Building Rapport, Quickly

by Naomi Devine, Senior Designer + Digital Engagement Specialist

Establishing rapport (developing the positive relationships between a facilitator and participants, as well as amongst participants) is a critical component of meeting success.

When it goes wrong, or if it doesn’t even happen, a meeting becomes flat and stale (who wants that?) or, at worst, derails entirely, wasting everyone’s time and potentially jeopardizing your project.

No pressure, right? So, how can you set yourself up for success in this critical moment?

In our course, Facilitating Engagement Plans, we have a module on rapport building that covers a lot of ground about how to do this, especially at the beginning of your meeting. I’d like to share a technique I’ve used recently to build rapport in the digital meeting space.

The technique I’m talking about is an icebreaker. We’ve all experienced icebreaker exercises to varying degrees. I recommend beginning with one based in humour and curiosity. Now, humour can be subjective and get you into trouble, so I suggest sticking with food, popular culture, and travel, combined with low-stakes, anonymous answers for your icebreaker.

Step one: Select your best questions about food and movies or television.

Here’s a jump-off point, using some questions I selected in our last class, for a Zoom poll (which you can also use in Mentimeter or Slido, as well). These will break the ice and help set a fun mood for the beginning of your next meeting:

1. When it comes to dessert, do you prefer:

    • Cake
    • Pie
    • Something secret

2. Pineapple on pizza?

    • Delicious, amazing!
    • No thank you!

3. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

    • Obviously
    • Definitely not
    • What is “Die Hard”?

4. For a holiday, would you rather be:

    • At the beach
    • In the mountains
    • At a museum
    • Secretly at home, relaxing, but know one knows you are there

Step two: Ask a group of your colleagues, from a variety of backgrounds, to have a look at the draft questions and ask for their feedback.

Step three: After your colleagues confirm the questions won’t offend anyone, you set up the poll ahead of time to use with your participants.

Step four: Debriefing the poll. This is where it gets really fun. Ask questions based on what you are seeing: “What….someone here wants to spend their holidays in the North Pole?” Hyping the questions and the reveal brings laughter and humour into the early minutes, in order to start building relationships quickly.  This last point speaks to something facilitators and trainers know…..we have to bring our personas to our event and be ok with that.  Have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously!

As you can see, it’s not really the answers that matter (and feel free to customize the answers to your liking and audience); what matters is providing participants with a novel experience in a low-stakes way that gets them talking and laughing a bit as they fill out their answers. As a bonus, these questions will reveal some surprises and common ground when the answers are shared.

Give this a try and let me know how it works for you! Best of luck on your road to rapport building in your next meeting.