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Surly Name Tent Ice Breaker

Surly Name Tent ExampleDo you lead meetings on topics that cause strong emotions and opinions amongst the meeting attendees? If so, you may want to consider this unique way of surfacing concerns prior to starting the actual meeting agenda. I’ve used this process many times and find that it can add a bit of levity to a “heavy” topic. It also can quickly let you know the percentage of people who are on board with the topic being discussed.

It’s a meeting icebreaker called called “Surly Name Tents”. It seems to me I got this activity from somewhere, but I can’t recall where. If you know, please add the attribution to the comments section.

Before the Meeting

Create a set of name tents. Using card stock, print one statement per sheet on the card stock. See my Surly Name Tent Template for formatting. Possible statements could be:

– What the heck is going on?!
– Here we go again . . .
– Cool!
– Yawn.

Fold the card stock into thirds to create a three-sided “name tent”.

Before the meeting starts set out the name tents on a table. As people enter the room, ask them to choose a name tent that describes their frame of mind related to the topic that will be discussed. You can set out blank name tents and have people write their own words as well.

At the Start of the Meeting

Frame up the purpose of the name tents by saying something like, “I know that there are a lot of opinions about <meeting topic>. So before we start, I thought we’d go around the room and get a sense what people are thinking about <meeting topic>.

After everyone has contributed, thank them and address the concerns raised.

At this point, you’ll need to decide: move straight into the meeting agenda, or invest more time addressing concerns.

After the Meeting

Follow up with people individually. For those who were “on board” thank them for their support. For people on the fence, find out what would help them gain comfort with the meeting topic. For people who feel resistant or very concerned, set aside specific one-to-one time to address their concerns.

Address Meeting Attendee Concerns

When you use this creative meeting opener, you’ll grab people’s attention. Nobody likes a boring meeting. Even better, you’ll have a heads-up on the meeting vibe. That’s critical to leading effective meetings – and being a person of influence.


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