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How to Break the Ice When Presenting
By Chris King

Recently I received an inquiry from a young woman who was making a presentation at an all-day seminar for her company. Many others were also presenting, so she knew that the listeners would be inundated with PowerPoint presentations by the time she presented. She said she was fine with her content and was expected to use PowerPoint but wanted some ideas for ice breakers. A great idea, because if the group has been listening for some time, the participants will perk up with the needed change of pace. I also suggest using ice breakers to start all presentations. In this article, I will share a few ideas of ways to "break the ice."

The first rule of breaking the ice is to involve the audience. Whether we are presenting a keynote or a workshop, the more we can get participation from the members of our audience, the more attention we will receive for the rest of our presentation.

If we can get them involved the minute they walk into the room we'll already have a jumpstart. One way to accomplish this is to have a puzzle and/or questions for them to consider while waiting for us to begin. I hand it out or have it up on the screen and tell them that it is fine to work with anyone else on the answers. Usually, I create a sheet of questions and/or a fun puzzle that relates to the day's subject. For example, I recently gave a technology presentation about the Internet. Knowing that some were beginners and others experts, I varied the level of the questions assuring everyone that they would receive the answers during and after the session. This is also a great way to share extra content.

If the group has been doing a great deal of sitting already, get them physically involved. Being a fitness instructor, I have lots of spunky tapes. I will often start a presentation on creativity with music and asking everyone to stand up, breathe deeply and stretch. Then I will say something like, "All right. Now we are going to stretch our minds and creativity, because when the mind is stretched by a new idea, it never returns to its original state."

Another interactive way to get participants involved is through call and response techniques. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. I often create a fun rap piece that highlights the main points of my presentation. There is a simple chorus (which I hand out on a slip of paper which also includes my contact information - neat marketing tip) and I ask the participants to repeat the chorus when I give them the signal. I usually use a drum to keep the beat, making the whole performance more fun for everyone. If you decide to try this, be sure to repeat it enough times before you try it (it is incredibly easy for our minds to go blank when in front of a crowd).

Well designed questions will also get your audience involved. The two questions that are effective and also help you the presenter - as suggested by Bob Pike, training guru - are as follows. Supposing your topic is time management, you would ask, "What happens when people don't handle our management of time well?" and "What happens when we handle our management of time well?" Ask for the answers, and, if time permits, have someone record them on a flip chart. The first will list the problems that need to be addressed and the second will list the benefits that will be gained by listening to your presentation.

Depending upon the size of the group, we can also make use of snappy introductions. If it is a small group, I will often have members stand up - one at a time - say their name, tell us what they did as a profession yesterday (this will actually be their profession) and what career they have today (which can be completely "off-the-wall." They can be a movie star, an astronaut, an Olympic athlete - you get the idea). If the group is large, have members of the audience turn to the person next to them and do the same thing, or you can give them other questions to pose to each other, for example:

  • If you were given a gift of one million dollars, tax-free, how would you use your newly-gained fortune?
  • If you could take a free two-week trip to any place in the world, where would it be?
  • If you could travel on a time machine to any era in time, what would it be and why?
  • If you could talk to any one person now living, who would it be?

The reasons for doing this - even off your subject - breaks the ice for the group (even if they already know each other) because it will get them interacting and laughing, so that when you bring them back to the presentation, they are relaxed and open, rather than thinking, "Oh, now I have to sit through another speech." The one warning here is to have a way to regain control. I use a drum, a bell, or another musical instrument to pull back the attention of the participants.

If some of the already mentioned techniques seem uncomfortable for you, you can always start your presentation with a story. I am not referring to the old method of telling a completely off-topic joke. Your story can be humorous, but it will be most effective if it is true and relates to you and your topic. Just keep in mind that, as one speaker shared with me, "Some days you are the windshield and some days you are the bug. People like it better and will relate to you better when you are the bug."

For a plethora of other ideas check out the trainer's books by Edward E. Scannell and John W. Newstrom. They have been writing about Games Trainers Play for years, but one of the more recent ones is The Big Book of Business Games: Icebreakers, Creativity Exercises and Meeting. You will find enough ideas to break the iciest group of listeners you will ever meet.

Just remember that if you make your ice breaking fun for you and the audience it will work and you will be listened to and remembered for your presentation. Let me know how it goes. I love your FEEDBACK.



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