Image courtesy of Startup Accelerator

An issue that came up at the end of Startup Accelerator 10 in Madison, WI, last Saturday, was What’s a quick, easy, effective way to break the ice? Ideally, everyone should feel comfortable and be able to interact freely with everyone else. It is after all an unconference.

Maniacal laughter was a good icebreaker at our previous visit to Madison last November. In the wrap-up of Accelerator 10 we spoke about maniacal laughter and then, what the heck, we all did one. Maniacal laughter is fun for those of us who harbor some sort of looney streak, but it could very well be intimidating for the more reserved.

Over the course of the day everyone seemed to get into Comfortable, and we did have lots of non-maniacal laughs, and we did jam on lots of great ideas. But it took a while to develop.

Early in the day, I got an idea from a participant named Jim Galvez. He’d written his name on the top half of his name tag and on the bottom half he wrote “personal chef.” I stopped him as he walked past me. I have a relative who’s a personal chef! Next thing you know Jim, his wife Kathy, and I are talking food, organic gardening, ecology, meditation, Kathy’s acupuncture/energy/natural health business, all because Jim wrote two extra words on his name tag.

Jim had created a simple hook that effectively engaged other attendees. So, maybe everyone could write a word or two about their job, interests, aspirations …

On Tuesday I brought up the idea with two of the organizers of the Startup Accelerator, Mark Huber and David Snopek, a couple of wizards if ever there were. We brainstormed.

The idea would be that during the initial meet-and-greet everyone would try to talk to as many other attendees as possible. Like speed dating without the dating.

David suggested that along with the name tag everyone be given a sheet of stickers–dots, stars, hello kitty–some signifier that you and another attendee had talked and exchanged stickers. By the time the group gathers at 10 am all of the participants will feel they know a lot of other participants, indicated by the stickers on their name tags.

I look forward to trying this at Startup Accelerator 11 in Whitewater, WI, in May.

And thanks to Jim for a great idea!