At the start of a corporate training session, our leader initiated an icebreaker. Nobody in the room knew each other, so the leader asked us to get up and “share something about yourself that no one would know from reading your resume.”
Most people I know hate icebreaker games like these. Me? I’m a good sport. Sure, icebreakers can be a little hokey, but I like the interaction. I also enjoy listening to other people’s offbeat stories, learning a little about them, and maybe even getting a good jump on remembering names.
I quickly thought of something unusual to share about myself when it became my turn. I then listened to the first speaker: a big, burly man. He blurted out,
“I’m Mike. When I was in college, I was the guy who stocked feminine hygiene products in public restrooms.”
The audience burst into laughter. It seemed so unlikely: Mike was very big and masculine! And what a tale to blurt out in front of a room of 20 new colleagues. I admired his guts.
Mike went on to explain that he didn’t put that job on his resume. He never even told any of his college chums about his job.
“It paid good money,” he admitted. “But I’d rather have my friends think I was a small time drug dealer than the tampon guy.”
This just made everyone laugh harder. I was no exception.
But when Mike sat down, it was my turn to get up. The room was still laughing.
“Hi, I’m Laura,” I said. “This one time in college, I was in a public restroom. When I left the stall, I saw a huge man standing in front of the tampon machine. He had his back to me and I didn’t know what he was doing, so I clocked him on the head with my purse and ran. Was that you, Mike?”
The room laughed. Mike nodded with a grin.
“Occupational hazard,” he said. “Happened all the time.”
I sat down, enjoying the continued laughter. I wished the guy who followed me would have told a story about how he accidentally walked into a ladies’ room and found a gigantic man passed out on the floor, covered with tampons.
But he didn’t. I don’t remember what the guy after me said. Something truthful, I’ll bet.
The point of the icebreaker wasn’t necessarily to tell the truth. The point was to connect with the other people in the room. When I saw an opportunity to make a personal connection to Mike and my new colleagues, I didn’t tell the story I had planned to tell.
Is it really lying if everyone knows it’s a joke? Or if an outrageous lie serves a higher purpose?
You can plan your presentation content for months, weeks, days, or even minutes — but you also need to be flexible. Be present. Practice improv. Watch and listen for late-breaking opportunities to give your presentation a little more impact.