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Frances Ferguson

Glasstap Ltd

Training Design Manager

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Icebreakers and energisers: how useful are they to trainers?


Quick wins exercises such as 'icebreakers', 'energisers' and 'learning reviews' are often seen as an important tool in the arsenal of professional trainers.

In 2016 we conducted a simple survey to find out trainers’ attitudes towards them and what use they made of them within training.

The survey was entirely anonymous and consisted of six questions (with an opportunity for respondents to add their own comments).

In total 157 training professionals replied and the results make for very interesting reading.

As we can see, the overwhelming majority of respondents always use them. Comments supporting their use include:

“All the time, it brings people together and makes the training session more fun”

“Essential to set the scene or to break up particularly heavy discussions or sessions.”

“I call them 'attention getters'.”

However, other comments did go some way to explaining why not everyone uses them, with the most common reason being a lack of time.

There were also a handful of comments about the perception that they were not welcomed by participants:

“Icebreakers yes but energisers no – ‘energisers’ to mind are condescending. Rather than some stooped toss a ball exercise I suggest to people to take a 5min walk in the fresh air. We are talking about adults after all - eh?”

This question created an interesting disparity in both the answers given and the explanations contained within the comments. Typical arguments put forward by those pro-relevance include:

“Definitely where possible, it’s all about practice and reinforcing the learning however you can do it.”

“Definitely. Otherwise participants do not fully engage, and can actually disengage from the training topic/material. Just even the mention of the word Icebreaker sends some participants packing (mentally, at least!)”

“I think this is key - if you can use the ice-breaker to pull out some learning which you then refer back to during the course, it seems less like an energiser and more like a fully-integrated if short course exercise.”

But those advocating using exercises that weren’t necessarily relevant, tended to use different arguments that are also worthy of consideration:

“Depends on the topic, the length of the session and the attendees attention ...sometimes a non-relevant ice breaker is good to refresh the room.”

“However not always, sometimes after process heavy training something lighthearted and off subject works better.”

“I would have said strongly agree but on occasions I have used Ice Breakers to encourage the behaviour I need for a successful learning environment rather than the subject I am training.”

Of all the questions, this was the only one where more people disagreed with the statement than agreed with it. Many respondents explained this by saying that they varied their approach depending upon the group they were training (a number of these respondents specified it was because they were in-house trainers, so participants already knew one another).

There were also quite a few people who said that they used both techniques in training:

“Often combine introduction with an interactive exercise and get two birds with the one stone.”

“I use both. Asking them to tell us 'why they are here' as part of an introductory statement not only gives me some idea of what they want to get out of the session, but also lets me correct any misunderstanding about the purpose of the course and what we will (and won't) be covering.”

For those who expressed a preference for interactive exercise, these comments summed up the reasons for doing so:

“Yes. I avoid formal introductions and create active, changing group exercises in which people can introduce themselves in any way they choose.”

“I think activity based works best. After all it isn't always necessary for people to know each other to share a learning experience. In fact, on many occasions it helps not to know as it brings no preconceptions about who or what that person is.”

It is clear that many training professionals have exercises that they enjoy reusing to increase the energy in the training room. There was a common thread running through the comments that demonstrate:

  • Trainers tend to like creating a ‘toolbox’ of energising activities that ‘work’.
  • They worry about overusing them, especially in-house trainers.
  • They are always on the look out for new energisers to use.

But as with the comments to earlier questions, a number of people did mention the need to have energisers that are relevant to the subject that they are training.

The overwhelming evidence here is that trainers include a range of exercises designed to help their participants to review what they have learnt during training.

The reasons for this can be best summed up with the following comment:

“Always. My view is, what is the point otherwise? We are there to make a difference, and we are paid to deliver a change in behaviour.”

The most commonly mentioned techniques were reflection and discussion. Role-plays and action planning also got mentioned; though to a lesser degree.

Once again, the limits of time were mentioned as a barrier to making this happen. However one respondent has a good way to address this and it is a great recommendation, regardless to the duration of training:

“Sometimes difficult to achieve effectively in the desire for short bite size sessions and we are starting to build in reflective activities post session to be recorded and discussed with their line manager.”

Prioritising activities

For the final question, respondents were asked to rate how important a list of attributes was in a Quick Win exercise. The graph below shows the distribution of the responses to each of the 12 statements:

An alternative way to look at it is with an average score given to each attributes based on how many people said Very Important (4 points), those who said Important (3 points) etc. Here is how they were ranked:

As you can see, there is quite a difference in the scores, and some interesting results. Which ones jump out at you as being unexpected will vary depending upon your own priorities, but it’s worth noting:

  • The top 3 answers are all focused on the impact on the participants.
  • This compares starkly with the, by some distance, least popular attribute: ‘Makes me look good as a trainer.’
  • Relevance is once again ‘middle of the pack’ which matches the responses to Question 2.
  • Physical movement is not seen as hugely important for these quick win exercises.


It seems that regardless of the tools we use to do it, all trainers are agreed upon a need to be able to: Get the group talking and thinking. Alter energy levels in the room. Reflect upon what has been learnt and how participants will apply it.

Here at Trainers’ Library we have been listening to what you have been saying and are launching a brand new section of quick win exercises that include Icebreakers, Energisers and Learning Reviews.

Even better, we have ensured that there is a great mix of exercises that are topic specific and others that can work with any training topic. 

A huge thank you to all the training professionals who completed the survey, we couldn’t have done it without you and hope that you enjoy seeing the results.

6 Responses

  1. One thing I would add –
    One thing I would add – running an exercise at the start of the session helps me, as an external trainer, get a very quick and useful idea of the personalities, learning preferences and dynamics in the room. Helps with the ongoing management of the session for the rest of the day.

    1. Good point – knowing these
      Good point – knowing these things is especially useful when you’re going around helping specific groups too and can tailor your assistance to the needs of the smaller groups/individuals within the groups.

  2. Interesting. I also wonder
    Interesting. I also wonder what participants feel about them.

    1. Good question Tim, I will see
      Good question Tim, I will see what I can do to get a similar survey out there and we can compare results. It will definitely be interesting to find out.



Author Profile Picture
Frances Ferguson

Training Design Manager

Read more from Frances Ferguson

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