Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Cracking the Communications Ice

Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Cracking the Communications Ice

Article excerpt

Cracking the Communications Ice At your next seminar or workshop, cut a clear channel through behavioral styles with this icebreaker.

Have you ever felt the frozen reserve of an unfamiliar audience? Picture a seminar group coldly staring back at you as you deliver your opening remarks. Instead of opening a channel of communication, the group's glazed-over looks freeze you in mid-joke. Your intended icebreaker hasn't even put a crack in the behavioral ice of the audience.

As the seminar leader, you need a no-fail way to start the flow of the session, an effective icebreaker that will defrost the audience and set the direction of the training or presentation. In our seminars, we use an innovative warm-up exercise to initiate animated discussion and attentive audience participation. Originally developed by Mary Ellyn Voden, director of education for the Children's Museum of Houston, the exercise will show you how to cut a clear channel of communication with your audiences by having them reveal their natural behavioral styles.

The tip of the icebreaker

As participants enter the seminar room, we introduce ourselves and ask them to make name tags. We also ask them to select four words they would use to describe themselves. On the name-tag table are 20 piles of brightly colored slips of paper the size of index cards. A word is printed on each. The choices comprise a validated group of key behavioral attributes, and include such words as friendly, competitive, blunt, open, curious, logical, organized, informal, and so forth. The words (or "behavioral flags") are arranged into four color groups. ] pink for people-oriented, "feeling" adjectives; ] yellow for "big-picture," creative adjectives; ] green for systematic, detail-oriented adjectives; ] blue for administrative, bottom-line adjectives.

Participants usually start joking about their selections and invariably ask if they can take more than four words. We say no; for this activity they are restricted to four, although they can choose the same word more than once if it is particularly descriptive. We ask them to staple or tape their selections to their name tags in any fashion they like. (We are also wearing four descriptive words on our name tags.)

People who choose words like imaginative, curious, open, or spontaneous often attach their words in unusual ways--upside down, sideways, or perhaps in a fan on one side of the name tag. In contrast, those who choose words like logical, organized, or cautious often assemble their words neatly on one side of their name tags. The initial selection of words and name-tag making takes about 10 minutes. The subsequent discussion can go on as long as the leaders wish, depending on the size of the group.

After everyone has taken a seat, we say something like "We're excited to see so many friendly, open, and curious people this morning." As we talk, we look directly at specific people in the audience who are wearing those words. Open chuckles result. Then we explain the purpose of the seminar or class and a bit about our experiences, using the words we selected for our own name tags: "My role today is to help guide the discussion on (topic of course) in a friendly and organized manner so that we can look at new concepts that will be important in (purpose of course)."

In the next step, the participants introduce themselves. They usually follow the leaders' lead, listing their expectations and needs for the course, using the behavioral flags they have selected.

Mimicking behavioral flags

Two important principles of effective training are that the leaders be the active agents in the learning process, and that they be well-informed guides, not talking textbooks. …

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