This humour product is a collaboration of Natasja van Schaik, Steven van Luipen, Ite Smit and Joitske Hulsebosch. In 2020, we started working and learning online a lot. We asked people whether they laughed as much online as they did when we all went to the office together. This was not the case, even though you can still have fun with each other online.
Everything went wrong online with children coming into the picture and connection or sound that didn’t work. Just by choosing to see the humour in that, you can laugh together online. We gathered many situations, and then we organised a number of sessions about humour online, including at the OEB Conference in Berlin. One thing led to another, resulting in 50 working methods for online sessions with humour.
Why is humour important?
Research shows that humour not only influences the way you feel but also influences how others see you, the dynamics in a group and the innovation within an organization. This results from 15 positive effects of humour – eight psychological consequences and seven physiological:
If you use humour, you are even seen as more competent, according to research. A story told with humour will be remembered better, and so will the narrator. Laughter triggers the release of oxytocin – the ‘trust hormone’, so people in the group feel safer when they laugh together. They can open up and show vulnerability. People who have laughed together experience their relationship as more satisfying. This has a positive influence on the performance of a group. Just think of the teams you like best to work with, they will probably laugh together on a regular basis. As we age, our brains become ‘functionally fixated’, and humour expands the brain. This, in combination with increasing trust (fear is the killer of creativity), increases creativity within an organisation and with it – innovation.
In short, using humour has many advantages. That is why we have collected 50 methods that you can use to bring humour into an online session. They are divided into four sections based on two criteria: how much time it takes (easy–difficult) and whether or not it’s linked to the content – the learning objective of the session, in four quadrants. The latter is important because humour linked to the content has more learning effect if used in the right way. ‘Loose’ humour can improve the atmosphere.
A. Easy and linked to the content
B. Difficult and linked to the content
C. Easy and not linked to the content
D. Difficult and not linked to the content
Easy – linked to the content
1. There’s a weird question in my quiz
In a quiz, you can add humour, via funny questions or answers. For example, in a lesson about Aristotle, ask about his favourite food or add weird answers that are clearly wrong but can bring a smile. This can be done in an online quiz with tools such as Kahoot or Mentimeter.
2. Say it with cartoons
A cartoon expresses an opinion in a funny way. Have participants express their ideas through cartoons; you can let participants choose a cartoon and collect the cartoons on an online brainstorming wall. You can also show some cartoons that you have chosen and let people choose one. You could also collect the cartoons for yourself on Pinterest. See our collection on online technology.
3. Your point of view through a drawing
Cartoons also work to express points of view. To get participants to take their point of view, for example, you hang three different cartoons on a whiteboard or brainstorm wall that provoke an opinion. Participants can put their name to the cartoon that best fits their point of view, as a fun starting point for a dialogue.
4. Extreme errors
Things go wrong for all of us, but there are always examples where things went much worse. Find an example online of something that went very wrong such as a video, photo or short story related to the topic your session is about and show it to the participants. You can also ask the participants to find an example themselves as a warm-up exercise.
5. Puzzle with a rebus
Rebuses are great fun to make and solve. Try making a rebus for an assignment in training or a topic on an agenda. You can make a rebus by cutting out pictures and letters and you can also work with emoticons. If you want to make it easy for yourself, you can make the rebus via the Rebus Club website, so you’re ready in just a minute.
6. Share a funny story as a stand-up comedian
You can learn to be funny. In addition to spontaneous jokes, you can also collect anecdotes and tell them in your lesson. This takes some guts and practice.
Daily practice offers many humorous situations. All you have to do is look through ‘the lens of humour’. Are you in a Zoom meeting and is your child in the picture? You can be ashamed of it, but you can also laugh about it. Go through your own experiences in your mind. Are there situations that you can make a funny story out of? You don’t have to violate the truth, but a little exaggeration makes it even funnier. You can use these around the topic of your lesson. Of course, you can also share a funny story that is not about the content. Funny stories bring light to the group, which promotes creativity. For example, listen to the start of the presentation by Fons Trompenaar.
7. Another picture
Pictures can be used in many ways; in a presentation, in an email, in the chat. You can surprise people by using a funny picture, or one that deviates from the context. You can google a picture, but there are also other free options online to take a picture. If you are creative, you can create a picture with Canva, but you can also make it easy on yourself and use Tenor.
8. Say it with your own speech bubbles
Have participants complete a cartoon with empty speech bubbles with their own texts. This stimulates their creativity while allowing them to raise sensitive topics. Choose a cartoon that triggers people to come up with something, see for example this cartoon in which a woman takes a chainsaw to a meeting (by Tom Fishburne):
8. Share your opinion via gif
A gif is a moving picture. In Teams, you can choose and share a gif via chat, and in Zoom, you can find all kinds of emojis via the chat. Ask participants to express their opinion with a gif or emoji in the chat. You can use this as a check-in, but also as an evaluation. An alternative way is to put some gifs on a brainstorming wall and let people choose their gifs there.
