Breaking the ice?

中国日报网 2018-07-13 10:56



Reader question:

Please explain “ice breaker” in this: “When I have a new class we play this game as an ice breaker. You have to say five things about yourself, only one of them has to be a lie. Everyone has to guess which is the lie.”

My comments:

Here, the teacher askes his or her new class to play a game, whereby the students get to introduce and know each other in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.

Usually, the teacher just asks each and every one of the students to stand up and tell the rest of the class who they are, where they come from, what they like, etc. Sometimes the students are reluctant to talk because they’re bashful or get too nervous to speak in front of strangers or whatever. When this happens, the classroom can feel awkward. After each student speaks, there’ll be a prolonged period of silence. The teacher will have to goad and coax the next speaker to open their mouth.

So, in our example, the teacher asks the students to play a game instead. All students love game playing and so the atmosphere livens up and the conversations get going smoothly.

Conversations get going smoothly and continuously, without the usual awkward interruptions of prolonged silence – during which period everyone looks down at their shoes and refuses to lift their head.

Oh, ice breaker.

The ice breaker is a ship strong enough to break ice sheets covering a river or seawater. With the ice sheets broken to pieces, the fleet of vessels following the ice breaker can resume their sailing.

Hence, the metaphor. An ice breaker in conversation is a story or activity that helps break the icy silence, warm up the atmosphere and start a conversation or get the conversation flowing again.

Icy silence because when nobody speaks, it can feel chilly, cold and icy.

Anyways, that’s why they’re called ice breakers or icebreakers (one word). The verbal phrase is: break the ice.

Here’s a good explanation on “break the ice” from

The earlier meaning of this phrase, that is, ‘to forge a path for others to follow’, alludes of course to the breaking of ice to allow the navigation of boats. The figurative use is quite old and was recorded by Sir Thomas North in his 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes:

“To be the first to break the Ice of the Enterprize.”

It wasn’t until the latter part of the 17th century that it took on its current meaning of ‘establish a relaxed relationship in socially awkward situations’; for example, Samuel Butler's Hudibras, 1678:

“The Oratour - At last broke silence, and the Ice.”

Moving forward another two hundred years ‘breaking the ice’ reverts to its original usage, when specialist ice-breaking ships were introduced. These ships, known as ice-breakers, were equipped with strengthened hulls and powerful engines and were employed in the exploration of polar regions.

Soon after these ships were introduced the term ‘ice-breaker’ began to be applied to social initiatives intended to get strangers acquainted with one another. In 1883, Mark Twain used the phrase that way in Life on Mississippi:

“They closed up the inundation with a few words - having used it, evidently, as a mere ice-breaker and acquaintanceship-breeder - then they dropped into business.”

All good, here are a few recent examples of icebreakers or breaking the ice:

1. By 1938, clarinetist Benny Goodman was already known as “The King of Swing” — the leader of the most popular dance band in America at a time when swing jazz was America’s most popular music. But nobody knew how it would be received in Carnegie Hall, America’s temple to classical music.

“That January 16th back in 1938 was a Sunday, and a cold one,” Goodman recalled in a commentary recorded 12 years later. “We didn’t quite know what would happen. How we would sound. What the audience would think of us. Until they got there, we didn’t even know how many people would be on hand. So we just went out and played.”

The concert was recorded, but there were no plans to release it.

“Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall Concert of January 16th, 1938, historically, is the most important concert in jazz history,” says Phil Schaap, curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Schaap produced the Columbia Records album reissue of the 1938 concert and says the event – with no dancing and no booze — elevated jazz to an art form.

“The Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall is the cornerstone to jazz having performance space in the concert hall,” Schaap explains. “But most importantly, aesthetically, it establishes that jazz has value for listening purposes only.”

The musicians sensed the importance of the event that night and they were nervous. Schaap says drummer Gene Krupa knew how he broke the ice.

“Krupa senses something’s wrong,” Schaap says, quoting the drummer. “‘I knew I had to do something. So I had my drum breaks. So I just hit everything I possibly could. Made a lot of noise. It woke everybody up. From then on it was smooth sailing.’”

The concert turned out to be such a hit that Goodman went back to Carnegie Hall a few months later, and again the following year. There have been re-creations over the years, including one last week at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center and another planned later this week by the Sacramento Jazz Orchestra. At a 30th anniversary celebration in 1968, Goodman insisted that for him, the Carnegie concert was just another gig.

“So it never crossed our mind to think that on the night of January 16 we would give a jazz concert that would turn out to be a historic occasion,” Goodman said.

