Jack Martin Leith and I had a chat once about icebreakers. He (also a facilitator) said he didn't like the word "ice-breaker" as it assumes "ice" is in the room right from the start. I agree.

The term "energiser" might be better, but even that assumes that energy is low and somehow needs to be lifted. Energy might need to be changed in some way but is it always low at the start? I think, quite the opposite.

So, what is that first, fifteen minute activity? Is it an "orienter"? or an "opener"?

Thoughts and experiences invited!

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Comment by Remy Bertrand on May 9, 2012 at 3:44am

Thanks for the Boom!-wow-Wow-WOW-BOOOM!! lesson's plan Adam :-) In some circumstances this is exactly what we're looking for. 

So on the importance of warming up, yes, I'd say that warming up, physically and emotionally is pretty crucial. In fact, some of my sessions can be experienced as one long warm-up. As for naming what we do I think it can be very interesting for facilitators to reflect on this, but for participants it's all in the doing, they don't really need to know what it's called... I remember reading about this all important state of "blissfulness ignorance" that we're trying to help them reaching, and I try to keep concepts and explanation to a minimum, and put the emphasis on experience and experimentation. I'm in Bali right now, watching the night falling on the ocean after an impro session with an international accounting firm. We had a fantastic time (thanks AIN for the paper, scissor games btw! worked like a riot) and most people in the room didn't even know they were doing impro, let alone energizer etc... 

Comment by Adam StJohn Lawrence on May 9, 2012 at 3:14am

I think Simo nailed it. It is about failing, visibly, and seeing that failing visibly is both fun and productive.

One more: I use very extreme warm-ups which have people laughing, reeling and physically sweating (a little). It is a very clear signal that the usual rules of business do not apply today - and, by extension, the usual structures and ranks do not apply either.  This "clear break with routine" is valuable.

I also use strong warmups as part of the dramatic arc of the session itself, often providing the first "Boom!" of the Boom!-wow-Wow-WOW-BOOOM!! curve I might be aiming for.

Comment by Anne Pensalfini on October 20, 2008 at 4:05am
Hi, all, what a great conversation.

As an improviser I think warm-up is crucial but not everyone agrees -at Keith Johnston's Loose Moose apparently they don't do a warm-up at all, BUT they do a class that ends an hour before show-time, which I think is the same. I think warm-up is a good term, but I don't think any term is really necessary, why does any section of a workshop need a label that participants can cling to? Keep 'em on their toes, I say!

Something I've adopted from Shakespeare & Company (www.shakespeare.org) is the 'check-in:' you go around the circle and answer a few pointed questions with no cross-talk - for a first session if might be, Name, your relationship to improvisation, and something you wouldn't ordinarily say in front of a group of people you don't know. The last one can be anything at all, small ('I don't like cheese') or big (my mom died when I was 3). I sometimes go first in order to model 'diving in' and sometimes go last in order that the group not follow my lead; it depends on the group.

In his career workshop series for Oprah, Marcus Buckingham says that "a workshop never really begins unless you hear the sound of your own voice." I think the check-in is a really good, simple way to see what the group dynamics are - who are the talkers, the bulldozers, the wallflowers, the thinkers, the analyzers, etc., and most importantly, let everyone's voices be heard without putting anyone on the spot before they're ready.

When I do check-ins with long-form improv classes I morph this exercise into monologue-sharing:

I set up the exercise first -

I'm going to throw a word into the center of the circle. The first person who's inspired is going to share with the group a short, simple, real-life little story. For example, if the word was, 'blue,' I might say, "I had this boyfriend in college and we loved painting by Chagall...etc. (and I do the exercise, telling a little story of WHATEVER I'm inspired by from 'blue' - and this MUST be improvised by me).

Then, the person next to me is going to tell a short real-life story inspired by something I've said - anything at all, it could be a small detail, doesn't matter. My job as the person next to the storyteller is to keep open, to keep listening, until they're done, to not let myself start scripting my story in my head.

We go around the circle this way.

It's important that all stories - funny, serious, stupid, boring, traumatic - get basically the same open, energized response from me, and that I keep the stories short, intervening if need be.

An advanced variation is that people jump in when they are inspired instead of going around the circle in one direction.
Comment by Robert Wolfe on April 14, 2008 at 9:20am
I remember a workshop by Randy Dixon where he said energizer was the wrong word for him because he use these excersises to burn off energy. The fight/flight energy that people get when faced with an unknown situation such as a workshop. So depending on the atmosphere I usually start off with an energyburner and then seek for some sort of attunement.
Comment by Paul Levy on March 24, 2008 at 5:28am
There's been such a lot of interesting comment so far. It almost feels like there's a whole book that might be entitled "Beginnings and Endings - a guide to what to do at the start and end of workshops" !!!

One view seems to be that we need not name the opening activity at all. Another is to not have a specific opening activity but just to "dive right in". Another is to rename or recast the word "icebreaker" into some other term.

