Icebreakers: What really Matters to You Graphic

Icebreakers can work for writers as well as speakers.

We know ice breaker games from summer camps, team building meetings, and orientations. Fun, get-to-know-each-other exercises.  Toastmasters International has their own version of Icebreakers.  In their first speech given to their club, new members lay a foundation for future relationships by talking about themselves and what’s important to them.

Literally Breaking the Ice

Icebreakers accelerate thawing by breaking ice into pieces, thus increasing the amount of surface area of the ice exposed to warmth.

If you think about the term, it’s a rich metaphor. It’s not waiting for water to change from its solid state to the liquid one via a slow melt. Rather, it’s a proactive step to promote the change of status-quo. Strangers into acquaintances. Readers into followers.

An icebreaker is a first step towards cementing a connection you want to sustain.

If we were putting together a preface to a book, we’d probably want to spell out for readers what it was that we thought would make it important for them to read what we’d written.  In addition, we’d include what moved us to write.

However, a lot of us focus on the stories of other people. Many others of us, assume that our narratives will reveal who we are and what matters to us. Few of us what to spell it out.

Putting Yourself on the Page

Last week, I observed the power of ice breakers to connect with listeners (or readers, if they are written), when the speaker (or writer) opens up.

Not surprisingly, at least to me, the lesson came not from my elders, but from a group of millennials. Teenagers to be exact.

My Toastmasters club  coaches teens from Detroit Public Schools who have signed up for a six-week college prep experience during the summer. Once things started rolling, the teaching became a two-way street.

Ice breakers, both the party and the Toastmasters kind, typically include where you’re from, who is in your family, what you do—or want to do—for a living.

This group of teens did it differently. They crushed the ice, elevating their icebreakers to a level that would make memoir writing coaches drool.

They showed their wounds and their vulnerabilities. They connected.

Their three to four-minute long speeches made the adults in the room want to know them better. Yearn to know them better.

A Taste of Honest Icebreakers

“I’m going to tell you a secret,” said one young man.  “I’m scared all the time.” He gave his peers a glimpse of what it’s like to come from what he referred to as a zero-parent home, as opposed to a single-parent home.  He ended his speech with, “You many think I’m standoffish, but really—I’m just afraid.”

Another introduced the monkey on her back. Her friend and near constant companion that repeatedly leads her down the road to bad grades, anti-social behaviors, and self-destructive thoughts.  Persistent Depression.

Yet another feels like he’s a star. An achiever, on his way to success. But, he says, “burning bright” comes with a cost. The “brightest of stars live in the vacuum of outer space.”

Takeaways and Payoffs

Icebreakers don't wait for a slow melt I know. Most of us find that level of introspection and emotional articulation hard to execute.

On the other hand, the potential payoffs are tremendous—creating a bond with the people around you as well as casual listeners or readers.

One way to get there is to explore that kind of heart-on-your-sleeve, ripping-off-the-bandaid-and-showing-your-wound writing in private.

Your Turn

Try it. Take out a piece of paper, one that you don’t ever have to share with another soul if you don’t want to. Write out your most brutal, vulnerable ice breaker.

How does total honesty feel? Do you want to wear it outside?


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