How to choose a ‘fun fact’ for working icebreakers when you can’t really get away with it
If you’ve ever panicked when it’s your turn to share “fun facts about yourself” at work, you’re not alone.
“Many early-career employees I’ve met freeze up when told their fun truth,” says Korik Ng, a career counselor and faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches the unspoken rules of career navigation.
Determining what is appropriate and engaging for work can be tricky. You don’t want to be too annoying, but you also don’t want to be the cause of an HR complaint.
Take it from Ng and five other industry experts. Each person has different strategies for choosing what to reveal in the get-to-know-you exercises, and each has something to learn.
‘I did magic tricks’
“I either did magic tricks or I was a big movie soundtracks and country music nerd. The key to a good fun fact is to share something about yourself that isn’t about work, isn’t accusatory, and makes people think, ‘Cool! Say more,’ or ‘No, me too!’ This can spark a follow-up conversation — a conversation with someone who shares the same interest, or someone who doesn’t, but now has more information about you to spark a conversation.
“Remember: People evaluate you based on your ability, commitment, and adaptability. Can you do this job well?’ They ask themselves, ‘Are you talented?’ ‘Are you excited to be here?’ ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘Do we get along?’ ‘Are we compatible?’
“Tell us a fun fact” is an invitation to build your compatibility.” – Eng
‘I’ve made progress, I’m from Turkey’
“I want to share that I’ve improved and bring lessons learned to work – ‘yes and-ing’ ideas from others, always having others’ backs, etc. Being from Turkey and spending a lot of my childhood going back and forth between America and Turkey. I think those are the things that help people understand more and invite more questions [and] Conversation.
″…When answering these questions, remember that your goal is not to come up with the ‘best’ answer. It helps people feel comfortable with each other speaking, contributing and taking turns to see each other as whole people. So don’t put pressure on yourself to win people over with a great answer – no one will remember what you said an hour later, but they will remember that you were a great person to work with during that meeting. – Bonnie Dilber, a Zappier recruiter
‘My mother is a mail order bride from the Philippines’
“My mother was a mail-order bride from the Philippines, and I grew up splitting my time between a small cattle ranch in East Texas (Dad’s side) and a women’s shelter (Mom’s).
“My strategy for sharing these truths is to share something specific that most people wouldn’t guess when they first meet me, but more importantly, I’m sharing something personal and real, so we start to build trust, vulnerability and an environment of psychological safety.
“I believe in creating great workplaces where you can be your whole self without shame or insecurity, and build relationships based on trust and integrity. Sharing something personal about my upbringing helps set the tone for others to share something authentic about themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with answering these icebreaker-type questions with your favorite color or favorite animal, but real connections are built on deeper ways of getting to know each other. – Gianna Driver is Exabeam’s Chief Human Resources Officer
‘I am a certified emergency medical technician’
“My strategy is to be in my role or in a team environment that has at least a little bit to do with the type of leader I work with. I’m constantly working on improving my skills of giving strong direction, responding quickly, and communicating concisely, so I chose ‘I’m certified as an EMT’ as a fun fact. tending to.– Laura Hogan, author of Resilient Management
‘I’m 6′ 3″ and I Don’t Play Basketball’
“I usually share about my height when I’m in person — I’m 6-foot-3 — and I don’t play basketball. When online, I share that I’m one of six kids because most people feel like it’s a big family, and then people who come from big families are like, ‘Me too! ‘ Most people are curious about my height, and what makes it funny or interesting is that I don’t do what people expect people my height to do: play basketball.
“People panic about icebreakers. ‘Fun facts’ are a broad category. Anything can be a fun fact and it’s great to have so many options. The first thing to do when choosing a fun fact is to eliminate unspoken pressures—you don’t have to be funny, you don’t have to be clever, You don’t have to be very impressive. Success is best defined as what I share about myself that others don’t know. – Laurence Brown, founder of C-Trac Training, a workplace education company
‘I have a background in astrophysics’
“When I go to professional ice creams, I usually tell people two things: One, I have a background in astrophysics, and to some extent it… lets people know something that I’m interested in that doesn’t normally come up. [up] In my career – not to mention writing and journalism, productivity and lifestyle tips. If I think it might be a little too arrogant for the people I’m with, I like to tell people I’ve been a DJ. Everyone loves music, and I sure do, so it’s a great opportunity to talk to people about the music they love.” — Alan Henry, Wired magazine’s services editor and author of Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Rules of Work for the Marginalized
If you are in charge of deciding to use an ice breaker, it should be a stress-free experience for employees.
If you’re crafting an icebreaker for your next work meeting, here are some best practices to follow.
Give people a heads up. Giving employees advance notice that there will be an icebreaker in a meeting can level the playing field, says Ng. Otherwise, he noted, the meetings “favor confident, well-spoken promoters.” “Hey, you know, I’d like to ask everyone to introduce themselves and share a fun fact at our kickoff meetings. Personally, I’d say something…”
Be open about why you’re doing the ice breaker. “Some facilitators choose to do an icebreaker to get everyone talking right away, or start building relationships between strangers, or bring humor to a boring or quiet meeting,” says Hogan. “Don’t be afraid to state the target as an introduction to your icebreaker question!”
Keep it light. “What’s your best Halloween costume?’ or ‘Which superpower would you like to have?’ Even with new colleagues, people generally feel comfortable and easy to respond to,” says Dilber. “Questions that are deeply personal or that put pressure on people to be witty or creative can cause more anxiety.”
Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.