Speed Icebreakers: How to Do Them

I love this module. I’ve done it at my birthday parties and with a group of 20 at my home. Nagina has done it, too, and I think so has Tyler. Draft post, just for JD’s party 🙂 If you’re reading this, please remind me to update it! — Nick

Warning: This activity is extremely high energy. It’s guaranteed to increase the number of connections which are made at your party. It’ll also create a very loud room.

  • If you want to try Speed Icebreakers, I suggest waiting until at least your third or fourth party. You need the experience to wrangle the group.
  • Jump down to the Videos at the bottom of this page to see them in action.
  • Make sure you turn the music down before starting this activity.
  • Have your harmonica handy!! You will need it.
  • You also need a decently large space: enough room for 10 or so people to stand side-by-side.
Speed Icebreakers, in my apartment – April 2018. Note how there are (roughly) two lines of people (the line runs right to left), and they are all facing off in pairs.

How It Works

  1. Your guests stand in two lines, facing each other.
    If you have a 16 guests at your party, split them into two lines of 8.
  2. You announce a new icebreaker question every 60 seconds. Each time, they switch partners.

Which Icebreakers to Use

You’ll need at least eight icebreaker questions. Use the list of Advanced Icebreakers from The 2-Hour Cocktail Party book, or pick any of these:

  • What was your first job?
  • Have you ever met anyone famous?
  • What are you reading right now?
  • What’s left on your bucket list?
  • What was your first screen name and why?
  • If you were to do a first citywide poll, what would you want to learn?
  • If you could be guaranteed one thing in life besides money, what would it be?
  • Brag to your partner about the best things going on in your life in the past 30 days.
  • If you had kids, would you want them to be smart or good-looking and why?
  • What’s one bad habit that you’re trying to get rid of?
  • What’s one great habit that you’re really proud of?
  • What’s a compliment someone gave you that you still think about?
  • Ten years ago, what was your favorite band?
  • What’s your favorite family tradition?
  • What’s something you want to do in the next few years that you’ve never done?
  • Do you have a favorite charity that you wish more people knew about?
  • Do you collect anything, or did you ever?

Scripts: What to Say

Setup

OK, everybody. We’re going to gather here as a group and do one of my favorite activities, which is called speed icebreakers. The reason that we’re doing this is to try and help you talk to a whole bunch of new people in a short amount of time. What I need everybody to do is to form two lines facing each other. There’s about fifteen people here, so we’re going to do two lines of seven and we’ll have one person on the end.

Expect the room to get very loud as soon as your guests start moving around. To keep people focused, sound your harmonica and say:

Okay. Face up. Everybody should be facing somebody else. You should have a partner for this activity.

If there’s an odd number of people, and someone is extra on the end, say:

It’s okay if there’s an extra person. You at the end, you become this person’s partner for this activity. You two at the end are going to move around together.

Then:

Great! We’re facing each other. What I’m going to do for this activity is read off a series of icebreaker questions. You’re going to introduce yourself to your partner. Then, you’re going to answer the question and have your partner answer the question as well. We’ll have about one minute for each question, so be brief.

Choose one line of guests to move (to rotate) while the other stays still. Issue the following instruction:

When we rotate, only this line here will step down one. Then, you there at the end, you’re going to come all the way around over here to be linked up with this person. All right? Everybody got it?

Wait for your guests to confirm. Then tell them the first question: (I usually say it twice, or repeat it in a different way)

Good. The first question is: What’s left on your bucket list? What is something that is left on your bucket list? Introduce yourself to your partner, and go – start!

At this point, be prepared for the room to grow with noise and energy.

As the host, you read from a list of questions. Give your guests about a minute to answer each question, then blow your harmonica again to indicate that the icebreaker is finished. The people in the line that’s moving step across one place, so that they’re in front of someone new.

When you make the announcement to do this, you’ll probably have to blow your harmonica a lot. People will be busy talking and want to keep talking – this is normal. Over all the noise, say:

Okay. Time is up. Now, we’re going to switch. I want this group to step over one place…

And then announce the new icebreaker question.

Note that people tend to want to introduce themselves immediately. They may start talking before you instruct them to. It’s up to you to keep a firm grasp on this activity.

For a group of 16, where there are 8 possible pair-ups, it means you will need to ask 8 questions. Keep an eye on the time. This activity shouldn’t last more than 10-15 minutes.

Sample Videos

April 2018: unedited, raw video at my apartment of Speed Icebreakers (YouTube mirror)

Tyler’s comment on this video:
“I used this for a 30 person party back in December & it worked perfectly! Note how Nick tells them WHY we’re doing speed dating questions (to meet a lot of people since it’s disappointing that doesn’t always happen). Framing these up makes the night feel first-class instead of cheesy or forced. And the reason I love the screen name question is because it’s easy to answer and it gets an immediate/fun response right away like it did in the video!

June 2018: raw video from Speed Icebreakers in Melbourne, Australia at a professional networking-type event that I hosted in a hotel lobby (YouTube mirror)