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Steve Robson

Marine Industry

Learning and Development Consultant

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Bad Words?


Hi 1) "Icebreaker" 2) "Game" 3) "Fun" Why? "Icebreaker" As a delegate I think I would be mature enough to find my own comfort zone rather than being forced to warm up at the request of the Trainer. "Game" If I am having a day out of the office the last thing I want to be doing is playing a game. "Fun" I will decide if I am having fun and don't need to be told I am having fun. 3 words that send shivers down my spine if I am ever attending a Training course. If they appear on pre course information I probably wouldn't attend and if they were mentioned at the start of a session ie "today we will have some fun" "let's start with an icebreaker" "next we are going to play a little game that's great fun" I would turn off or leave the event. Does anyone agree or are these words still generally accepted by delegates and Trainers? Regards Steve

23 Responses

  1. Toe Curling Words

     Hi Steve

    I agree- these words make my toes curl and I never use them when I am training. Icebreakers are usually silly activities that the trainer needs to show how creative they are but I just want to know the name of the person I am sat next to and what they do so that is what I usually do or I just go straight into an activity that is relevant to the theme and encourage people to introduce themselves in their small groups. If people have badges on then i can use their name by reading their badge and I can get to know them when they first arrive in the room and during the breaks.

    Fun – horrid word, how do you know I will have fun? Some of the contrived ways of having fun are no fun at all. I use words like relevant, tools you can take back to work, help you to reflect about changes you can make…. I was chatting about the word Fun with another trainer and we agreed that the sessions participants often find most fun are the ones you haven’t designed to be fun but where you give people the space to talk about the real issues they are facing and facilitate them to come up with some ideas and different approaches using their own insights and those of the other participants…not a game, Kosh ball, smelly pen in sight!

    Game – I also hate Exercise as well, just sounds like a sports thing. If I use a word at all I would use Activity and would say "the next activity has been designed to give some practical insights on the topic/to get you thinking about the theme/to test out the skills" but never it is really good fun.

    But I also hate it when trainers say "sorry the next section is a bit chalk and talkie but bear with me as once we have gone through the boring stuff we can do some fun stuff" – yes honestly I have heard that.

    I would recommend all trainers to travel on trains and buses – the Transpennine route from Leeds to Manchester is my personal favourite. On the evening train back to Leeds you will often get some groups of employees who have attended a course in Manchester and they talk to each other about what they really thought and "complete waste of time" is a frequent phrase. Bet they didn’t write that on the "happy sheet"

    Shall we start a campaign to bring back boring work based learning!



  2. Any trainer worth their salt

    Icebreakers/games are often used not only to ‘break the ice’ and get to know each other, but if used properly they can amongst other things, encourage an open environment, encourage creativity and also enable the trainer to gauge the feeling in the room in order to pitch the course well.   If they happen to be in the form of a fun game then all the better.  

    If you feel that the methods that you come across are ‘just for fun’ then instead of walking out first ask the trainer who is running the course what the purpose is of the icebreaker.   Any trainer worth their salt will be able to explain the purpose of any intervention they use in a course. 
    If after that you feel you are not going to benefit then ask to sit out the game but don’t sacrifice the remainder of what could be a valuable course by walking out of the entire thing!


  3. Fun?
    Hi Caroline

    I have yet to meet a delegate on one of my courses who needed to be warmed up…or who didn’t have fun.

    However, that was a result of a good training course, being fully prepared and understanding delegate needs rather than injecting them with happy juice and getting them to do innapropriate things.

    Best regards


  4. Words

    Very interesting thoughts.

    We go to learn not play so what’s wrong with saying ‘learn’ ?

    You could say a game is ‘interactive learning’

    Icebreaker suggests we have a heavy way ahead of us breaking through so why not ‘get to know each other’

    I suppose it depends on what the trainer is trying to project to the delgates but think of what a CIPD conference would be like with the chair saying ‘Today we shall have fun with a few games, but first, an icebreaker’ doesn’t bear thinking about.

