The Markets Game – A Mixer, Icebreaker and More

Created at
Created at

If you are training, putting on a conference or bringing people together who do not know each other for a meeting, the markets game can be a good start. It brings people together to chat about who they are (demographics), where they are from (geographics), and what they enjoy and care about (psychographics). I first saw it at a storytellers gathering, used as a mixer for new members, and we have since adapted it to the many varied settings in which we work. We have used it with as few as ten people and as many as 200. It can be done in as little as five minutes or as long as you wish, but planning fifteen to twenty minutes usually allows plenty of time.


Here’s how it works. You invite everyone in your group to stand in a large space that allows folks to spread out a bit, indoors or outdoors. The instructions are simple. Ask questions and let people move to your left or right in response to each question. After they move, invite them to gather in groups of two or three and spend a minute getting acquainted. Each question will split them up differently so they will meet new people very quickly and learn a little about them. I prefer to start with demographic questions, and then move into geographic questions and then psychographics. Question examples:


Question 1 – If you remember where you were on the day of the Kennedy assassination, stand to the left. If you don’t remember it, stand on the right. This generally puts those over 60 years old in the “remember” group and under 60 on the other. It’s a way of asking age without asking people to identify their specific age. You can also use the 1986 Challenger accident because most folks will remember it well, even if they were children when it occurred. This would put those over 35 in one group and under 35 in the other. Any significant national or world event that occurred during the age range of your group would work.


Question 2 – If you own a car, move to the left. If you rely on public transportation or your bicycle to get where you’re going, move to the right. Some questions will put almost all of the group in one location and few or none on the other side. It tells you something about the economic background of the group.


Watching this activity you can get a sense of your group’s ages and living circumstances. I avoid questions that might make people uncomfortable such as “if you make more than $50,000 annually . . . or if you have college debt . . . or have ever been divorced?”




Question 3 – If you were born and raised west of the Mississippi River over to the left, east of the Mississippi to the right. Obviously this is a U.S. oriented landmark. If you work with an international group, you might divide the group into east/west or north/south hemispheres instead. We live in Hawaii so I might ask here if my participants were born and raised in the islands or moved here.


Question 4 – If you live in a city or suburban area, move to the left. If you live on a farm or in a small town of 5,000 or fewer, move to the right. I might also ask if they grew up in the country or in the city or went to college at a western school or an eastern school.


Psychographics – I spend most of my time on these for they help me learn the most about the group’s current interests and preferences. These questions can be tailored to reflect activities common in the local area or relevant to your setting.


Question 5 – If you would rather read a good book than see a good movie, move to the left. If you prefer to see a movie over reading a book – move to the right.


Question 6 – If you prefer hiking over bicycling, to the left, bicycling over hiking to the right.


Working with interpreters and guides, I usually end with asking extroverts to move to the left and introverts to the right. Contrary to my expectations, I almost always end up with about two-thirds in the introvert group. People who are passionate about protecting the Earth learn to guide, present and overcome shyness to interpret what they value.


The Markets Game used with a large group gets people a bit acquainted and finding out what they have in common with others present. It starts conversations and breaks the ice of being in a new place with strangers. With a small group it helps you see that we segment markets differently using psychographics than with demographics and geographics. The questions can be framed a lot of different ways and some folks will go to the middle and ask if that’s okay (it is).


This activity gives the facilitator insights into who the group is and what they prefer. Most importantly it gets folks out of their chairs, moving around and chatting. The game gets people engaged and wanting to know more about each other and that’s a great start at any conference, workshop or social gathering.


  • Tim Merriman

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: