Returning to a time for gatherings

When it comes to introductions, we’re long past “What do you do?”

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Many of us are getting together for the first time in a couple years.

Spring and summer are always the seasons for gatherings of all kinds.

From reunions to conventions, summer camps and vacations, the time is coming for us to meet with, visit or get to know those people we have not gathered with in a long time.

I wonder if we’ll remember how to do it.

Meeting with people – even, or maybe even especially, family – can be awkward – at best.

How many movies and television series, after all, have been based on the clumsy, hazardous terrain of shared family history?

The chit-chat that makes up the bulk of conversations at these gatherings is the stuff of nightmares for many of us – and the fodder of many a situation comedy from Seinfeld to Frasier to Friends and hundreds more.

But besides being out of practice, the world has changed since 2019.

The old school “say your name, and what you hope to get from the session” is predictable, if not mind-numbing.


Remember the term “icebreaker”? It is used refer to the idea of a conversation starter to get people who did not know each other to discover common ground and, to one degree or another, establish a relationship.

There are entire categories, even industries, of games, activities and exercises to help us get past our initial sense of reserve around strangers.

Some are revealing – even borderline embarrassing.

In the 2020s of course, many more topics are off-limits.

Income has always been taboo.

Politics has become absolutely inflammatory.

Food used to be safe – food sensitivities and political associations from vegan to GMOs have made food as radioactive as pay scales in most conversations.

Music has become yet another culture war/generational battle field.

Some of these gatherings are more formal/professional than others. Some are based on a particular industry, occupation or event.

In light of these complications, I have gathered a few tried and true – or perhaps new and innovative – ice-breaker questions, prompts and activities to make your next gathering a bit more interesting.

Some are personal

In the spirit of getting to know someone, aspects of their personal life can be revealing and/or interesting.

Here are some examples;

What is your morning routine?

Who is the most interesting person you have met and had a conversation with?

What is something that you feel proud of this week?

If you could learn any one skill right now, what would it be?

What’s your favorite family tradition?

What’s your earliest memory?

Who had the most influence on you growing up?

What high school clubs did you participate in?

What is something your mother or father often did that you find yourself doing?

What’s something you think about that makes you feel old?

Who has been your most interesting, disturbing, or annoying neighbor?

What is the most out-of-date piece of technology that you still use on a daily basis?

Who would you invite over for dinner if you could invite any celebrity?

Would you rather be the funniest or smartest person in the room?

What is your worst date story?

If you could eliminate one food from the world, what would it be?

What simple food will you never eat?

What is a common thing that you have never done? (Fly, change a tire, etc.)

What popular movie or TV series have you never seen?

Are you a cake person or a pie person?

What is a current trend that you just don’t understand?

Some are professional

What was the worst job you ever had?

Be specific.

What would you do with your time if you were independently wealthy and didn’t have to work?

How would you describe your job to a five year old?

What do your family and friends think you do all day?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What is something you did at work that no-one noticed?

What was the first way you made your own money?

What piece of advice would you share with your younger self?

What major life/career decision would you make differently?

Some have to do with super-powers

If you could have a super-power, what would it be?

Would it be public or private?

Would you use it for the good of all, or for your own good?

Would you use your super-power every day or only as needed/called?

What is a super-power you would give to someone else? Who? Why?

And some are used to provoke ideas

If you had a time machine, would go back in time or into the future?

If you could choose any historical figure to be your imaginary friend, who would it be and why?

Which fictional family would you like to join?

A billionaire offers you a million dollars for your brilliant new business concept. What exactly is it going to be?

What would your campaign slogan be if you were running for public office?

What difficult period in your life made you a better person once it was over?

Have everyone think of two truths and one lie about themselves so that others can guess which is the lie.

If you knew you’d be stranded on a desert island, what are the top ten items you’d bring?

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

Would you let aliens beam you up if they came to Earth?

If you could go to any other time or any other culture, where would you go?

Where would you go if you’ve been granted a one-way ticket to another country of your choice?

You are the best criminal mastermind in the world. What crime would you commit if you knew you would get away with it?

Would you rather live 100 years in the past or 100 years in the future?

What is the worst advice you have been given?

And, I’ll close with the question that inspired this thought exercise; if you were arrested without any explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?

If given the choice, I like to talk to the person I imagine, on first impression, that I have the least in common with. I am likely to learn the most from that person.

My wife tells me that at family or social gatherings I tend to gravitate to the youngest people there.

I’ll even sit at the “kids’ table” if I can.

Even if I don’t know the kids.

You can learn about yourself at social events.