  5. ‘We are all kids at heart’

    Hi Steve

    I think it’s real shame that you feel you can’t use the terms fun or game in your sessions. I agree you perhaps wouldn’t want to use these terms on joining intructions etc, but to not use them in the sessions I find strange. As long as you ‘game’ or ‘fun’ fits into the content of what you are delivering why not tell them ‘we are going to have some fun’ – it will be equally re-engerising for some delegates.

    I also agree that the term ‘icebreaker’ shouldn’t be used with delegates as it can put delegates off, however if used correctly they should link into your session and you can actually tailor them so you can learn about how the delegates are feeling about a session or the subject in order that you can mould the programme to your group and understand how they feel towards that subject.

    I would recommend anyone feeling this way about these terms to look into Accelerated Learning. It will give you theory, structure and reasoning to use icebreakers, games and have fun. We have used this in our company for the last year and our knowledge retention rates have gone up by 20%. We advocately promote fun in learning and now staff look more forward to training and other departments are asking us about our training. Our staff are professional, predominantly detailed, analytical people, but as one senior manager said to me in a Fraud training session last week. ‘We are all kids at heart.’



  6. Fun
    ‘we are going to have some fun’

    Just fell off my chair. Thanks for the tips, I will check out accelerated learning.

    Best wishes


  7. Ditto!

     I am so with you Steve!


    I agree that ‘icebreakers’ serve a purpose as long as they are appropriate to the subject etc. but I would never introduce it as that – as far as I’m concerned that is a ‘technical’ name for the introductory part of the course and not a term to necessarily use with the group (unless its a train the trainer course –  where every activity will be demonstrated and explained). I am more likely to use a fairly simple and straightforward intro exercise without animal noises or running round the room types of activity. I do, however, think its important to do something so that everyone gets their first chance to speak to the whole room and everyone knows who they are in the room with.

    As for fun and games – well I totally agree with other posts – the more you tell me I’m going to have fun – the less likely I am to have it! I agree that the best ‘fun’ happens unintentionally in a good learning environment when real issues are being resolved. Activities or exercises or tasks with a clear explanation of their purpose certainly have their place, but I wonder how often the trainer uses games for their benefit rather than the learners?


    There must be some other ‘bad’ words …. I’ll have a think and try to add some more,


    best wishes,


    Margaret ( a trainer for 25 years and still not jaded!)




  8. Words
    Completely agree Margaret.

    There is no need for any words to describe what you are doing. Just do what you are there for, make it appropriate, interesting and
    relevant. Be as up to date as you possibly can be with what training is and should be and (in response to a previous post on
    comments on a train) everyone will be saying what a fantastic day they had.

    Still learning but wouldn’t have it any other way!


  9. YUK!

     I’m right with you Steve and I couldn’t agree with you more.  Place these words in some trainers’ mouths and yuk: it’s time to vote with your feet and get the hell out of there!

    Well done for raising this, although I bet you will upset some folk!!


  10. Welcome Slide
    I could also mention…

    Innapropriate music played too loud to get me in the mood

    Welcome PPT slide with a bullet point for refreshments, restrooms, and “have fun”

    Catching sight of a tennis ball knowing I wil be asked to pass it to someone at some point!

    But I’m sure nobody on here would do any ofthe above?

  11. Steve’s tennis ball

    nothing to do with the thread in general….or is it?

    Story told to me by a delegate;

    he was at a conference and it was all very serious and "professional" and oozing gravitas.  The next speaker strode onto the rostrum carrying, over his shoulder, a big net sack full of soccer balls (you know, the  type of thing football coaches carry onto the practice pitch).

    He began his presentation

    He delivered his presentation

    He finished his presentation

    No mention was made of the bag of balls

    He invited questions, and answered several pertinent to his subject.


