It matters how we start or ‘C’est le ton qui fait la musique’

The other day someone asked me about ideas for icebreaker exercises. “What do you need it for?” was my reaction. We had a lovely exchange about workshop climate and participant’s engagement.

Icebreakers, warm-ups, check-ins, introduction rounds or games – you name it – are more than fun. How we start a workshop or a conference is essential for the success of the event. ‘C’est le ton qui fait la musique’ goes a French saying (it is the tone that makes the music); meaning it is not what you say but how you say it that matters. How we start a workshop is important. It gives direction. It tells participants what to expect; and they decide if they like it (or not) and if they engage (or not).


Creating the right atmosphere

So, how to start a workshop? It depends on the musicians and the kind of music we will play. Will it be rock and roll, hip-hop or a ballade? A quiet piece for two pianos? Or a rather difficult and serious piece of music?

The activity we choose as introduction into a workshop or a conference depends on the context, the culture, the people, and the workshop’s purpose. As facilitator, I ask myself: Which kind of atmosphere do we need to create for the participants to connect to each other and to the topic? What would be an appropriate, meaningful and smooth activity for people to connect with each other and the topic at hand? How can I invite everyone (with emphasis on everyone) to step in and feel invited?

Creating connections

A well thought through opening activity builds connections. The emphasis is on the relational aspect. As facilitator, I want to make participants feel at ease and launch the conversation. Through a smart opening activity people (and we as facilitators!) get a sense of who is in the room and how they relate to the workshop topic. 

An invitation to engage

A room full of chatter is also a strong signal to participants that the workshop will be conversational. They take the floor for a first little exchange and share their viewpoints.

For creating meaningful opening activities have a look at Nancy Dixon’s blog post Please! No more Icebreakers: 5 Ways to Get a Group Connected Without Icebreakers where she shares her rules of thumb as well as some great examples.

Explain why you’re doing the activity and how it will help the group with their work.
Nancy Dixion

I like the line-up activity Johnnie Moore proposes. It is a soft way for everyone to get started.

So, let’s celebrate the opening of the workshop in a smart, smooth and meaningful way.

What are your experiences with opening a workshop?

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