What are Your Ice Breakers?

Everyone has special tricks to get the conversation started. Some people love the excitement of meeting new people and others dread it. What kinds of ice breakers do you use to start and sustain a conversation? Here are a few that I’ve tried; I’d love to add more to the list.

  • What first connected you to this organization?
  • Do you volunteer with other organizations around town?
  • Have you lived in this area for a long time? Are you from Washington?
  • What do you do? How is business? Do you enjoy what you do?
  • Do you have any trips coming up that you are looking forward to?
  • How are things going at work, is it a busy time for you?

What questions are you known for asking? Do you use ice breakers when talking with board members and potential donors?


4 Responses to What are Your Ice Breakers?

  1. Christian D. says:

    I love meeting new people–it’s fun to hear new stories and new ideas, as well as the new connections you get out of it.

    There’s a tricky line though to finding out things vs. making the person feeling like you are interviewing them. One thing I like to do, to make sure I’m not always “asking” questions, is to use to directive statements, such as:
    -Tell me about your weekend
    -You need to give me the story on that necklace, it’s amazing
    -Hey, we may know someone in common–here’s who I know at xyz corp

    If you’re at a banquet/cocktail party/work function, I’ve found that most people are slightly uncomfortable in those situations, and they tend to default to the same topics of questions (“What do you do? How is the job? What are your thoughts on xx?”). So, if you can break out of those, and be fun, you can actually get more value because people relax and are willing to go into deeper subjects.

    Laugh if you want, but the following stuff has worked very well for me in opening up people and getting them to relax :)
    -Hey, did you know Elvis dyed his hair? Guess what his original color was. Dirty blonde! I know, can you imagine Elvis with dirty blonde hair?
    -If I gave you $100 right now, and you couldn’t spend it on bills, what would you buy?
    – I feel like we’re at the 8th grade dance again, girls on one side and boys on the other. Were you popular in jr. high? Boy, I wasn’t. Although, I can still remember the way the gym smells to this day!

    While they may seem “silly” people are used to dealing with “work” stuff in the usual way. There’s the small chitchat, the hollow promises, and the “what can you do for me?” feeling. But, if you really take the time to go above and beyond, and make a personal connection you can really solidify a relationship fairly quickly.

    By being seen as “fun” and “interesting” you impart a higher social value to that person. I make it a rule to usually not talk about work within the first 5 minutes of a conversation, and really focus on the other person and their interests. I’ve had more than one occasion where that person has thought I was “fun” and dragged someone else over to meet me, and that person turned out to be the key contact I needed.


  2. Beth Ann Locke says:

    Nice questions! One that I usually ask donors when I meet with them is I explore what philanthropy/giving was in their families. I may pose, “Did your parents participate in charity when you were growing up? Such as giving to a place of faith?” Or “How did you begin giving in the community? Did your family set an example?” That usually brings about a story (whether or not the family gave, or if the kids knew they did) of how they came to be where they are themselves. It informs their thinking and you can see that in the way they tell it. If they are parents of older children themselves, this sometimes also leads to a conversation that includes the types of values they are interested in passing down to their kids. ~ FundraiserBeth

  3. Jason Dick says:

    Wow. Chris & Beth two really great comments. Chris I love your story of being introduced to someone else who turned out to be a contact you really wanted to make. Beth what a great string of questions to learn about a donor. Thank you both.

  4. Janice C. says:

    To piggyback on Beth’s comment, since I work for an organization that helps kids, and people love talking about their kids, I usually ask people about their families.

    So glad to see this post and the great comments. I have a hard time starting conversations and my fallback question always seems to be asking people what they do and where they work. I think Christian makes a good point about asking people about fun things outside of work to make them more relaxed. Thankfully, my job doesn’t usually require me to go out and talk to lots of people , but it’s a good skill to have regardless and there are definitely some great takeways and suggestions here for regular networking and social events as well. I’m definitely going to try to remember these!

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