‘Hacer caliente’ does NOT mean ‘warm-up’
‘Sexy’ Icebreaker Tips for Events Folk
I’m an events geek.
Events are what I do and, as often as I may complain, or say I find it stressful, when it really gets down the the nitty-gritty, I love it. And I’ve been making events happen for a long while — both professionally (‘Scientific Events Manager’, don’t-ya-know), but also as a huge part of my social life. I just can’t help it. Always, I’ve been that person— badgering people to pay so I can make a reservation, convincing people to come do weird and wonderful things with me, being the best damn sports team social secretary ever, whilst actually playing the sport a grand total of twice in that season (shout out to Highbury Korfball Club — you’ll always have my heart).
Occasionally (*today), one finds oneself starting a quick ‘by the way’ advice note at the end of an email to answer a question someone casually mentioned thinking about, and suddenly there’s this whole raft of information you didn’t know you had that comes pouring out all in a flurry of potentially unwanted knowledge sharing.
Yikes. It’s blog post time.
Today’s topic: Warm-up Activities!
Specifically, things I apply in running Barcelona Fun Science community events that genuinely deliver on my promise of fun, interactive experiences for curious adults.
“I had loads of fun standing in the corner feeling intimidated”
- said nobody ever
It’s an impossible task to write down everything that can be said on this kinda-niche topic, but here are a few things I never thought that not everybody knew:
Use your face
You made your event happen, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have some brave ones who come by themselves and you’re the only person they know (/feel like they know you because they’re seen your picture). Make time to say hello to everyone individually if you can.
It’s the small things that make people feel seen.
Adult supervision (not) required
Some people will be genuinely ‘sneak-in-at-the-back-with-muttered-apologies’ late. They are easy to deal with, because they know they’re late. You gotta watch out for the ‘it’s-only-5-minutes’ crowd. Build time into your planning for the 10–15 minute grey area when you’re not quite ready to start. I like to set up my icebreakers so they can run during this time and keep people entertained from a very simple instruction, written on a poster, that doesn’t need me to be involved. A bunch of people standing around waiting to start whilst you’re trying to get others through the door makes the event person* (*me) feel panicky.
Embrace being silly
Laughter is an incredible icebreaker — I’ve even seen workshops and recommended activities where you forbid people to laugh while completing a foolish activity, an activity pretty much guaranteed to result in uncontrollable hysterics and an incredible warm atmosphere.
I use very creative or deliberately light activities to change the pace, especially when leading into a discussion-heavy or academic topic where you want engagement. In a recent meetup, Science of Cheese, we opened with introductions based on your best ‘cheese related memory’. It’s a silly theme, and people really opened up and shared some amazingly intimate stories with complete strangers about their family memories, stories of feeling happy and loved, bodily (mal)functions(!), and holidays gone by.
Start the ball rolling(and keep your momentum)
Warm-up activities are often deliberately designed to open the path to conversation, so make them relevant! There’s no need to choose a random icebreaker from the internet, then have to close it up somehow and move onto the ‘real’ topic of your event or workshop. Customise the activity to link to your topic, then it’s super-easy to carry your happy positive atmosphere into the rest of the event.
Relevance is also important as the warm-up and first impressions will have a huge impact of people’s impressions of your brand. Keep it light, keep it fun, keep it relevant. But don’t get inappropraite, ok? You’ll have a rough idea of your audience — we’re aiming for ‘shake it up’ level of novelty, not ‘obliterate the building’. You have been warned.
Help them to help you
Warm-ups are not dead time. There are many different ways you can use them to get your event off to a flying start. Firstly, as well as getting people in the right frame of mind to actually get off their seats and get involved, you can use them to find out what your participants already know/think.
