Sparking a conversation with a group was difficult enough before the Internet existed. Now, however, we’re living in a society where all of us are bombarded with information on a daily basis, such that any message which doesn’t immediately stand out is lost in all the noise. There’s even a term for it – information overload.
Thing is, that very same technology responsible for this overload can also be one of the most effective tools for learning, engagement, and creativity in your arsenal. All you need to do is break the ice. Once you do that – once you get people talking and working with the technology that’s around them, you’re set to run a great event that people really get to connect with others at.
So…how do you accomplish that with the digital generation? The trick now is to bring technology into it.
Let’s talk about how you can do that.
Play Some Games
Not every keynote has to start serious, and not every presentation needs to be a stuffed-shirt affair. Why not kick things off with a game or two? Digital Bingo, for example, is a great way to get people in the room interacting with one another, as it tasks each person with finding peers that have accomplished particular tasks online (for example, used hashtags, has knowledge of online dating, reads Reddit, or uses Siri). As with real bingo, the goal is to get five names in a row.
Mind you, that’s not the only game you can try playing. Question Ball is a pretty classic game where you take a beach ball covered with “Ice Breaker” questions, and have people toss it around to one another; the question a person’s index finger lands on when they catch the ball is the one they have to answer. These questions can be pretty much anything related to your conference – you could even get a bit creative and have people do things with their smartphones instead of answering questions (for instance, tweeting a particular hashtag). This is a great way to incorporate a Tweetwall into the event to help organize the game.
Finally, depending on how big you want to go, you could even set up a digital Easter Egg Hunt of sorts – hide QR codes around the conference space that unlock tidbits of information about your topic, and task teams of attendees with finding them all.
The key here is that you get creative, and think of ways that some classic icebreakers can be enhanced with modern technology.
Bring In Their Devices
The majority of people at your event are going to have cell phones – you can more or less count on that. Why not utilize them to help break the ice? You might, for instance, consider using an application designed for that express purpose (there are actually quite a few that are freely available).
To help you out, here’s a short list (though keep in mind that there are many more than what we’ve presented here):
Icebreakers: Filled with activities and icebreaker games divided into categories. Granted, it’s geared more towards team-building specifically, but can easily be used in the context of an event. Even the free version features a pretty impressive selection of activities and games.
Let’s Talk: This one’s all about running Q&A sessions, and lets you browse a ton of different questions based on category. Once you’ve found a question you like, you can click on it to start up a Q&A session.
Plane: One of the more intriguing apps on our list, Plane’s an app intended to help its users meet new people – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for your events. It lets anyone post a short, location-based message, referred to as a signal, which can be read by other users in the same city. Signals can receive public replies, and people can swap customized ‘social cards’ and exchange private messages.
Draw Something: Alright, this one’s technically a game. Even so, you could combine it with another activity – like Pictionary – and have people use it to draw some pretty awesome stuff together. .
You don’t necessarily even need to use an app. You could, for example, have guests select a song, photo, or video from their phone that’s personal to them, and explain to one another why they feel it represents who they are, or challenge them to take an epic selfie together. Get creative, and think about all the ways you use your own smartphone on a daily basis – could any of those activities be adapted into something that might break the ice?
We’ve talked a bit in the past about how event management is an inherently social activity, right? Why not bring that into your event, and get the ball rolling before people have even hit the floor? If you’ve managed to get a conversation started on social media, you won’t necessarily even need to break the ice – people will already be talking; they’ll have already introduced themselves to one another.
Of course, there are a few ground rules you’ll want to keep in mind if you choose to go this route:
Do your research. If you’ve got a follower of your brand or someone who’s interested in attending your event, think about why. What specifically caught their attention?
Ask questions, but keep them meaningful. Don’t, for example, just ask them something random about one of your products. You might not even need to ask something about your brand – you could put out a call for attendees to tell you their favorite restaurant, or the person they most enjoy following on Twitter. You could even take it a step further, and use their answers to personalize their nametags at the event itself.
Don’t be afraid to reach out directly. As advised by the Eventbrite Blog, try to reach out to individual attendees on their social network of choice – such as by recommending a keynote or guest speaker they should tune in for. Especially with smaller events, making that connection online will be invaluable, and will ensure the ice is already broken when they finally arrive.
Above all, respond. If you spark someone’s interest, don’t just leave it at that. Talk to people! Social media’s all about conversation, and letting yours die out prematurely is a definite mistake.
Believe it or not, the art of conversation hasn’t actually changed that much with the introduction of technology like the Internet and mobile phones. Certainly, the medium by which we communicate is different, and there are a few new grounds rules. And there are new challenges, too.
But if you can get around those, you’ll be able to spark a great conversation all the same.