This year has brought many uncertainties and upheavals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one of the most disconcerting has been the shift to working from home for those who are new to it. In addition to the sudden lack of familiar routines, workable processes, and team collaboration, remote leaders face the challenge of successfully facilitating the now ubiquitous Zoom meetings. That’s why Zoom meeting icebreakers are so important.
Few experiences are more intimidating than leading a meeting when you’re talking to a bunch of black squares. Capturing or recapturing positive team dynamics can take some time and skill as a facilitator. And while everyone is starting to acclimate to Zoom, another new challenge emerges: Zoom fatigue!
One tested method of increasing engagement, participation, and enjoyment of Zoom meetings is to incorporate a variety of Zoom meeting icebreakers. To assist beleaguered team leaders, below are some samples of the creative, inspiring, and effective Zoom meeting icebreakers employed by other leaders just like you.
1. Open-Ended Questions
The most common icebreaking technique is to ask your team members open-ended questions. But what questions should you ask? The team at Range, a team success software platform, has kindly created a list of 300+ icebreaker questions to help you out. The questions suggested by this free tool are specifically designed using behavioral science and feature three difficulty levels depending on how long a team has been working together:
- Intro: For new teams
- Tricky: For tight-knit teams
- Tough: It’s time to get real
2. Would You Rather
This classic game consists of presenting participants with two scenarios and asking them which they prefer and why. Tal Shelef, realtor and co-founder, Condo Wizard, finds that this technique encourages people to talk more about themselves:
“I find that employees have been more relaxed, developing better relationships with each other over common interests, and as a result, productivity has been increasing.”
3. Two Truths and a Lie
Another popular get-to-know-you icebreaker, this game consists of each participant saying two truths and a lie. Afterward, the rest of the participants try to tell which is which. To make it more relevant, Jay Scott, HR Manager at Pugsquest, suggests including work-related truths and lies to find humor amidst all the seriousness. The results of this icebreaker have been hugely successful for Scott:
“You can always feel great energy amongst the participating members. It has helped foster teamwork and comradery, which greatly helps with the growth of the company.”
4. Alliteration Game
Laura Fuentes, the operator of Infinity Dish, gets her team focused on word games like the alliteration game. During this icebreaker, she picks a letter and team members say words that start with the same letter without repeating. Since there is no table or room on Zoom to go around, each person calls out who is next. According to Fuentes,
“This keeps the anticipation high! These games keep everyone focused, quick on their toes, and are a lot of fun, which is a great way to break into a meeting.”
5. Collaborative Storytelling
Another fun technique that is effective for breaking Zoom fatigue is storytelling. Paul French, managing director of Intrinsic Search, describes his team’s version of this game:
“Participants weave a story together with each person taking turns to add a sentence at a time, beginning each subsequent sentence with a specific phrase that helps to build the story. The resulting narrative is always unexpected and completely funny.”
In addition to starting meetings with a good laugh, he finds that getting colleagues to build a narrative together promotes collaboration and creativity.
6. Bingo Scavenger Hunt
In another version of show and tell, Daniel Carter, founder of Zippy Electrics, developed a unique version of Bingo to help his team focus.
“I am glad to say that it works every single time. After doing the game, each of us becomes more attentive during the meeting sessions.”
Instead of cards, each team member starts with a blank sheet of paper. All participants then list one unique item they have at home. If other participants also have the item, they list it on their paper, too. The one who ends up with the longest list of items is the winner.
7. Virtual Tours
Other Zoom meeting icebreakers involve quick virtual tours such as the one employed by Martin Seeley, CEO of MattressNextDay. In his Zoom icebreaker, each person in the meeting takes turns to give a quick virtual tour of their home office or work desk.
“Through getting a glimpse of their colleagues’ workspaces, I want my employees to feel like they are in the same room, even though they might be miles apart. As a bonus, some of my employees get ideas on how to improve their home offices or organize their desks.”
8. What TV Shows Are You Binge-Watching?
James Major, owner and founder of Insurance Panda, noticed a team participation issue on Zoom after the start of the pandemic. People who were once quite talkative in the office were now quiet and reserved. To get his team members engaged, he started asking what TV shows they have been binge-watching.
“Sure, we wasted an hour of work time talking about Netflix shows, but it was worth it. Since then, everyone seems to be more participative on Zoom.”
9. What’s Cooking with You?
Another favorite pandemic activity is baking and cooking. Bruce Harpham, marketing consultant for SaaS Marketing Services, talks about his recent experience with a watercooler icebreaker about cooking.
“I was on a Zoom meeting last week where everybody talked about their favorite steak preparation techniques. It was fascinating! The result was a highly animated discussion for five to 10 minutes about steak. Later on, I felt inspired to look up some baking recipes! I’m looking forward to trying my hand at pumpkin spice muffins for the first time later this month.”
10. What’s on Your Virtual Background?
Nina Krol, outreach manager at Zety stumbled on a fun way to use virtual backgrounds as Zoom meeting icebreakers.
