As the year 2020 draws to a close and no end to the pandemic in sight, online meetings are an ongoing reality and here to stay. All walks of life are now holding meetings online, whether it be school conferences, work conferences or conventions of all kinds. Just like in real life, these meetings need something to liven them up, and just like in real life, the answer is improvisation!
Here are some simple improv exercises to do online you can add to a meeting of any size to liven it up, give it some pizzazz, or just to make people smile. I have collected exercises that can be done in one big group, in breakout rooms up to 10 people each and in breakout rooms of 2 people. These exercises are easy to explain and not too intimidating to try for the first time.
Improv exercises for groups of any size:
Call out things you want to see on the computer screen. If you have 25 participants, you can say “I want to see 50 hands on my computer screen.” Everyone then has to show both hands in their camera. The bigger the group, the simpler you will have to make it, with groups of 12-14 where you can see all the participants on one screen you can be more creative. The participants should have some challenge to do it “correctly” but everyone sees a different number of “squares”, so don’t be too harsh in judging! Examples might be 14 elbows, 10 fingers, 15 faces, 32 butts (for the sales/marketing crowd), 5 coffee cups, 2 house plants, 100 eyes, 25 feet.
Big Face, Little Face
Have people move away from their camera and make a face as big as they can, mouth wide open, tongue out. Then have them move in with their face as close to the camera as they can making their face as tiny and scrunched up as they can. If you have permission, take a screenshot of the tiny faces, it will be a great souvenir of the meeting! Repeat several times. Variations: have everyone (without moving their heads) make their face go as far to the left, right, up, down, forward and back as they can. Making sounds with the faces is a fun addition as well as a warm-up for the voice!
Have a portable speaker by your computer. Turn on a song and tell the participants you will be leading the dance. They have to follow all your boogie moves. Depending on the size of your group, you can also call out the name of someone and then they have to lead. They call out the name of someone else and then that person leads. Each leader should have about 30 seconds to a minute to lead. This is an active and energetic way to warm up!
One of the advantages of having a meeting online is you have unlimited spaces to put people in groups, the breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are a good way to get some interaction between smaller groups of people and you can use them no matter what size your whole group is. It is a good idea to show one example of the improv exercise in front of the whole group before putting them in break out rooms, and then if you can, visit the rooms during the exercise to check how they are doing!
Here are some Improv exercises you can try in breakout rooms up to 10 people each.
Each person introduces themselves with a lot of energy and/or emotion. Then everyone says, all together, hello to that person and they use the same energy/emotion the person used. So if I say in a bright happy voice and with big arms, “Hi, I’M NICOLE!!!”, then everyone says together “HI NICOLE!!!΅ in the same bright happy voice and big arms. Name games are a fantastic ice-breaker, hardly anyone can refuse to say their name!
Say the name of one of the participants and ask them to name 5 things in a category. Explain that the group counts with them. Categories can be tv series, brands of cat food, flower names, rock stars, countries in Europe. So the leaders says, “Tom, name 5 kinds of cheese”. Tom says “Cheddar” and the whole group yells “One!” (Online it’s nice to also use 5 fingers to show the count!), Tom says “Mozzarella” and the whole group yells “Two” and so on and then Tom says, “Marjorie, name 5 horror films” and so on. Let the participants know ALL answers will be accepted, the goal is to name 5 things with enthusiasm and energy, not to be ‘correct.’ I like it when people wave their hands during the game, to support those answering the category, but this is optional.
Together the group is going to create new bumper stickers, those things you stick on the back of a car that has a cute saying or a wisdom of life. The participants add one word per person, and when the group as a whole decides the bumper sticker is finished, they all put their hands forward (as if they are sticking the bumper sticker to the car) and say “Plack!” (The sound of the bumper sticker sticking to the back of the car). This is definitely an exercise you will need to show to the group as a whole first, but most groups can figure it out after they have seen one. For example, in a group of 10, John says “People”, Mary says “are”, Barbara says “incredibly” and Larry says “Funny”. It sounds good to the group and they all say “PLACK” (with the hand gestures. And then it continues, creating a new bumper sticker. There is no rule for what makes a bumper sticker complete, encourage the group to find it together.
Finally with unlimited breakout rooms you can take the biggest meeting and put people in groups of 2, which is the most personal interaction you can have. Again, doing an example in front of the whole group is the best way to explain each improv exercise. These can also be done with 3 people if you have uneven numbers.
Here are some improv exercises you can try in breakout rooms of 2 people.
Word at a time letters
Have 2 people write a “letter” using the one-word-at-a-time method. This is similar to Bumper Stickers in that each person supplies one word on the turn. So Tom says “Dear” and Emily says “Mom” and then Tom says “I” and Emily says “wish” and so forth. Everyone knows how letters go, they have a structure that is easy to recreate. Doing an example letter with a volunteer from the group will show the group how to go about it. Remind them that most letters start with some form of greeting (Dear.. so and so) and have some form of ending (Sincerely, Best wishes, Many thanks for your concern, etc.) to help them find the end of their letters.
Have your participants create their very own improvised stories by telling Fortunately/Unfortunately stories. They will create stories of 3 sentences. The first sentence is the information sentence. (“Harry was eating ice cream at the ice cream parlor.”) The second sentence starts with Fortunately/Unfortunately. (“Fortunately he could eat all he wanted and never got sick.”) The next sentence starts with Unfortunately (“Unfortunately the owner of the shop hated him and threw him out the minute he finished his first scoop.”) The order of the unfortunately/fortunately doesn’t matter as long as each story has the intro sentence and one of each starting with the one or the other.
That’s Right Bob
This is a very fun and high energy exercise. Give all the participants a product that you can buy at the supermarket (Milk, for example). Give the product a special quality (It sings! Milk that sings!) You can get the suggestion of the product and the special quality from your participants. The participants then have to act out a tell-sell commercial where they are selling that special product. The only rule of the game is that EVERY line begins with “That’s Right, Bob!” (Wait, both of them are named Bob? Yes.)
The object of the game is to support the other enthusiastically and just agree the heck out of everything the other person says.
So there you have it- 9 possible exercises to liven up your next online meeting. Try one, I guarantee even just one of these games will add energy and excitement. At the very least they will give your body a chance to move and stretch and your mind a break from the computer!
Feel free to use any of these exercises at your next meeting! And please share below your favourite exercises to liven up an online meeting!