on the shout out from ASTD.

    • Michelle says:

      Hey Brian…thanks for sharing and for the congrats! Haikus are awesome. Great idea! As for my “lie”, I just shared the results in a new post. You’ll have to check it out to learn if you were right or not. :)

      • Brian Washburn says:

        That’s funny – I always use “I’ve been to all 50 states” as my one lie! Unfortunately, I’m in Washington state, so bringing you here to facilitate wouldn’t do anything for your goal of getting to OR or AK or any of the other three states.

  2. Michelle says:

    Yep, I was able to check Washington off my list a few years back…I was on a long-term training project with Microsoft and spent quite a bit of time in Redmond and Bellevue. Love it out there!

  3. Anne Bulstrode says:

    I do a lot of Management and Teambuilding training using Personality Dimensions/True Colors and my go to icebreaker for this type of training is People Bingo – where everyone gets a bingo card with different insights into people’s personalities (i.e. I am a true romantic, I am a deep thinker, I am extremely organized, I love to compete).

    Everyone gets up and moving and has to find other people in the room that will allow them to complete a line on their bingo card.

    I find this one great because it gets people moving and talking and it is also related to the content of the program. It could easily be adapted to any subject matter. I got this one when I became a certified Personality Dimensions trainer.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Anne! This is a great exercise! You’re absolutely right, it could easily be modified to fit different types of content. And getting people up and moving is important…this would be great for the after-lunch slump!!

      Have a super day…thanks for sharing!

  4. Melissa Hudler says:

    The ones that involve groups would be useful in an academic setting as well. I use a lot of group-based learning in my classes and think that these would be useful not only as ice-breakers but also to establish the group-based learning environment. I’ve also heard of professors who teach online using the 3 truths and 1 lie technique as a way to humanize their online classes. I’m finding more and more that techniques used in the corporate world translate well to the academic world. I think that this is due to the increased emphasis on collaborative learning and assessment.

  5. Michelle says:

    Hi Melissa – This is really fascinating! It’s interesting how group dynamics can blur between an academic and a corporate setting. And you’re absolutely right, learning (in both environments) is more collaborative than it once was. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  6. Hurricane says:

    I can’t imagine anyone having a crippling fear of hamsters. They’re just cute little furballs. A fun, and silly, icebreaker I learned a long time ago is: “Finish this sentence. If I had to get a tattoo it would be ______________ and why.” Then you add quickly “Not where! We have to remember we’re at work!” Always gets some good laughs and everyone has fun with it. No one is allowed to say they would never get a tattoo. By the way, I don’t have any.

  7. Shannon Tipton says:

    Hi Michelle – I was really interested in seeing what you included here – especially being in my last “Learning Rebel” post I made the exact comment “In general, icebreakers suck”. Glad that you provided 3 new ones to add to the toolbox. My favorite suggestion comes from Anne in the comments, I have used the BINGO opener to great success as well. You can personalize it if you happen to have some sort of insider information on your group. My all time favorite is a scavenger hunt. You can break it into two parts, one as an starting icebreaker and then you can finish it up as an after lunch exercise where it’s not only an energizer of sorts, but if you plan it right it can also me a refresher of some of the learning covered before lunch.

    PS – going with crippling fear of hamsters, seems crazy enough to be true. ;-D

  8. Tim Gustafson says:

    Ice breakers that do not support the training outcomes are a waste. Consider this:
    o Start your meeting or training with a short (2-3 minute) overview by the facilitator of the desired outcome
    o Start one to one conversations between the facilitator and each participants. This builds trust between facilitator and participant.
    0 Use a partner activity leading into small group activity. This helps participants feel safe, while remaining on the subject.

    Knowing the guy next to me collects do dads does not help me learn the tasks I am here to learn.

    • Shannon Tipton says:

      Hi Tim – Just read your comment, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I think the icebreaker or any energizer should have something to do with the session at hand. I.e. if the session is communication have a communication based icebreaker.

      I would challenge #1 as a student I don’t want to hear what you think the desired outcome should be, the desired outcome should be what I think it should be. I hit them at the door with post-it notes and ask them to write out what they hope to learn from the session, this way if I notice we have a gap I can adjust. Plus it lets the students know that “I’m on their side” so-to-speak. Just my thought for a Friday.

      • Michelle says:

        Hi Shannon and Tim – great thoughts from both of you! I think there are numerous ways to connect an icebreaker (or really any exercise used in a session) back to the objective – thanks for sharing those ideas! While I agree that it’s important to do that, I also think creating an environment that is enjoyable is important to encourage participation. Sometimes stepping away from the topic at hand for a brief moment is a good way to refresh, reset and connect with each other…in my experience, this simple act can lend itself to greater focus and interaction when the topic is re-introduced.

        Thanks again – enjoy your day!

      • Shannon Tipton says:

        Michelle – I agree. The beginning icebreaker, in my opinion, should have something to do with the session – however, in the middle of the day, it’s just nice to give the brain cells a break. Especially if it’s a heavy topic. In particular, “the YMCA stretch”. You guide them in 4 stretching moves that mimic YMCA, and repeat and third time start singing YMCA. Guaranteed laugh and you’ve stretched a little. Win-win. Happy Friday!!

  9. Michelle says:

    Also…I’m taking two ideas away from you both, Shannon and Tim:

    1) The partner activity leading into a small group activity. Not sure I’ve set up an activity exactly like that before, I’m trying it!

    2) Hitting participants with Post-its as they arrive…I am always looking for a new way to use Post-its, Shannon. Can’t live without them! :)

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