Babbling: The Best Icebreaker Ever

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

The Best Icebreaker Ever

Recently, my mom forwarded me the following email:

Could I get instructions for the ice breaker Gretchen used at the retreat? It was the best I’ve ever experienced, and I’d like to use it at work.  She was so great!

Awwwww. Nice of this man (I’ll call him Matt) to compliment me and my workshop facilitation. But even nicer that he recognized the power of the InterPlay form of “babbling”.

He’d experienced this unique “icebreaker” during a church retreat (for the ultra cool Covenant Baptist in Houston, Texas), where I’d been invited to teach some sessions on embodied worship.

How to Lead Folks in a Babbling Sequence

Here are the instructions I emailed back to Matt:

  1. Put people in partners
  2. Have them decide who will go first.
  3. Tell them you’re going to give them a topic and they will talk about it for 30 seconds. Tell them you will ding a bell when it is time to switch.
  4. Announce the first topic. Simple ones are best. (For example, have folks describe their car. Or a friend. Maybe their favorite view from a window).
  5. After they have both spoken about the topic, have them thank their partner and find a new one.
  6. Repeat the process two more times.
  7. With the final partner, give them an extra minute to reflect on what it was like for them to talk in these quick bursts about different topics.

If you want to see an example of babbling, watch the video at the top of this post. It’s surprisingly simple!

Babbling Creates Instant Community

I’ll never forget when Phil Porter, one of the cofounders of InterPlay, revealed a discovery of his: community is created when each person in the group hears a personal story from 3 different members of the group.

This advice was a revelation to me, one I have tested out hundreds of times since. And it’s true. So often we think we need fun, unique games to serve as icebreakers. But really, people just want to feel connected to each other. And connection happens through personal stories.

Plus, as I mentioned in the video (above), we can reveal a great deal of information about ourselves in 30 seconds. Just the other day in an InterPlay class, my partner described the view from a window. From this seemingly innocuous topic, I learned:

she used to live in Minnesota, she lives in the second floor apartment, she really likes cats, she knows a lot about trees, she lives with a male significant other, she and her partner enjoy being silly together.

Wow! That’s a lot of stuff crammed into 30 seconds.We’re bound to find something we have in common there. (I like to be silly and I have lived in Minnesota!). The more we find in common with the people in our groups, the more connected we’ll be.

The Mundane Details Contain the Juiciest Nuggets

Another piece of InterPlay wisdom: Profound truths are embedded in mundane, daily details.

So often group facilitators try to get their students to “go deep” by having them share big deal reflections with the rest of the group. What are you most afraid of? What brings you the most joy?

In InterPlay we ease into the deep stuff. Why force people to share their intimate details so overtly? Instead, just have them, for example: describe their kitchen! A gay man might quickly have to choose whether he’ll reveal that his male partner does all the cooking. Or I’ll reveal that I’m still single at the age of 36, living with roommates. And we sometimes share meals.

These seemingly mundane details contain the nuggets of some of our deepest human experiences: loss, love, pain, surrender, courage. All that comes out?! But all I did was ask them to describe their kitchen!

What Should We Babble About?

Babbling is so quick and easy. Anyone can talk for 30 seconds. I’ll end by leaving you with a list of possible topics you can have folks babble about. Enjoy all the stories!

  • Describe the view out a window
  • Describe your desk at work
  • Describe the place you feel most relaxed
  • Describe one of your friends and what you like about them
  • Describe your car
  • Talk about things you did for fun as a child
  • Talk about things you do for fun now
  • Describe in excrutiating detail how you got here today
  • Describe what you ate for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) today
  • Describe two objects in your living room and how they got there
  • Describe the contents of your refridgerator
  • Etc, etc. Add your own ideas by commenting! (The comment link is, strangely, up at the top of the post).

5 thoughts to “Babbling: The Best Icebreaker Ever”

  1. Love it, love it! However, I’ve had 2 interesting responses to the use of the word BABBLING — both from the 80+ in years. One woman was totally put off by the idea of “babbling.” The other woman thought it meant only talking “nonsense, not making any sense.” I worked through it with both of them. My personal experience is that it’s magical!

  2. Eva, I live the idea to use animal words as the starter. Yay!

    And Marlys: I neglected to mention in my post that I never actually use the word “babble” when I facilitate. I, too, have discovered that people get confused by the word. Perhaps it would be better to refer to the form as “Talk Abouts”?

    Alycia: how fun to see you pipe up. Would love to hear how your leadership meeting goes!!

  3. I have yet to discover something else that is as fun as babbling!! (well, maybe Follow the Leader InterPlay style!) You go Gretchen!

  4. Yeah, babbling implies FAST to most people, and yes,sometimes leads them to do gibberish (which is one of the funnest parts of babbling) while everyone else is doing English! SInce there’s no way to do InterPlay wrong,that doesn’t matter. I have fun telling them that is doesnt HAVE to be fast… but i may try the “talk about” way of languaging it sometimes.

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