Outside of music, the concert was culturally historic. In 1938, music venues were segregated. But Goodman took more than half a dozen African American musicians with him onto the Carnegie Hall stage, including pianists Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and saxophonist Lester Young. Benny Goodman made a stand for integration onstage nine years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.

“Benny Goodman deserves a lot of credit because he did this not with the idea of being commercial or for any money,” Lionel Hampton said at the 30th anniversary celebration. “He did it for the feeling in the heart. He said we need the white keys and the black keys to play together to make good harmony. And that’s what he did.”

But at that same celebration, Benny Goodman said it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. He didn’t think the concert could be re-staged with the same effect.

“I think it was a particular time, a particular thing. And that was it,” he said.

When Benny Goodman’s The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert was finally released in 1950, it became one of the first LPs to sell more than one million copies.

- How Benny Goodman Orchestrated ‘The Most Important Concert In Jazz History’,, January 16, 2018.

2. Stormy Daniels wants to make clear that her experience with Donald Trump shouldn’t be lumped in with the #MeToo movement. “This is not a Me Too,” she told “60 Minutes” reporter Anderson Cooper. “I was not a victim. I’ve never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to further someone else’s agenda does horrible damage to people who are true victims.”

Cooper’s long-awaited chat with Daniels — the adult film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — finally aired on Sunday night, but didn’t shed much more light on what has already been reported and discussed in the press.

But nonetheless, it was the first time that Daniels, on camera, gave details regarding her brief affair with Trump. In previous TV appearances, Daniels had been coy about their relationship. But on “60 Minutes,” she made it clear: They had sex in 2006, soon after meeting at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.

Beyond the talk with Daniels, Cooper’s report investigated the potential legal ramifications for Trump. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen says he used $130,000 of his own money to pay Stormy Daniels, just days before the 2016 election. But that payment could have very well run afoul of campaign laws, as an illegal campaign contribution. Cohen has denied that it was any such thing.

Here are a few highlights from Cooper’s report on Stormy Daniels:

Daniels broke the ice by suggesting she spank Trump with a magazine. He obliged.

The adult film actress said Trump was showing her a picture of himself on the cover of a magazine. “I was like, ‘Does this normally work for you?’ And he looked very taken back… I was like, ‘Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it.'”

Daniels said she didn’t think anyone had ever spoken to him like that before. “I was like, turn around, drop ’em… So he turned around and pulled his pants down a little — you know had underwear on and stuff, and I just gave him a couple swats,” she said. “From that moment on, he was a completely different person. He was like, ‘Wow, you– you are special. You remind me of my daughter.’”

- Stormy Daniels on ’60 Minutes’ Details Her Donald Trump Affair: Here Are The Key Details,, March 25, 2018.

3. Speaking engagements have become standard practice for many businesses. Whether it is a 10-minute presentation at the local Chamber of Commerce meeting or a TED Talk, start your presentation off properly with a solid self-introduction. Although a self-introduction must provide meaningful credential information, it should also captivate your audience. Don’t ignore professional standards when presenting a creative self-introduction.

Find the Creative Angle

Find a creative angle that works for you. Using jokes or other personal anecdotes are commonly used as introduction methods, and these remain strong opportunities for creative engagement when done appropriately. This means you are telling your audience information that’s not just relevant to yourself and your topic, but also keeping the content, like a joke, clean and appropriate for the audience.

While icebreakers are generally reserved for team meetings and team building, it is possible to use an icebreaker to start a presentation if it smoothly leads into the topic. For example, a presentation about overcoming limiting self-beliefs might start with having the audience members stand and touch their toes, then incorporate a tip or trick to help them reach further on a second attempt. This is a creative way to get everyone’s blood flowing, capture their attention and segue into your experience and concepts about overcoming mindset limits.

Find a unique way to relate to your audience. Speaking about a pet is something easily relatable. Perhaps show a picture of your pets and ask the audience to share their pet's names. This engages the audience by hitting a positive trigger topic.

Dress the Part

Always dress appropriately when making a presentation to any group. This doesn't always mean a suit and tie, but don't show up in dirty or wrinkled clothing. It is possible to be a bit creative with your attire. For example, assume you regularly speak at local business venues. If you always wear a short-sleeved button-downed shirt with a green bow tie, audience members will recognize you immediately upon taking the stage.

This tactic becomes part of a speaker’s persona. While your attire isn’t discussed in the introduction, it nevertheless becomes part of the introduction by creating your unique reputation. Audience members might remember you and continue to refer to the “green bow-tie guy.”

- How to Give a Creative Self-introduction, June 28, 2018.


About the author:

Breaking the ice?

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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