In our Scientific Thinking & Electromagnetic Trains event, we used the ‘Draw a Scientist’ activity to open a discussion about stereotypes in perceptions of Science (that felt incredibly relevant, as we could reference their own artwork!), and in Lasers, Lycra & Black Holes — Understanding Gravitational Waves, talking to our group of grown adults playing with cups of water in a giant box really helped our guest presenter Jorge to work out the level of base understanding before he started.
Secondly, a decent warm-up is a fab way to start the right conversations, and get people’s brains thinking along the right lines before you even start talking. In Drones & Flight, we all started by making 3–4 paper aeroplanes with very different designs. It’s a very simple activity, but zoomed (woo!) fantastically into a discussion about what all of the designs had in common and what they didn’t (with much pointing & laughing), gliding into a fantastic workshop about flight dynamics and an overview of the key principles.
Thirdly (and this one is my favourite), I like to use the warm-ups to just help me out. If you can achieve all of the objectives of getting people using their hands, playing games, talking to each other, feeling relaxed AND making the demonstration props that you can use later to explain an idea, then you’re on to a winner.
It’s not me, it’s you — take the pressure off
A friend of mine runs the Flylancer movement, and I have nicked many a tip from her social networking events for freelancers and location independent professionals. The best thing that I have totally robbed for my own is that you can both increase social interaction and take the pressure off, by getting your participants to warm each other up (oi oi).
Seriously though, I think this is amazing. In the Flylancer approach (it’s actually a series of networking games, but the same principle applies), the participants have a few minutes to speak to each other, introduce themselves on a one-on-one basis with a social question to talk about, and then when the big networking moment comes, they pitch each other’s skills. As an idea it’s brilliant to watch in action— two of your attendees immediately feel connected by continuously complimenting each other, and it does away with the habitual line which everyone has said a million times before.
I’m Rachel, and I’m an events project manager
I much prefer:
This is Rachel, she organises science events and has an inexplicable love of awful C-list horror movies involving sharks
People just feel less awkward bigging up someone else.
For smaller to mid-size workshops, you can also turn the sometimes terrifying ‘in the spotlight’ introduction moment into a shared experience, which works wonders for making people feel more comfortable and creating a friendly group dynamic right from the off.
Take what you can, give nothing (something) back
When it comes to atmosphere-cultivation at events, the most important thing for me is to continuously take inspiration from what you experience yourself. If you find that a tiny action from someone else makes you feel more comfortable or more relaxed in any situation, take a moment to work out what it was that they did. If you attended an event where you left with the phone number of half the room. If you can actually remember the face connecting to that business card. If you had a load of fun with that friend-of-a-friend and stayed up til 4am chatting on the terrace with all of their friends, think why. What did they do differently? How could you take the same principle and apply it yourself?
At the end of the day, we’re all still just a bunch of socially-awkward teenagers standing at the edges of a school disco not quite making eye contact. In general, people want to connect, engage and have fun at your events — or they wouldn’t be there. If you can only find the way to open the door for them, or give them an easy path, they’ll do all the rest of the work for you. Find the people who are good at doing this for you personally, watch what they’re doing, learn from them, and do it yourself for your community.
As in any other area, taking the time to recognise expertise in other people, and respecting it enough to add it to your own skill-set is essential.
The End (of the beginning)
If you’ve got all the way through this whistle-stop tour of ‘people arriving at your event’ (who knew it could be so complex?!), CONGRATULATIONS!
Have a sticker and go tell that stranger why I gave it to you, through the medium of interpretive dance.
Barcelona Fun Science is an enthusiastic group of curious people who meet regularly to explore scientific ideas through social, interactive experiences and grown-up play sessions.
All of our activities and events are designed for non-scientific adults — all you need is curiosity!
Each of our free public meetup events is themed around a topic, with exciting experiments, crafts and activities with friends. We usually also all go to a bar afterwards.
To collaborate, or for more information about Barcelona Fun Science and our Teambuilding, Private Events and Science Communication Training work, please see our website | www.barcelonafunscience.com, or get in touch | firstname.lastname@example.org.