Icebreakers? Try speed-networking – there are many options

July 02, 2018 | Natalie Frei | Methods & Tools |


Rating: 4.7 out of 5

NadiaIcebaker exercises are popular. I’m often asked for good examples for how to break the ice and warm participants to each other. Indeed, connecting people is important. How we open a learning event is a first essential step for the event’s success.

Nadia von Holzen, learning moments


Because connecting people is no luxury, I choose icebreakers that are meaningful. In my experience the first interaction should connect participants with participants and participants with the workshop’s topic and prepare everyone for what is coming.

One of my personal favorites is speed networking. Speed networking is an invitation to meet and have first small conversations. Everyone talks. Everyone is engaged. The atmosphere is lively. The good thing is that you can vary and combine this activity endlessly and twist it to adapt to the context of the learning event.

Open your session with an interactive activity. Use this to energize the participants and help them learn about each other.


So, let’s have a look at how it works.

The basis of speed networking is a series of mini discussions (of 2-3′) between changing pairs of participants. Here some possible variations to play with:


Speed-networking exercise at an SDC network’s face to face meeting in Kiyv.


Play with questions

Depending on the conversation you want to trigger, identify 4-6 inspiring questions. This could be about the professional journeys of the participants, their experiences and ideas about the workshop’s topic, their motivation to accept the workshop invitation or about their personal background.

At the face-to-face of the thematic network on democratisation, decentralisation and local governance (ddlg) we launched an inquiry between the network members who joined the previous face-to-face meeting in 2015 in Pemba. The intention of the speed networking was to connect network members who were not in Pemba with network members who were in Pemba and the discussions they had in Pemba.

  • Tell me about Pemba!
  • Tell me about an important discussion you had in Pemba!
  • Tell me about your personal highlight in Pemba!
  • What did you contribute to the network in the last 2 years?
  • What did you learn through the network?
  • In which way was the network inspiring your work?



You can use speed-networking to introduce participants to each other and to immerse them into the subject at the same time.


Play with the room

Speed networking you can do standing, walking or sitting:

  • Arrange the chairs (no tables) in mini circles of 4 chairs. Invite people to join a mini circle of people they haven’t met yet. Invite each circle to have first mini conversations in pairs, and at the end share in the group of 4 (for example what they have in common).
  • Ask participants to line up in two rows facing each other. When the group is big, two circles with equal number of participants – an inner and an outer circle facing each other – is also possible. Ask people to have a first chat, and after 1-2 minutes invite them to move to the right side till they face a new partner to have another conversation.
  • Participants walk freely in the room. When you ring the bell, they have a chat with the person standing closest. After 1-2 minutes they start walking again, you repeat this 3-5 times.

Give it a twist

Add photos to trigger conversations. Hand out printed photos (or key words or statements) related to the workshop topic to each participant. Ask them to exchange the photos while walking freely in the room without looking at the photos. When you ring the bell, they present themselves and have a chat with the person standing closest about their associations with the photo in their hands. After 1-2 minutes they start walking and exchanging photos again, you repeat this 3-5 times.

Make it visual by inviting people to sketch portraits of each other; followed by little conversations.

What are the twists you give to speed networking activities?


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Comments to“Icebreakers? Try speed-networking – there are many options”

  1. Thank you Nadia
    I could witness your speed-networking firsthand. The room was buzzing like a beehive! – What you didn’t mention in your post above (but put it into practice during the workshop) is the possibility to connect this first interaction between the participants into the overarching workshop story. For example, these first questions are the beginning of further moments of reflection throughout the workshop, where participants have the time to interact and find meaning about their learning at the workshop, about their future learning journey.

  2. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Thanks Hynek for your comment. And yes indeed, the speed networking at the beginning of the workshop is a first reflective moment and the promise for more such reflective moments throughout the whole workshop.


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