Best icebreaker tips for work presentations
For clarity: An icebreaker is a remark, comment, statement, question, story, shared personal experience, or expressed thought that is spoken just before you begin your speech or presentation. It’s the first thing that comes out of your mouth as you address your audience. Most often, an icebreaker is something the audience doesn’t expect. It is a wonderful way to immediately connect to those in the room. It also sets the tone for what is to come. In this ExecuProv one-day workshop, students pay close attention to keeping the icebreaker spontaneous and “in the moment” so that their opener doesn’t sound canned, thus flat.
The following are four of the nine pointers students learn in the “What’s So Funny?” workshop. Try them:
- Begin to become conscious of what it is you can do or say as you first speak in front of any group—even if it’s before a couple of people at a sales call. Appreciate how a little small talk is a good thing!
- Take your last several corporate speeches and presentations and attach a scripted icebreaker to each of them. If you can be creative with this exercise, you will prove that you have the very same ability when you wish to do so spontaneously—just as you take center stage to begin your presentation. If you’re going to prepare one ahead of time, pick a category from the list of seven in the opening paragraph of this article. Keep the bent humorous.
- Put on your “director’s hat” and critique others’ icebreakers. Which ones do you find humorous? Which ones pack the punch and which ones fall flat?
- Take stock of the room and all its goings-on. Notice the mood, the surroundings, the ambiance, the people...let your mind remain in a state of whimsy as you make these assessments. This will allow you a few minutes to think how you might play off what is going on in that room, or with that group, as you first take to the lectern. Doing so provides you a short window of opportunity to prepare a humorous aside—an icebreaker.
ExecuProv does not suggest that all meeting and public speaking icebreakers be spontaneous, but it believes that the highly-skilled speaker throws out an icebreaker on the fly. If you write one, be certain to rehearse so that the timing and delivery make it sound fresh and spontaneous.
When writing my book on this topic, I sought the expertise of Dr. Bruce Rabin, M.D. , Ph.D., a highly-renowned and noted professor of pathology, psychiatry and psychology in Pittsburgh, who was, and is, considered one of the top experts in the world on the subject of psychoneuroimmunology, which is a fancy way of saying how our brain affects our overall health.
Though the explanation in my book is much more in depth, for the purposes of brevity, I will just say that Dr. Rubin and I were on the same page. We both agreed that stress cannot be avoided; it simply needs to be managed better. Rabin advocates several remedies to mitigate stress, ranking humor high among them.
In brief, what he explained to me (and I go into much more detail in my book) is that when the part of the brain that houses the humor muscle is active, the other part of the brain that entertains depression and anger cannot be active. He says, "As best we can understand, the area of the brain involved in humor is in the frontal cortex. This region of the brain sends projections to the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and the locus coeruleus." He went on to explain that when we laugh there is suppression of the activation of the latter two portions of the brain, thus slowing our metabolism and reducing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Amazing!
What he was trying to do was paint a picture for me, explaining that the brain was like a stove, and that if the humor "burner" is ignited, the other burners seem to take a back seat. In other words, you can't be depressed and angry when you're "cooking" with humor. Makes sense, doesn't it? I know it's impossible to stay angry at anyone (even momentarily) if they suddenly make you burst out laughing.
So, for starters, know what it is that is going on in the brain and how powerful that frontal cortex region is! I have great respect for mine now and try to focus on activating it, when under the most difficult of circumstances. I would like you, the reader, to do the same!