The Slice

Ice Breaker vs. Energizer Activities: What's The Difference?

October 7, 2022

If you've been googling around for icebreakers that people will actually enjoy, you might have come across another type of group activity– energizers. What's the difference between icebreakers and energizers? What types of circumstances are best for each type of activity? Let's dive into everything you need to know about making your team feel comfortable, engaged, relaxed, productive, and energized, whether you're hosting a big annual meeting or a regular weekly check-in.

When you're bringing a bunch of people together to work towards a common goal, the vibe can feel pretty stiff at first. While icebreakers get a bad rap sometimes, they can go a long way to help everyone get to know each other and feel more relaxed.

If you've been googling around for icebreakers that people will actually enjoy, you might have come across another type of group activity– energizers.

What's the difference between icebreakers and energizers? What types of circumstances are best for each type of activity?

Let's dive into everything you need to know about making your team feel comfortable, engaged, relaxed, productive, and energized, whether you're hosting a big annual meeting or a regular weekly check-in.

What Is an Icebreaker?

Icebreaker activities are an interactive way for people to get to know one another and feel more relaxed around each other when they first meet. Attending a training seminar or even a small house party can be stressful when you don't know anyone, and these activities can help reduce the tension and clear a path for learning and togetherness.

Interestingly, the term icebreaker refers to a special-purpose boat or ship specifically designed to break through ice-covered waters to clear a path for other vessels. When you use icebreaker activities, you are helping to break through social tension, anxiety, and uncertainty and speed up the process of a group working or socializing effortlessly together.

It is natural to feel a bit uncomfortable in a setting where you don't know many people. When you're bringing together a new group of trainees, it can seriously impede learning if individuals aren't comfortable around one another.

One of the hard things about icebreakers is that many people have had awkward past experiences where the exercise was cheesy, and the ice was not effectively broken. Here are a few classic icebreakers that you can use that are actually fun and not impossibly corny:

  • Show and tell: An easy one for remote meetings; every team member takes turns sharing an object they love.

  • Bucket list: Go around the room (or virtual room) and let everyone share some items on their bucket list.

  • What do we have in common?: A good choice for new hires on an established team, this is a way to find common ground and get a conversation started.

  • Name that tune: Everyone takes turns recreating a popular song through creative means while the rest of the team guesses.

  • One word: Divide a large meeting into smaller groups and let everyone come up with one word that describes a specific topic relevant to the meeting.

  • Birth map: Use a physical or virtual map to place pins where each team member was born.

  • Frivolous debate: Pick a totally silly topic and let the team debate using ridiculous reasoning (for example, the Rolling Stones are better than the Beatles, horses are better than bears, etc.).

When Should You Use Icebreakers?

Icebreakers are ideal in a number of different circumstances when you're bringing together a group of people that don't know each other well or don't normally work together.

Some instances when you might want to use an icebreaker activity include:

  • Beginning to work with a newly formed team.

  • Working with participants from a diversity of backgrounds.

  • Starting a project where it's important that the team bonds quickly to reach a common goal.

  • Discussing new or unfamiliar topics to many participants.

You can use these activities anytime you are dealing with a group of people that you haven't met before or individuals from different levels of your organization.

Can You Use Icebreakers in Remote Meetings and Conferences?

Definitely! Icebreakers can be an awesome way to warm up the crowd when everyone is logging in from different corners of the globe.

It's easy to feel very separate from others when meeting remotely, so an icebreaker to get things moving in the right direction can help relieve tension, reduce stress levels, and let your event or meeting get started on the right foot.

What Is an Energizer Activity?

How well your training session or meeting goes has a lot to do with the energy everyone is bringing to the table. Maybe you've noticed that everyone returned from lunch a little sluggish, or maybe your team's eyes are starting to glaze over during an intensive presentation.

When people are low on energy, they are less likely to be fully engaged with the content you're presenting. Energizers are activities designed to boost a group's energy level and get everyone back into a motivated and engaged mindset.

These activities can either be "palette cleansers" that help people take a break from the presented information before returning, or they can be related to what is being taught.

Either way, these activities are best when they are simple, engaging, and fun. The goal is to get the team into an alert state so they are better able to retain the presented information.

Do you feel like your employees are zoned out no matter what you do? It's possible that your workplace is suffering from a common ailment: chronic boredom. Check out this recent post to learn how to keep your employees from getting bored at work.

When Should You Use Energizers?

Energizers are perfect for breaking up a long training session or meeting and increasing energy levels after a break. It's common for people to be a bit lethargic after lunch, so you might consider an energizer activity when everyone reconvenes after their mid-day meal.

If you're hosting a workshop or a training session for your existing team, energizers can also be a wonderful way to kick things off with a bang.

