Earlier this month, I attended the spring conference of Counselors Academy, a section of the Public Relations Society of America for owners and principals of independently owned PR firms. The conference gives Counselors Academy members the opportunity to come together and share ideas about managing marketing and public relations agencies. The event as a whole was excellent, but I was particularly impressed by the “ice breaker” activity that kicked it off.
The activity was facilitated by Banding People Together, a group of musicians/collaboration experts that has worked with organizations ranging from big companies like Microsoft, to smaller outfits, to industry groups like the PRSA. They started by just playing a song, which boosted the energy level in the room. Next, they split the 125-or-so attendees into four groups and paired every group with a musician/facilitator. Each musician/facilitator then guided his or her group in writing a song. At this event, the songs were naturally about public relations, but for another conference, they could just as easily be about software, or law, or real estate. Once the songwriting was complete, each group performed its piece and everybody voted on which one was the best. (Our group should have won, but, well, that’s not the way the voting went.)
I, of course, saw only one of the Banding People Together facilitators at work, but if his performance was any indication of his colleagues’, they were fabulous at listening, offering feedback, providing guidance, fostering collaboration, and simply making the exercise fun. Our groups, at 20 to 30 people, were bigger than those the facilitators normally work with, but they rose to the occasion and did an admirable job. Picture a couple dozen people, most of whom don’t know each other well, coming up with lyrics together about a subject with which they’re all intimately familiar, be it public relations, or computer programming, or anything else. The activity forms an immediate, positive bond among the participants. It ups the event’s energy. And it’s fun.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences and done a lot of ice-breaker activities, so I’ve got to give Banding People Together credit: theirs was one of the most effective ice-breaker exercises I’ve ever participated in.