“I once showed up on my Zoom’s daily status with folks from the TV series ‘Friends’ on my video call background. I told my team I felt lonely at home and decided to invite a few friends over. This was when the idea was born—we thought it would be fun for everyone to choose scenes from lesser-known movies and TV shows so that others can guess what it is. And believe me, with zombies and superheroes creeping in from behind, our meetings are never the same!”
11. Answer My Question
Another way to use virtual backgrounds is favored by Abigail Whittington, a writer for Supergreat. In this version, a team member sends out a question via Slack prior to the meeting.
“These prompts always ask us out-of-the-box questions like, ‘What are three items you would bring with you into the afterlife?’ We then all set our Zoom background as a photo that represents our answer to the question. When the meeting begins, we take turns sharing how our photos answer the question and then we continue updating the team on our week.”
Whittington finds this activity also improves team dynamics.
12. Bring Me…
According to Allan Borch, founder of DotcomDollar, “Bring Me” is a great way to inject energy into a meeting. To play, the facilitator needs to gather a few unique items prior to the meeting. Then, each item would be shown at a moment when no one is paying attention. When the participants see an item, they go find one in their homes.
“The objective of this game is simple. It’s to help the participants avoid lethargic moments. The bottom line is it helps them to have improved blood circulation and to avoid drowsy moments.”
13. Stop Dance
James Bullard, founder of Sound Fro, says his team plays the classic Stop Dance game. Whenever his boss feels that his team is getting bored with the length of the meeting, he plays a song and everyone gets up to dance. He says that while this seems awkward, it’s beneficial.
“It’s actually fun because you’ll see that even the old employees are participating. It doesn’t just help us to stretch our bodies but this game helps us to have fun during a tiring hour-long meeting.”
14. What’s Your Favorite App?
Each person in Daniel Foley’s Zoom meetings is asked to share useful and essential apps that are helping them while working remotely. As director for Assertive Media, he finds that doing this every week helped his team built a useful toolbelt of apps to use. As he says,
“It doesn’t always have to be apps, one week you could focus on books, and the next on inspiring YouTube videos—each time helping to build a stronger team that is looking after each other.”
15. Introduce Your Partner
Milena Regos, founder of Unhustle, asks the attendees of her meetings to break out in rooms with two people where each person answers the following questions:
- What keeps them up at night
- Their latest achievement
- One thing about them no one can find online
Then, the other person has to introduce them to the group. Regos finds this technique, “allows for instant human connection, fun, and improves listening skills.”
16. The Rose and Thorn
As CEO and online marketing expert for SEO Mandarin, Robert Stam feels Zoom staff meetings play an important role in reaffirming company culture and maintaining employee engagement. To ensure his group calls go smoothly, he likes to use an icebreaker called the Rose and Thorn.
“Each employee states one work-related and one non-work-related rose (a positive that makes them feel grateful) and one thorn (a challenge) they have recently encountered. This gets people chatting and a bit involved with each other’s days.”
17. Icebreaker for a Large Team
Sometimes, the video call is too large for most Zoom meeting icebreakers. Tori Greene, the Miami field manager for OneTable suggests asking participants questions and asking them to respond by turning their video on and off. She has found several benefits to this approach.
“By gamifying the start of the meeting, participants tend to be more positive and participatory. Plus, by using this tool as a chance to create community, we see people engaging more in the chat when asked questions.
18. It’s a Draw
Another tool that can be used in Zoom meeting icebreakers is the whiteboard. Miraya Berke, head of marketing for Mixily, shares her screen and selects the whiteboard before encouraging meeting participants to draw something in response to a prompt, such as your favorite dessert. She says,
“Give everyone about a minute and by the end, you’ll have a colorful group illustration and a good laugh. It uses a feature of Zoom that not everyone is familiar with, so it’s a nice surprise from a typical Zoom meeting.”
19. Playing Dress-Up
One out-of-the-ordinary method that has proven successful for some Zoom meetings is to incorporate dress-up into an otherwise boring meeting. As Adam Korbl, CEO of iFax, indicates, ending up with an eclectic mix of clowns, chefs, and wizards, Korbl found it really worked for the team.
“The best icebreakers that I’ve come across have been the ones where we were all told to dress up during Zoom calls. Everyone enjoyed learning more about the interests of others and how they see the world.”
20. Sometimes It’s the Simple Things that Work Best
As someone who has been running a company remotely and working from home since 2015, Alex Azoury, Founder & CEO of Home Grounds, has many tricks up his sleeve to keep employees and co-workers engaged in video meetings. However, his favorite Zoom meeting icebreaker is simply a quick check-in. He explains:
“Everyone gets a chance to rate their day on a scale of one to 10. It is great for building a sense of community and morale because we are more acutely aware of how our co-workers are feeling.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom meetings are on track to become a regular part of many businesses. Thanks to these Zoom meeting icebreakers, hiring managers can engage employees, keep things fresh, and shed the monotony. That’s something that everyone can enjoy, no matter how long remote work sticks around.
Do you have any Zoom meeting icebreakers that have worked for you? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you!
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