Talking to people is hard.
Whether it’s a breakout session with co-workers or networking with someone new, it can be tough to find common ground and make conversation. And that was before Zoom was ever a thing. Back in the Before-Zoom Era (or the BZE, as I’m sure future archaeologists will call it), you could quietly hide behind your drink, talk about the weather, rush off to the bathroom and hide, or anything else to avoid those awkward moments.
On Zoom, it’s just you, your camera, and everyone else on the call. You’re looking at them, they’re looking at you, and there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Or it’s the umpteenth meeting this week, and you’ve run out of things to talk about with your co-workers days ago, and that Zoom Fatigue is really starting to set in.
So, how do you break through and start those conversations? I’ve got seven ideas that will help break anyone out of their virtual shell!
One: The Good Ol' Icebreaker Question
It’s amazing how far the right questions will get you. People love to talk about themselves. Not because they’re self-centred, but because people know themselves best. The trick is to ask questions that are interesting and unexpected, so people want to answer and engage. Avoid dull questions like, “how’s the weather?” or, “How is everyone’s day?” Think of it like a first date; make your questions personal, specific, and open-ended. Examples:
All these questions either ask or infer the need for elaboration, but they’re also personal questions that put the speaker in a positive light, a happy memory, or a relatable experience.
Two: Would You Rather?
If you’re unfamiliar with “Would You Rather,” it goes like this: the host asks someone to choose between two (usually ridiculous) options by asking “Would you rather <Option A> or <Option B>?” (Example: “Would you rather eat the oldest thing in the staff fridge, or clean the staff bathroom?”) Again, choosing the right “would you rather’s” is important. The whole point is to spark a fun discussion.
The great thing about “Would You Rather” is that it’s scalable. You can do it one-on-one or for a whole room. If you want to keep it simple, participants raise their hands or type “1” or “2” in the Zoom chat. If you want to go all-out, you can make Zoom polls for people to answer. It’s amazing how far this simple game can stretch.
Three: Two Truths And A Lie
This is another game where the rules and the title are the same things. Each person tells the group three facts about themselves...except one is a lie. The rest of the group tries to weasel out the truth, the lie is revealed, and you move on to the next person. It’s super simple, and with the right group, can be a great way to kick-start a conversation. The game can be done in-person, or with a written submission (like email or a Google form) before the meeting.
Note I said the right group. This is better suited to people that are naturally a little extroverted, so they’re not as afraid to throw out more obscure or outlandish stories. For example, a shy two-truths-and-a-lie such as “I like apples, I had Cheerios for breakfast, and my socks are black,” is much less likely to start a conversation than, “I’ve run three marathons, my wife is my ex-girlfriend’s sister, and Beyonce used to be my babysitter.” (Obviously, these are extreme examples, but it shows that the game is largely dependent on the group playing it.)
Four: Show And Tell!
This simple idea always surprises me with how it gets groups to open up. All you need is one question:
“What’s the strangest or most interesting item you have within reach?”
This goes back to the same idea we mentioned earlier. People love to talk about themselves, and the items they collect are physical artifacts of their lives. Every item has a story, and that story is (say it with me) personal, specific, and open-ended. Think of this as a tactile version of an Icebreaker Question. Not only do you get objects that people think are cool, but they also get to tell a positive, relatable and (usually) happy story.
Five: The Whiteboard
For those who are a little more Zoom-savvy, the whiteboard feature can be an incredible way to get people engaged. To share your whiteboard, head to the bottom of your Zoom window and click:
Share Screen → Whiteboard
Now, you have a “whiteboard” to draw on that everyone can see. Want to play Hangman? Absolutely. A quick game of Tic Tac Toe? Sure! Pictionary in a Breakout Room? Why not?
If it’s a game you can play with a pen and paper, you can play it on a Zoom Whiteboard. The possibilities are endless!
Six: Eye Spy
Full disclosure: this is better suited for groups that are already a little familiar with each other, as it essentially uses Zoom to peek into a small section of other people’s homes.
Most people are familiar with “I Spy.” You look around, say, “I spy with my little eye, something green” and the other players then guess all the green things that your little eye may have spied. Either someone gets it right or the Eye-Spier reveals what they chose, and you repeat the process.
Playing on Zoom is almost the same. But instead of looking around their room, they’re looking at the objects in view behind other people on the Zoom call.
While in gallery view, the Eye-Spier chooses something they see on camera in someone’s video. “I spy with my little eye, something round.” The rest of the group looks through the video feeds until the round thing is found.
The whole point of “Zoom I Spy” is to extend the experience beyond the screens of the participants and into the physical world around them. Searching, finding, and seeing other objects that have a story attached to them (see Number Four) grounds the other participants in the call, and suddenly everything feels a little more real.
Seven: Just The Factoids
This is another dead-simple concept that gets HUGE results.
Before the meeting, collect one interesting fact about everyone attending via your preferred method (email, Google Forms, et cetera). When everyone is connected, the game begins.
The host reads out a fact, with names removed. (For example: “This person once threw a donut at William Shatner.”) It is now up to the group to figure out who the person is.
Just like “Would You Rather,” this is scalable. It can be done with small groups or with a large number of attendees. You can use simple indicators like raised hands or the chat function or you can construct polls and multiple-choice questions. You can use it as a way to simply get to know each other or turn it into a game where the people who evade detection or make the most correct guesses win prizes. While this may be the simplest game on the list, it’s easily the most versatile.
There you have it. Not only do you have seven proven ways to break the ice in any Zoom meeting, but also all the tips and tricks you need to build your own from the ground up. Good luck and see you on the screen!
Mentalist and Magician