Training, Community, and Breaking Ice

Trainers looking for examples of ice-breakers and other strong ways to open presentations–a hallmark of Infopeople workshops–have frequently been in trainer heaven while attending the ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) 2008 International Conference & Exposition here in San Diego.
Although a few of the examples were so superficial that they could have taken down the Titanic if it hadn’t already sunk, many will undoubtedly remain with us to the benefit of those we train when we return to work.
Bob Pike’s “Creative Training Techniques” Showcase Session yesterday afternoon was one which stood out for its simple effectiveness. The Speakers Hall of Fame honoree and founder/chairman of the Bob Pike Group and Creative Training Techniques Press had everyone using a tech toy unfamiliar to many in his audience and showed them how it made on-the-spot audience polls a simple way of engaging an audience. By drawing everyone together in this way, he made his point that effective openers have to be an integral part of what is being taught.
Writer-consultant-trainer Peter Block, as if anticipating Pike’s presentation earlier that afternoon, provided one of the most engaging ice-breaker/openers I’ve seen so far. Opening his Showcase Session on “Community: The Structure of Belonging” and drawing from his book of the same title, he initiated the process of building a temporary community comprised of the more than 200 people in his audience.
“If I want a future different from the past…I have to shift my way of thinking,” he suggested. And if his audience of trainer-learners wanted an effective learning environment during the session, he continued, we would have to disassemble those dozens of neatly arranged rows of chairs to create a set-up which was more conducive to community building.
Within two minutes—with no further instructions from our presenter—almost everyone had created circles of varying sizes. Within four minutes, a substantial number of us had begun opening the circles so that each one began snaking into others in a way which allowed for movement from one circle-group into another. I have no doubt that if we had been given another four minutes, we would have finished that serpentine formation of semicircles and formed a physical representation of the open and fluid community already under development. The rest of our time together was a combination of interactions with Block and exercises which brought us together in very small groups so that by the time the session was over, at least some of us had exchanged business cards on our own in case we wanted to carry our test-tube training communities into the future, beyond the confines of the room and experience we had shared–and share any successes we have as we apply what we learned.