    Eventually someone asked about the relevance of the bag of balls…


    "No relevance at all" the speaker replied, "but it got you thinking" 

  12. Top of his game
    “nothing to do with the thread in general….or is it”


    This guy is at the top of his game and has the delegates needs at the top of his agenda. Wish I was on that course. He sounds like an amazing Trainer.

    Unlike…”pass this ball and shout out your name” 🙁 “wave your plastic clappy hand if you agree” 🙁 🙁

  13. Grumpy

    Gosh I bet you are fun to have on a course. I recently had a delegate who objected to the word "signposted" appearing in her course

    confirmation letter and wanted the word directed to be used instead.  You can’t please everyone I suppose. On a more serious note,

    I do understand the writers dread at these words because it’s sometimes associated with an over enthusiastic trainer

    who has more enthusiasm than substance. Like everything else not everyone is perfect and if that’s the only downside to the course,

    you may have missed something really good


  14. Great story Rus!

     that’s a great example of how to create an atmosphere of curiosity in a presentation – I might borrow that story for my next presentation skills course – do you mind?


  15. Posters

    Rus, Margaret

    As long as it doesn’t become "guessy games" creating curiosity is a very powerful tool.

    I use wall posters facing inwards with a ? symbol showing out5wards…and an interesting message on the back.

    I "sometimes" turn them round and reveal …sometimes don”t but NEVER refer to them in any way.

    Any other ideas?


    PS…no tennis balls please 🙂

  16. Fun Vs Enjoyment

    I personally don’t really have an issue about undertaking some form of action that allows people to begin to interact and find about one another and the subject of development in a creative and none threatening way and calling it an ‘icebreaker’. When I do this I seek to facilitate what Berne termed ‘Time Structuring’ and get people to move from ‘Withdrawal’ which is what some people occupy in the early stages of relationships and move as quickly and as comfortably as possible to higher levels of intimacy. And intimacy should be understood here as a situation where an honest and open exchange of thoughts and/or feelings can take place.
    It’s my experience that an ice breaker can contribute to this if properly chosen and appropriately employed, I’ve done it, I do it and it works.
    I don’t use the term ‘fun’ but I do use the term ‘enjoyment’ where it fits the topic in hand. I sincerely want people to enjoy their learning; though by no means absolutely necessary it can be helpful.
  17. We’ll have none of that…

    My first impression of this thread is that it’s a very British thing…

    Not a particularly deep comment though I’ll admit!

  18. Icebreaker

    You make some interesting points.

    The “Icebreaker” (hate even typing it) is usually carried out at the start of a session to warm the delegates up. (Why is still beyond me as a decent course will be interesting and involve everyone at the start anyway)

    Based on the reasoning that a Trainer should have Trust, Credibility and Rapport in equal measures before they are accepted as someone
    from which we will learn…

    I am certainly not trusting enough of anyone I have known for 5 minutes to accept their instruction to “find someone with my star sign” or “same birthday” “north or south of manchester”etc etc and yes I have been asked to do that and more over the years…

    Enjoyment and fun are the result of really good well thought out training by someone who knows what they are doing. Even at National Conferences I have seen enough bad practice by so called experts to make me cry…

    Ban the Icebreakers…thats what I say!

  19. Better

    I just want to make things better.

    If we are not constantly looking for new ways to train and constantly challenging what we and others do we shouldn’t be in the job.


  20. Agreed

    Absolutely, we just have different experiences which have led us to reach (in this instance) different conclusions.

  21. There are far far worse words than fun

     What’s wrong with having an enjoyable training experience and the trainer setting that expectation up front?  I would much rather that then set the expectation of a dull, boring and forgettable session. 


    In my humble opinion, a training session is made or broken by clear objectives and engaging the learners.  Fun is merely the garnish.  It doesn’t change what you take on board but may make you more likely to give it a try.

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Steve Robson

Learning and Development Consultant

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