Using Memory Stacks as Fun Icebreakers

Team Building Tips


Have Fun at Work

Our minds think in pictures. I’ll prove it. Think about the BEST moment of your life thus far. Maybe it’s the day you were hired into your current job. Maybe it’s the day you graduated from college. Maybe it’s the first time you held a newborn child. Maybe it was the day you got married. Maybe it was the day you got divorced (I’m not judging).

Whatever the BEST moment of your life thus far is, chances are good that what popped into your mind was a picture or image. Maybe it was even a video clip. The point is that it was likely some type of a picture – not written words on a page. That’s because we store information in pictures. Our brains like receiving information that way, and memories are created that way.

A fantastic icebreaker to use is a memory stack. It meets all of the criteria for choosing a really great icebreaker – it’s brief, only lasting about 10-15 minutes; it’s very interactive; people will remember it for long after the program has ended; it is creative, as there are endless possibilities for making up new memory stacks; and they are a ton of fun!

To create an outstanding memory stack, you should first think of a group of things that you want the group to remember. For example, memory stacks have been made representing a list of principles all related to one topic, like communication. A memory stack can have as many items in it as you like, but keep in mind that your participants will need to be able to remember all of the items in a short period of time (like about 2 minutes). So it’s a good idea to aim for between 7-14 items.

Once you’ve clarified your list of items, start at the top of the list and create an image or picture for the first item. For example, let’s say the first item on your list is this: “Be proactive instead of reactive”. You might have the picture be of a PRO athlete doing jumping jacks (being active). The picture doesn’t need to describe the entire item, word for word, in order to be memorable. As long as some part of the picture represents the concept, your audience will get it.

To add another concept to your stack, think of the next concept on your list. Create a picture for that concept, and then link the two pictures together. For example, starting with our first concept: “Be proactive instead of reactive”, and building to the next concept: “Be slow to anger, especially over petty issues”, the picture representing the second concept could be a volcano, which builds slowly before erupting. To make the two pictures interact, simply have the pro athlete doing jumping jacks standing on the rim of a volcano that is getting ready to erupt.

For each additional concept, repeat the process. Imagine a memorable picture to represent the concept, and then find a way to make the images interact or link together. It may seem challenging at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. If you are struggling to come up with images to represent your concepts, one great way to overcome that is to go to your favorite search engine and click on the “images” tab. Then enter your key words and see what comes up.

Memory stacks are one of my favorite ways to get a group opened up, relaxed, laughing, and more receptive to what I’m going to do next with them. They are a lot of fun and easy to do. If you’re looking for more fun ideas, give us a call!

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude is Vice President of Instruction for the Northeast region. She is based in Detroit, Michigan, but she also teaches in Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toronto, Baltimore and other Northeast cities.

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