Whether it’s a virtual work meeting, birthday celebration, or workshop, so-called “Zoom fatigue” is a real phenomenon. According to a Stanford study, a high cognitive load and lack of mobility in front of a computer screen exacerbate this sense of feeling worn out after participating in virtual events or conversations.
When event attendees are worn out, there’s a higher likelihood that they’re not entirely engaged. A Zippia survey of 2,000 remote US workers found that most attendees are checking their email, sending a text message, or otherwise multitasking during a virtual meeting.
If you’re hosting a virtual event, opening it with an ice-breaker question and sprinkling ice-breaker activities in between sessions or speakers can reengage attendees and take a conversation beyond the realm of stilted small talk. Below are some ideas to stimulate guest participation and open up communication.
Drexel University’s Goodwin College of Professional Studies found that ice-breakers are effective at building community, interaction, and empathy. The following questions are intentionally broad so that attendees can easily share more about themselves while keeping awkward silences to a minimum.
If you could be any _______, which would you be and why?
Fill in the blank with any theme (e.g., animal, color, profession, etc.) that you feel resonates with your online event or group. This question invites guests to think outside of the box when describing their reason for choosing that “something,” giving insight into the attributes that they either possess, admire, or strive toward.
What is your favorite_______, and why?
You can position this question using a variety of themes, such as novel, movie, song, or sport. It promotes casual conversation and helps attendees learn more about each others’ personal interests.
The more common ground you find with others at the event, the more inclined you’ll be to listen to their ideas and feedback, communicate your own, and foster a supportive environment.
>>Read More: 4 Ways to Express Empathy and Support in Writing
What would you want your last meal to be and why?
Although describing a meal might seem outwardly mundane, this question is effective because of how it’s posited. Asking guests what they’d want to eat as their last meal offers a variety of conversation topics to springboard from.
Does someone prefer their last meal to be a comfort-food dish that reminds them of a loved one or cherished place? Perhaps someone would want to experience a lavish, fine-dining meal that they’d never willingly seek out in their day-to-day life. The response offers a glimpse into what the speaker finds meaningful.
Even if you’re not hosting an in-person event, with a bit of advance planning you can coordinate an ice-breaker activity to kick off your virtual event.
Photo show and tell
Have each attendee share a digital photo based on a pre-announced theme. This might be a photo of something they did over the weekend, their last vacation, a fond childhood memory, or a photo of them participating in their hobby.
You can ask participants to make it their Zoom background, submit the picture ahead of the meeting, or show it via screen share. This activity is effective because the new media element reduces eye contact with other attendees, which the Stanford study cites as one of the drivers of Zoom fatigue.
Family member meet and greet
Pet lovers are usually enthusiastic about sharing their beloved pets with others. An activity for your next virtual event can be a round-robin pet meet-and-greet. Each guest can introduce their pet on screen and share a fun fact about them.
Those who don’t have a pet can opt to introduce a willing family member or friend and share how they met. This activity helps attendees develop empathy for each other and see each others’ important relationships outside of the group.
Guess whose desk
When you’re hosting an event with attendees who know each other, a “guess who” activity can help lighten the mood while letting attendees’ personalities and styles come forward.
If the event is among coworkers, have each person take a photo of their desk or workspace. Make sure they’ve cleared any identifying information from the frame. Show each photo anonymously during the ice-breaker and have attendees guess whose desk it is, verbally or via chat.
If the virtual event is among other groups, such as an online event among friends or family, you can choose other themes, like “guess whose car” or “guess whose closet.”
The bottom line
Not all events have experienced a full return to in-person attendance—and it’s unclear when some will. As you navigate the terrain moving forward, these ice-breaker ideas can help make your next virtual gathering an engaging place to communicate more freely, make new connections, and strengthen existing ones.