9. PowerPoint karaoke
PowerPoint karaoke is a combination of PowerPoint with karaoke. Instead of singing you now give a presentation based on a slide deck that you have never seen before. You can do this with serious slides, but you can also add crazy slides to it. A variant of the PowerPoint karaoke is the Edtech conference title generator. You can invite people to give a brief explanation of an unexpected conference title.
11. The funniest YouTube clips
Sometimes a video says exactly what you want to say. There are existing funny videos that you can put to good use. Think of the videos of the office for leadership trajectories. For example, are you trying to make it clear that self-direction is important in your training? For example, start with the video: ‘Man stuck on escalator’.
Tip: Make a playlist with funny videos for yourself on YouTube, which you can easily draw from. A fun way to make such a playlist is to collect funny videos with your team every Friday.
12. Sprinkle with fun facts
Do you have a heavy subject? It can bring some air into a session on a difficult topic if you have some fun facts ready. Think about facts such as: Did you know it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig in Switzerland? Or Did you know that there are more CEOs named Peter than female CEOs?
13. Play serious bingo
You might know the song festival bingo, the virtual meeting bingo or the meeting hell bingo. You might cross bingo square if the items appear on your card. You can make your own bingo card, e.g., with some experiences related to your topic. With blended learning, think of: ‘someone who has ever made a podcast’. The participants will talk to each other in 3-4 rounds in breakouts and try to fill their cards. Whoever has bingo first goes back to the main room. Here you can make free virtual bingo cards online.
Difficult – linked to the content
14. Making a LuckyTV
You probably know LuckyTV – Sander van der Pavert re-records a video fragment with his own texts. You can do this yourself. Take, for example, a video of a famous person related to your topic. Think of Rutte or Obama when you talk about leadership. A variant of this is choosing a video in a foreign language and making your own subtitles for it. For example, see this video by Kim Jong Un on YouTube.
15. Making Lip Dub video together
A ‘lip dub’ is a video clip, consisting of a single recording, in which you act out a song with a group of people. That is immediately the best challenge: making a video clip in a non-stop shot without stopping filming. Choose a song that fits your subject. A variant is a lip dub where you make new lyrics to an existing song. An example of this is ‘50 years Wulverhorst Lipdub Brand new day’.
16. Play Pictionary with concepts
Pictionary can be played in teams. You let someone sign you and the team has to guess what it is. Each correct answer within the time is a point. You can do this on a whiteboard or, for example, a Google Jamboard. Make your own cards with topics that you pass on to the artist via chat or WhatsApp. For example, you can take important concepts from your lesson or training. A variant here is you can also play Drawful, where you draw and come up with titles at the same time.
17. Find the errors in the text
You can hide errors in a text or quiz that participants or students have to find. Share an article written by you and include three mistakes in it, and ask the readers what mistakes they find. You can also choose not to tell and see who discovers the mistakes. Example: Ionica Smeets sometimes asks students in a footnote of a lesson assignment or test to send a photo of a pet.
18. Make knowledge clips with humour
We tend to take knowledge clips very seriously. You can make videos that contain humour, for example, a recurring joke. A good example is the historical comedy ‘Welcome to the Middle Ages’. That is a professional production, but of course, you can also do it yourself.
19. Organise a scavenger hunt
With a treasure hunt with substantive questions, you combine the game with content. With apps like Seppo or Goosechase you can plan a walk for your students or participants along with specific points. You can ask them multiple-choice questions, but you can also ask them to take pictures. For example, have participants interview a passer-by about online learning and share the results (with a photo) via the app.
20. From A to B on Wikipedia, Milk reminds you of…
Milk reminds you of cow, baby, white, dairy. What does Wikipedia think about your topic? Ask participants to look up the topic in Wikipedia and then click on something 15 times. Write down the 15 ‘click words’. Show each other the association chain and learn from it. A variant can be to get from one article to another in the fewest steps, for example from milk to flooding in Bangladesh.
21. Say it with a background
In a video call on Zoom or Teams, participants can customise their background. Use this within a training session and have everyone post a picture of their opinion. You can also apply it in a proposal round where you first ask everyone to choose a background of their favourite holiday destination.
Tip: Keep in mind that switching backgrounds can take some time, especially if participants have to find the backgrounds themselves. You can also put three different wallpapers in one place that they can download themselves, or warn them in advance.
22. Blog with humour
Blogs are a great way to bring humour to work. You can write a blog from a fictional character that describes the situations you experience at work from a different perspective. Another way is to create a section on the internet where you invite people to share anecdotes, and let them write as ‘I’, like the section in the NRC.
