People working at their desk need to clear their mind and switch gears before they come into a brainstorm. Otherwise, the time to ramp-up their imagination takes away valuable time from the idea session. Brainstorm icebreakers not only help move Closed Minds to Open Minds, they also set the tone and personality for the brainstorm overall.
Icebreakers are just as important whether you’re working in a group setting or brainstorming on your own. All of the ideas and examples noted below can be “down-sized” to a desk-top or cubicle.
The key to a good icebreaker is to isolate the kernel of what you want from the brainstorm itself. The icebreaker should build upon or exaggerate that kernel in an engaging, fun and provocative way.
If you want headlines or story ideas …
Brainstorm headlines – provocative, outlandish, crazy ones – that might be close or to the desired ideal. For example, I might start with real headlines from recent news coverage, traditional or digital. Then we “bend” the actual titles into something that might benefit or illustrate the product or service. You can use general consumer-ish media, but I prefer to use media that are completely outside the realm of where the client would normally hope to see their messages.
Try women’s or entertainment media to create headlines for a government relations project, hobby or craft media to sell an over-the-counter drug, or interior design media to promote corporate social responsibility campaigns. The more disassociated the media is from the actual project or messages, the better.
If you want to find audience insights …
Brainstorm real, fictional or historical people who might be the target audience. As with the media headlines, you want complete disconnection between the icebreaker and reality. Select people who have descriptive, outsized, larger-than-life personalities. For example, to promote a smoking cessation product, we chose (among others) Mahatma Ghandi and Tim Burton. For a line of women’s fitness products, Marie Antoinette and Dame Edna. To warn of the dangers of suntans, we chose Ricky Riccardo and Captain Stubing.
Once you have a long list of names (say, 30 to 40 names is ideal), pick a few of the more bizarre ones. Brainstorm how’d you sell, promote or engage that iconic person with ideas, then “bend” the obtuse ones back to potential ideas to engage the real target audience.
If you want to find events, stunts or tactics which involve trial …
Incorporate the product into the icebreaker, either at the beginning of the brainstorm or by giving the participants homework in advance. I’ve had people shine each other’s shoes for a new shoe polish. For a wine launch, we had an after-hours get-together for the participants and their spouses or partners. They were sampling the different wines while a small group of us spent the time listening to the conversations, asking questions, taking photographs – all of which became our icebreaker for the brainstorm the next morning.
To uncover insights about audience behavior …
Make people dress up. You don’t need clothes. People make their outfits and props from paper left-over from the printer using sticky-tape, colored markers and scissors. For a Botox brainstorm, I had people dress up as Sydney Eastern Suburbs women and talk amongst themselves as “themselves” about why they want to improve how they look and why. For a jewelry store, the participants not only made the bijoux, they made items representative of the gift-giving event itself. For a brainstorm to ambush a famous world sporting event, my “athletes” made up all-new sports.
To uncover ways to engage the audience …
Try using famous or well-known board games and game shows as ways to unleash the creative spirit. Most can be played in an abbreviated way in 10 minutes at the beginning of the brainstorm. Here are some websites to refresh your memory.
Some additional thoughts.
An icebreaker needs to be funny, outrageous, impromptu and casual. If it’s not fun and funny, it’s not a good icebreaker.
Don’t over-explain the icebreaker. It should be a like credit card. No one cares how a credit card works. They just want it to work.
Try not to sit down during the icebreaker. Or, if you do, everyone’s hands should be busy doing something.
Icebreakers are short. 10 minutes is fine, 15 minutes is bordering on too long. You want to play just long enough to get people in the right mindset AND to start thinking of connections between your client and the ideal situation.
Make icebreakers run faster by dividing the group into two, or do part of the icebreaker separate from the brainstorm itself. For example, with the name selection, we did the event at a morning
staff meeting prior to the brainstorm in the afternoon.
You can also search “icebreakers” online for more ideas. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find ones more specific to parties, but all of these can be adapted into something usable for a brainstorm.
Here’s some additional websites to check-out.
Finally, you can check out my original post: Brainstorm Icebreakers
12 Icebreakers to Kick-Start Your Brainstorm, by Rick van der Wal
Brainstorming Session Icebreakers, by Michael Michalko
10 Icebreakers to Help Launch Creativity, by Randi Abels of Linhart PR in Denver, Colorado
Icebreakers: Easing Group Contribution, by MindTools.com
Icebreakers, Warmups, Energizers and Deinhibitizers, by Wilderom.com
What other icebreakers have you used? What other tips or comments help switch people from Closed Minds to Open Minds?