There's also something key about being prepared to readily abandon whatever was in our plan and improvise our own facilitation around the "in the moment" needs of participant. What comes to mind here is the expression: Doing good and do-gooding are far from the same thing!
Comment by Elvin K. Box on March 23, 2008 at 3:49pm
Well, to be frank, I don't introduce the 'Ice-Breaker' or 'Energiser' as anything in particular. At the beginning of the session I run through a 'Suggested Approach', as I inform the attendees that “we shall be undertaking and engaging in exercises and techniques that maybe seem out of the ordinary, so please can we:”
1) Keep an open mind during the session and suspend ‘judgement’ till we have finished
2) Enjoy the experience by giving of ourselves and extend tolerance to one another; No right, no wrong, just different!
3) The space is a Laboratory, where mistakes are allowed – be fearless!
4) Ask questions where necessary.

So I just introduce Impro Workshop Activities and Techniques as an element of the session that at that moment in time will help our ‘thinking, saying and / or doing’.

I do agree that language is very important, and by proclaiming the introduction of ‘Ice-Breakers’ or ‘Energisers’ can have a negative connotations.

Hope this helps,
Comment by Paul Z Jackson on March 19, 2008 at 1:55am
Yes, yes, yes. For facilitators, one of the most useful and heartening switches is from "I" language to "We" language. It's such a simple yet profound change from "I want you to ...." to "Let's...." My friend Tim Andrews uses the metaphor of switching the spotlight - instead of shining it on yourself, with "what do I want, how am I doing", shine it on the group. Works wonders as a tip for presenters and speakers, too.
Comment by Lynne Hunter-Johnston on March 18, 2008 at 10:24am
In response to Paul's latest on "I-ness", "We-ness" and so on. "I" find that it is important to constantly be sensing into the group for some of those same questions which then aid in the selection of what activity, break or information session comes next. For me (should I now say "me-ness"??), this kind of flexibility and flow make it hard to have the kind of professional speaker set format that is often asked for. Improv and knowing my subject well have been a delight to relax into and it would seem the participants too. "Let's" is a great theme - we are all discovering together. Thanks to Simo, too, for your summary.

Comment by Simo Routarinne on March 18, 2008 at 3:44am
Very interesting and toughtprovoking! I am not sure if this is related fully to this thread but anyways I will share some thoughts with you: I do agree that words are important, but also the context in which you use certain 'excercises' and for me the most important thing is WHY I choose to use an exercise - and how it is debriefed!

Some of the various things people can get out of the 'warmups' or 'attunement-makers' or 'games' or 'energizers' or whatever you choose to call them are:

1. How to 'fail' happily (with less fear for failure)
2. And, since it is hard to screw up without making a silly face, or gesture or both - you learn to 'lose your face' without fear. It builds up trust and benevolence very effectively
3. Adjusting the 'risk level' of your actions, you are bound to notice that the more you take risks (of failing) the merrier it gets - and that playing safe is not fun (and there is no learning)
4. You can learn to focus your attention to other people's actions rather than your own - learn to be a better listener and at the same time be less self-conscious (planning the future, not listening really)
5. Of course the games can boost your energy level or help to concentrate (depending what game is used)
6. Many other nice things...

My favorite is number 2, since we all (at least sometimes - mostly in difficult or stressful situations) -wear this 'mask of a rational professional adult'. It sends out messages like 'I'm not childish, crazy, stupid or weird'. Under that mask most of us think (secretly): 'Thank God they don't know the truth!' (and see under my mask)

In most of the warmup games you get to lose that mask (in the moment of happy failure) and also see other people lose theirs. Usually it produces relieving (!) laughter of recognition - it tells us (without words!) that we all are fully human - with all of our flaws!


P.S I use these 'games' most often with groups that are not experienced with improv - usually less when they have experience (unless the group has problems with competition or trust etc.)
Comment by Paul Levy on March 18, 2008 at 1:18am
This is fun and can be a bit challenging:

"I-ness" - I-ness is when the focus is on the needs of the facilitator. He or she uses "I" a lot. "What I'd like to do now is..."..."I want to explore." etc. Often unknown to the facilitator, the workshop is very much drive by their needs and maintaining them. Ice-breakers can sometimes be driven by I-ness.

"You-ness" - You-ness is all about the paritcipants. The facilitator is very much in the space of where the participants are at: "You all look like you need a breather after that" and "So, what do you get from that activitiy in terms of learning points?"

"We-ness" - Here are are in a co-creative mode where the success of a session is a joint responsibility of facilitator and participants. "Any thoughts on what we can do with that feedback?" and "So, here were are after lunch, and we have these actions up on the flipchart..."

Of course thse are not mutually exclusive but can give a flavour of the good and the bad of allowing one style to dominate a session. I believe that opening activities should be born of "You-ness" for a new group, and "We-ness" for an established group.

I recently encountered another category: "Them-ness". With them-ness the facilitator is like a doctor sitting in a consulting room discussing patients who are not in the room. I think themness can provide occasional much needed detachment and objectivity. "I get a sense they are getting restless or tired", but my own inclination is to use "You-ness" as it's more open and direct, or we-ness as much as possible. Often also we-ness can form the basis of facipulation as it tends not not involve participants so motives are hidden. "We'll get THEM to do the name-game icebreaker. THEY'LL love that.

I don't believe there is really ever such a thing as THEM. There are only individuals. And, as Rudolf Steiner says, each human being is an unique species of one.

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