23. Online goose boards
You can make your own goose board in an online brainstorming tool such as Miro or Mural. You can link serious questions to a goose board box, but of course, you also put funny questions in between. You put the questions and answers on post-its one above the other, with a post-it with a number on top. Success assured!
24. Create an animation
There are several programs with which you can easily create a short animation yourself. You choose the figures, and you can record a text. For example, you can use Powtoon or Vyond. It is immediately a funny effect, especially if you use a doll that resembles yourself.
25. Spotify song list on topic
Do you really want to surprise your participants? Make a Spotify playlist with songs that say something about your subject. Alternatively, make sure that the first words of the titles together form a sentence that they must remember well.
26. A simple song on a complicated subject in one minute
In the program Even tot hier, the part “a very simple song about a rather complicated subject” is in one minute. This one is good, but it requires some preparation; you have to make a pretty complicated song yourself. Here you will find the chords and a karaoke version here and here. View the AZCs in one minute for inspiration.
Easy – not linked to the content
27. What did you laugh about?
You can pay attention to funny situations. Ask participants about funny experiences from the past week, or around a particular topic. Suppose you have a session for online trainers, you can start with the funniest moment during online training. For example, during the pandemic, a teacher started the lesson with the students exchanging funny moments online. A student once had to abort an online exam because the teacher locked herself out while letting the cat in.
28. Break the ice with a bad joke
The inconvenience of training where participants don’t know each other well can be overcome by starting with a really bad joke. Preferably you keep your face straight afterwards, before you make it clear that this was planned.
29. Guess what the blurry photo is about
In preparation for a session, collect a few photos or fragments of photos, for example from previous sessions with the participant group or from the topic of your training. Decrease the resolution of the photo sharply or zoom in a little, making recognition difficult. Use some of these blurry pictures as a warm-up exercise, having the participants say what they think it is. Don’t forget to have the original photos on hand to show if a photo is guessed – or not.
30. Hide a gorilla in your presentation
When you give a presentation, especially if you instruct them to pay close attention to one part or aspect, people get ‘selective attention’, and they will not notice certain, actually very striking things. You can see this clearly in the famous ‘gorilla experiment’, in which people focus on the throwing of a ball, while they miss the gorilla in the picture. A fun experiment is to incorporate such a striking element in a few places in your presentation. If no one notices during your presentation, you can ask at the end: did you notice anything?
31. Find things at home
A fun starting exercise and intermediate energiser in an online session is about finding objects in the home of the participants. Ask who finds something blue or two objects that start with an M the fastest and keep them in view. Of course, you check it if it is not immediately clear: does everyone agree that a ‘Beautiful pen’ starts with a B? If you want to take it one step further, place nine objects in a three-by-three grid on the screen. It is up to the participants to find the objects in one row, whether this is horizontal, vertical or diagonal.
You can also play the well-known game rock-paper-scissors online. The scissors beat paper, paper beats rock, and rock beats the scissors. Have two people play against each other while others watch, or have everyone play in breakouts. Extra fun: sending a real pen, paper and scissors to the participants in advance by post.
33. Host a dress-up party
If your target audience is up for it, you can also play dress up games online. For example, you can ask three people to choose someone they will resemble by dressing up. The others then have to guess who they are dressed as. Example assignment: look at someone else for two minutes. Then turn off your video and dress like the other in two minutes, and then you come back and laugh.
A possible variant is to instruct people in advance to dress in a certain style, for example all in orange. Alternatively, ask people to choose an outfit and share a detailed photo of it beforehand. Everyone can cast their vote in a quiz about this, and then the unveiling follows.
34. Six degrees of separation: which comedian are you like?
Six degrees of separation assumes that every person on Earth is a maximum of six ‘steps’ away from being like another person. In an introductory exercise in training where people don’t know each other yet, you give pairs time to find out which people they are connected to, as opposed to the training itself. A variant can be the challenging of finding who is linked to a comedian or famous person in the fewest steps possible? Use social media such as LinkedIn to find out.
Accidentism is based on chance. Paintings of unknown persons can look very much like your colleague. Collect a series of portraits of unknown people and ask who the participants think they are, or if they know anyone who looks like them. And prove it with a photo.
36. Theme session in style
In a session on a specific theme, you ask the (online) participants to prepare for that theme with their clothing, attributes and – if you want to go a step further – the food. If it’s about social media, have participants dress as influencers, including a selfie stick, have them find a safety helmet when it comes to construction, etc. Hilarity is guaranteed when the participants see each other for the first time.
37. Create and imitate cool dance moves
Ask participants to stand in front of the webcam and turn on some music. Meanwhile, someone gets to do a cool dance move that everyone else imitates. Alternatively, you can take a short online dance class together, or choose a number of TikTok videos in advance that participants will imitate.
