One of the most popular ways for people to learn new skills and also build a profession network is through workshops. Since workshops can often be intimidating, the speaker should use appropriate icebreaker questions to make sure everyone is at ease.
So, what are good icebreaker questions?
Good ice-breaker questions allow you to find out more about your participants’ knowledge and interest in the topic. They can be professional, personal, or fun questions, and participants should not feel pressured to answer them.
Creating the right icebreaker question will not only allow the workshop participants to learn more about each other, but it can also make the person feel much more at ease.
You can also use icebreaker questions to introduce yourself and your topic. This is useful if many people in your audience are unfamiliar with the topic you are presenting.
What is an icebreaker question?
Before we go into what are good icebreaker questions, let’s find out what is an icebreaker question.
According to Wikipedia, an icebreaker question is a facilitation exercise intended to “warm up” the group by helping members to get to know each other. Icebreaker questions can also be used at social gatherings to introduce guests to one another.
Good icebreaker questions to start a workshop
Icebreaker questions that you create for your workshop will depend on the workshop topic:
1. Workshops on hobby-related topics are great for creating personal questions. Some examples are:
- Where is your favorite vacation destination?
- What is the best book you have ever read?
- Who is your biggest idol?
2. Workshops on business topics tend to have icebreaker questions that are more business-focused. Here, workshop participants can ask about the organization or about employment or job skills. Here are some examples:
- What was your first job?
- What is one professional skill you wish you had?
- How did you find out about “Company X”?
3. For more casual workshops, fun questions may be best. Examples of casual workshops are introductory workshops, where participants may be unsure of what they want to ask or do, and this can become overwhelming. It is best to keep questions lighthearted. Here are some amusing or fun questions you can ask:
- What superpower would you like to have?
- If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
- What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Catering to your workshop participants not only makes your workshop succeed, you can also expect them to be more involved and excited about what you are teaching. Let’s break down these types of questions and get more ideas.
Why you should ask icebreaker questions
Asking questions in a workshop is a great way to get the participants involved. Participants can share something interesting or distinctive about themselves without feeling stressed. They can find like-minded people to network with or to partner with, especially if the workshop has group activities.
These questions are a great way to make sure everyone is at ease, and you can also gauge the participants’ level of skill or interest. The amount of interest can help you determine how to address the group, as well as what you should and should not say (Shah, et al.).
Icebreaker questions can be off-topic or directly related to the topic being taught or discussed. For more professional workshops, you may be interested in finding out about a particular job or skill. On the other hand, you may be doing a workshop on friendship bracelets that would not require such a rigorous line of questions.
Is there a hierarchy of icebreaker questions?
Yes! It would be best if you can figure out how well the workshop participants know each other. If they all work for the same company, they probably know each other. If the workshop is about a hobby, like pottery making, they most likely have never met before the workshop.
You should gauge this and design the icebreaker questions based on how much you think someone is willing to share. Forcing someone to address a serious personal question in a lighthearted or fun workshop may make them feel even more uneasy. Similarly, asking a general question in a professional setting may give the impression that the workshop is not as serious as they expected.
One of the most popular types of personal workshops is those that teach personal development or improvement. Most personal workshop participants want to improve their existing quality of life. Many also want to know how to apply what they learned at a workshop at their jobs or to help others.
When choosing icebreakers, make sure the icebreakers are relevant to the workshop participants. Let them share their history, present, or future. This will help you better understand who they are, and they will be able to connect with others in the workshop who are similar to them.
Some personal workshop icebreaker questions:
- What is a skill you would love to have?
- Who was your favorite teacher, and why?
- What do you think is your best quality?
- Why are you taking this workshop?
- What are you most excited to learn about in this workshop?
- What is your favorite thing about where you live?
- What is one thing no one knows about you?
- What does your daily routine look like?
- What has been your biggest obstacle in life?
- What is one thing you wish you could do over?
Professional workshops are one of the easiest to organize. These workshops are usually related to a specific industry or the development of a particular skill. A corporation might conduct these workshops to ensure their employees are trained in a specific task or skill. These workshops can also be a great place to network. Entrepreneurs often attend these professional workshops to master a variety of skills.
Icebreaker questions in professional workshops should be related to the workshop topic. If a company is hosting a particular workshop, you could ask the participants questions to find out how much they know about the company, what they would like to improve, or what they plan to do with the skill they are learning from the workshop. The answers to these questions can help you design the workshop, especially if you are doing a Needs Analysis of the workshop.
Here are some professional workshop icebreaker questions:
- What would your dream job look like?
- What changes would you make to “company X”?
- What skill would enhance your professional life?
- What would inspire you to start your own business?
- What does your company do?
- Would you rather be a CEO or stay where you are now?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- What is the biggest goal in your life?
- What is the most rewarding part of your job?
- Describe your work-life balance.
Some workshops are less structured and are aimed at having fun. These fun workshops focus on various types of hobbies such as pottery, writing, and even pop culture. Since these fun workshops attract a diverse group of people, you should prepare basic questions to ensure that everyone feels at ease and involved.
Fun workshops are usually quite “open” and you are free to ask any question you want. You can, for instance, ask questions to find out how creative the participants are. You can also open up the discussion by asking icebreaker questions to get a better understanding of the group’s knowledge of the workshop topic.
Some fun workshop icebreaker questions:
- If you could only choose one food or drink for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
- What is your favorite leisure activity?
- What is the last song you listened to in your car?
- Do you prefer to take a shower or a bath?
- What made you pick this workshop?
- What is your most valuable possession?
- What is one item you always have in your bag?
- If you could go back in time, what would be your senior yearbook quote?
- Do you have a favorite podcast, and why do you enjoy it so much?
- If you could have another job than your current one, what would it be?
How to ask an icebreaker question
Simply be polite and approachable when you ask icebreaker questions.
The responses you receive will let you gauge your participants’ expertise and interest in the workshop topic. The rapport you build with these questions will result in a more interesting and engaging workshop.
- Carter, J. Over 600 Icebreakers and Games. Hope Books, 2011
- Shah, A. & LaForest, M. “Knowledge About Others Reduces One’s Own Sense of Anonymity.” Nature, vol. 603, 2022, pp. 297-301.
- Toledo, C. “Does Your Dog Bite?” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 2, 2006, pp.150-154.