I have been working on icebreaker questions for NewBCamp, and if I stick with what I’ve come up with, I will inadvertently bog down the beginning of the event. I’m realizing that it’s not the questions that are the problem, it’s my concept of what people need at the beginning of an event that needs revision.
When I think of “breaking the ice”, I get this picture of two people trying to avoid eye contact in an elevator, and one says to the other “Nice weather we’re having.” The term “icebreaker” implies there is an awkward silence – “ice” – and that people need help in getting to talk to one another – “breaker.” I would like to update this concept and propose the term “conversation flint.” For all you non-Boy Scouts out there, flint is the stone you strike against steel in order to generate the spark that starts your campfire.
Characteristics of Conversation Flint:
- facilitates an introduction
- avoids monopolizing the conversation
- makes it easy to segue into other topics
- assumes you want to talk to the other person
- allows for both in-the-box and out-of-the-box thinking – you don’t have to think too hard to answer, but you can be innovative if you want
- brings up features of your personality
Applied to a conversation, flint is different from an ice breaker in that it doesn’t try to give two people something to talk about, but instead simply acquaints two people who already have something they can talk about. The analogy of the spark works especially well for an unconference where the participants come to the event motivated and ready to meet people.