38. A joint playlist with favourite songs
Music generally creates a good atmosphere, and it can be fun to discover the music taste of your fellow students. For example, in an international course there turned out to be an extremely large number of gospel enthusiasts. Ask participants to share their favourite song and make it your own YouTube playlist. Play songs at the start of an online session and encourage people to play the playlist while working.
39. Who’s on Padlet?
Provide a brainstorming wall (e.g. Padlet) full of baby photos. Which baby from then is your colleague now? How can you see that? Whoever gets the most right wins an enlargement of his own most beautiful baby photo.
40. Sit somewhere else
Do you have an online meeting or training? Surprise the other participants by sitting in a different place. Then you can sit in a different place in the house or simply sit or lie on the floor. But you can also look for another place outside the home; as long as they also have Wi-Fi.
41. Come up with a break command for much-needed relaxation
An online session can be exhausting, so you should take frequent breaks. During a break, you can come up with a funny assignment that requires people to move around. Think of an online boot camp.
Tip: You can also ask who can get the most people on a webcam. This way you immediately get to know the family and neighbours.
42. Online hints
You can play hints online. You probably know it. In turn, someone has to act out a word without speaking. The game consists of the categories of television, music, books, movies and proverbs and sayings. You can make your own cards, but there is a very handy site – hintsonline – where you can find ready-made cards for free. Check out their site for a detailed explanation.
43. Use spontaneous humour
Experiment with the use of spontaneous humour during a session. If you’re unsure whether it’s appropriate in a certain setting, such as a formal one, don’t go all the way, but make a few jokes during your presentation. Choose a way that suits you, for example about awkward situations you once experienced. You will see that you don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to be able to make jokes.
44. Play online tag
You can play tag online in the breakout rooms. You, in turn, open up the possibility for participants to ‘run’ from breakout room to breakout room themselves. This can be done in Zoom, for example. Make one or two participants tag, and get the others to run to a break-out room of your choice. When entering a break-out room, the tagger first counts to three and then calls out the name of a participant who is still in the break-out room. This person is then the new tagger. The joke is that at some point you don’t know who the tagger is. This is a good exercise if you want to teach people to switch breakouts themselves.
45. Playing with hands, hats and avatars
If you meet online, you can use all kinds of tools to cheer up the meeting. You can use the possibilities of Zoom or Teams by raising hands or scattering confetti. You can give yourself a different name in the online meeting, a hat or a moustache.
You can also use external tools for this. A good example of this is Snapchat. For example, you can use Snapchat’s filters and join as an avatar or appear with a cat on your head. Make sure you can also turn it off, which this lawyer was unable to do during an online hearing.
Difficult – not linked to the content
46. Organise a free space with humour
Maybe you knew that your immediate colleague is good at model drawing, but did you also know that your director is a yoga instructor, and the head of the finance department who writes short stories? In preparation for a free space, you make an inventory of the hobbies of the participants and what they need to teach their colleagues in a short workshop. You can do more workshop rounds in a free space, so that the instructors can also follow workshops themselves.
47. Drinking in Wonder
There are new online tools where participants have the freedom to walk around. Think Wonder, Remo.co or Spatial.chat. After a substantive session, you can ask people to grab their own drinks and switch to a platform such as Wonder. They can walk around there and talk to whoever they want.
48. Morph your colleagues
Morphen is to let one face pass into the other, which results in hilarious faces. You can morph familiar faces and make it a game of who sees which face it will be first. Put photos of all your team members in the app, and start morphing. Who can guess who will be the fastest? Or do this with famous Dutch people. An app that allows you to do this is Facefilm.
49. Run your rotten
Who doesn’t know it Run your rotten with Martin Brozius? A multiple-choice quiz where participants run to answer one, two or three to the loud: RUN… YOUR…. ROTTEN. Online you can do this by looking for objects instead of running for 1, 2 or 3. Who has worked the longest with the organization? Give three options. If you choose the first answer, you have to find an orange, the second an apple, the third a banana. Run you rotten!
Tip: If people don’t have everything they need, they will probably get creative, and it will lead to funny situations.
50. Ranking your team
Get to know your colleagues in a different way with ‘Ranking your team’, based on the concept of ‘Ranking the stars‘. You ask everyone the same questions along the lines of ‘Who would survive the Ice Age best?’ People must individually rank the team members from highest to lowest: who survives the best, who survives the least, etc. You collect the answers and in the session you ask people to explain their list with reasons. You can also calculate and announce the total score, of course, just like in the television program, provided that it is not too shocking for the team members. Here you will find help with organising.
Written by Joitske Hulsebosch
Read the original article (in Dutch) here