(First published, November 2003)
A major purpose of an opening activity is to help participants get acquainted with each other. Here's an opener that identifies and rewards participants who would make good politicians.
To energize participants and to encourage interaction among them.
15 - 20 minutes
10 to 30
Prepare copies of an instruction sheet presenting the following content with suitable modifications:
We want you to meet and interact with as many other participants as possible.
This is a do-it-yourself icebreaker. You have approximately 7 minutes between now and 8:37 AM to mingle and chat with the other participants. Collect information from different people and share information about yourself. Use this contest as an excuse to behave like an intrusive extrovert.
Until 8:37, you are on your own. No other instructions will be given.
Exactly at 8:37, we will conduct a contest that will reward your ability to work the room. You will have two chances to win!
Briefing. As participants come in, greet them at the door and give them a copy of the instruction sheet. If anyone asks you questions about the contest, repeat the information from the instruction sheet.
Keeping time. Blow a whistle and announce the beginning of the 7-minute period. Keep an eye on the clock. One minute before the ending time of the contest, give an appropriate warning.
Start the contest. At the exact time, blow the whistle. Tell participants to stop talking with each other. Ask participants to hide their nametags and any other personal identification.
Conduct the popularity contest. Explain that the first phase of the contest involves visibility. Ask participants to stand up if they believe that their name will be remembered by the most people in the room. Bring this group to the front of the room. Point to the first contestant and ask the other participants to write her full name on a piece of paper. Announce the name of the participant and ask each participant to check the name written by her neighbor. Ask those who wrote the correct name to stand up, and count their number. Repeat the process with each of the other contestants. Identify the winner (or the winners) whose name was correctly written by the most other participants.
Begin the memory contest. Explain that the second phase of the contest involves memory. Ask participants to look around the room and estimate how many others they can name. Start an auction, asking participants to bid the number of full names that they recall correctly. Identify the highest bidder (or bidders).
Conduct the memory contest. Ask the highest bidder to go around the room, whispering (to prevent the others from hearing) the full names of each participant. Ask all participants who have been correctly named to stand up. If the highest bidder has succeeded in correctly naming the number of participants she bid (or exceeded the number), she wins. Otherwise, repeat the activity with the second highest bidder.