While energizers can be an awesome way to get everyone to wake up and tune in, it's important to be sensitive to how your team is doing and recognize when they simply need a break. This is particularly important if you are primarily meeting remotely– as video conferencing is becoming more common, the fatiguing impact of meeting virtually is increasingly apparent. According to researchers from Stanford, video meetings are particularly exhausting for a number of reasons, including requiring a higher cognitive load, reducing our typical mobility, and the tiring effects of constantly viewing our own faces in real time.

One way companies are helping to mitigate the effects of virtual meeting fatigue is by allowing employees the option of turning their cameras off at least some of the time. If you feel your workers aren't as engaged as they normally are and you've been hosting back-to-back Zoom calls, everyone might be better served by a break from the screen before getting hyped up through an energizer activity.

Can You Use Energizers in Remote Meetings and Conferences?

Absolutely! Energizers can be just as effective in Zoom calls as in real-life situations. Being productive isn't just about putting as many hours towards a project as possible, but rather managing energy levels to get the most bang for your buck.

When you're dealing with remote employees that might be distracted by things going on in their home or feel isolated from the rest of their team, energizers can be an awesome intervention to bring everyone together no matter how geographically far apart they are.

What's the Difference?

While both icebreakers and energizers are activities that can be used to grease the gears of teamwork and group experiences, they each have their own set of circumstances in which they are ideal.

Icebreakers are best used when there is, essentially, "ice" to break. Even the most extroverted individuals can benefit from a little nudge when attending a business meeting or a large conference when they're around people they don't know. These activities allow everyone to let their guard down and come out of their shells, so they can connect with the people around them.

When you use successful icebreakers, you'll find that the atmosphere is lighter and more comfortable after the activity. Team building icebreakers can help coax people out of their comfort zone and give them a common experience immediately.

However, your hard work isn't done once the ice has been broken at a big conference or during a meeting. When people work together for an extended period, you'll notice that energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day.

Energizers are specifically designed to re-energize and rejuvenate an audience. It's natural for people to start getting a bit tired or burnt out when listening to a speaker for a long time or engaged in a lengthy meeting. These activities can help everyone take a break, clear their minds, and get ready to hop back into the task at hand.

In general, icebreakers focus on helping people get to know each other, reduce social anxieties and tension, and clear a path for learning. They are typically more talking-focused.

Energizers, on the other hand, are designed to increase energy by getting people moving around, solving problems, or simply inducing laughter and light-heartedness. Therefore, these activities are more physical or brain-stimulating, as they intend to get people's creative and mental juices flowing and help them move around after hours of sitting still.

What About Check-Ins and Check-Outs?

While we're discussing the business of icebreakers and energizers, it's worth mentioning two other sibling activities, check-in and check-out. Many companies have implemented a check-in and check-out ritual as a part of their meeting agenda to help each team member engage and feel participant, no matter how large or complex the meeting is.

You can engage in these activities whether you work in-office or meet remotely with your team. You might choose to do check-ins at the beginning of a workshop or meeting, or you might start a morning ritual where there is a brief check-in at the start of the day.

Depending on the context of the meeting or conference, these questions can be more personal or business-focused. For example, for a casual weekly meeting, you might ask everyone to take turns sharing a "high" and "low" of their previous week.

For a more formal gathering of minds, you might ask everyone to briefly answer a question such as:

  • What is the one thing you will need some help with this week?

  • What has occurred since our last meeting?

  • What do you hope to accomplish during the meeting today?

Similarly, you can treat the check-out as a way to ritually close out more informal meetings where everyone shares something fun they will do over the weekend or another work-friendly but personal piece of information. Or, it can be a great way to close off a meeting with a work-related prompt, such as:

  • What is your biggest takeaway from today's meeting/conference?

  • What feedback do you have about the experience overall?

You might find that check-ins and check-outs become integral to your company culture once you begin the new ritual. This is a quick way for people to get to know their team members better while giving even the shyest members of your team the chance to have their voices, opinions, and feelings heard.

Taking Your Icebreakers and Energizers to the Next Level

When you're planning a meeting or a conference, it's easy to get worried that things won't go as planned. You likely have a lot of different goals for the event– ensuring that the material is well-received, making sure the content is understood and retained by your team, and more.

While icebreakers, energizers, and check-ins can go a long way in ensuring that everyone is comfortable, on the same page, and engaged, it's possible that you're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.

What's that, you ask?


That's right. If you feel like your team has been slumping over in their computer chairs no matter how many thrilling activities you throw their way, it's possible that they need a pick-me-up in the form of some cheesy goodness.

We know what you're thinking. How the heck are you supposed to send piping hot, fresh pizza to every member of your globally distributed team?

Don't worry; we've got you covered. At Pizzatime, we delight in organizing pizza parties, lunch meetings, and other events for remote teams. If you think it's time to add a little something extra to your next virtual meeting or conference, you can start your order today.

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