The C word

Published by Jackie Barrie on


It’s coming. On the usual date. 25 December. Yet, every year, it seems to take some people by surprise.

I know it’s early to mention it, but now is the time to book your online (or offline) entertainment.

Last year, I was invited to run a series of fun Zoom games for my clients. The session takes 45 minutes.

Here’s how it works so you can do it yourself (or book me to do it for you, hint, hint):

In advance

Collect words and phrases to do with the theme of your event (or to do with Christmas, for example). Suggest request five from each attendee. Set it up in a way that promotes the benefit i.e. explain it will give contributors a better chance of winning. This makes people curious before they attend, because they want to know what you’ll do with their contributions.

Get the event host to tell attendees they’ll need to bring plenty of paper and a big, fat pen.

You’ll need a total of 40-50 clues so you might have to add some of your own. Write all the clues on separate scraps of paper and put them in a hat. I use a red Santa hat trimmed with white fur – very festive!

You might also want to make three signs saying ‘Round 1’, ‘Round 2’ and (you guessed it) ‘Round 3’. That’s optional. I do it because I can show them to the webcam at the appropriate moments and then throw them away, which gets a laugh – and laughter is good.

Appoint two or three helpers and brief them like this:

  • Timekeeper They will need a timer set to 60 seconds, something that makes a loud noise (such as a party hooter or gong), and/or a big sign to hold up to the camera saying “Time’s up”
  • Scorekeeper They will need an A4 sheet divided down the middle with the two columns marked at the top ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’. During the game, as you announce when a team has guessed a clue correctly, the scorekeeper should make a mark using the five-bar gate system so they can quickly count the scores at the end. They should also be willing to unmute and announce the winning team
  • Tech co-host to help you with spotlighting, muting and unmuting. You can do this yourself if necessary, but it slows down the flow a bit

Before you start

Get the meeting host to make you co-host. Rename the participants by adding a player number before their username (it’s good to run this session after a break which gives you time to do this). You’ll need equal numbers in Team A and Team B, up to about 25 players each (any more than that and not everyone will get a chance):

  • A1 Name
  • B1 Name
  • A2 Name
  • B2 Name
  • A3 Name
  • etc.

Turn off the ability for public chats, and turn on the ability for chatting with the host/co-hosts. This is to avoid distractions and so that the clues you’re sending don’t get lost in the ‘noise’.

Ensure you have the ability to share the whiteboard.

Get the timekeeper to use the ‘raise hand’ feature so they appear in the top left corner of your screen and you can easily see when they display the ‘time’s up’ sign.

5m introduction

Explain what to expect:

  • We’ll be playing a series of three fun games using clues relating to [your topic]
  • Thanks to [Name] and [Name] for acting as timekeeper and scorer
  • You’ll notice you’ve been renamed into two teams
  • Don’t worry, you won’t be forced to join in with anything you don’t want to. If you don’t want to play, just say “pass” and we’ll move on
  • Practice turning your mic on and off (explain how)
  • Practice turning your camera on and off (explain how)
  • Set your view to ‘Hide non-video participants’ (explain the two ways to do this)
  • Click the speech bubble icon to open the chat box. Note that public chat is off, private chat with hosts is on (this will make sense as the games go on)
  • Round 1 is based on the board game, Articulate, where the player will have to describe the clues I’ll send you in private chat and the rest of their team have to guess as many as they can in 60 seconds
  • Team B, microphones off, cameras off (they should all disappear from the screen)
  • Team A, mics and cameras on
  • Player 1 is A1 [Name]. Do you want to play or pass?
  • Spotlight and unmute player A1

Send them the first clue via private chat (while they’re describing, type the next clue so you can just hit ‘enter’ to send it when they’re ready).

Announce clearly when they’re right, and repeat the correct word.

I’ve found that a good team will guess up to 5 clues in 60 seconds. When time’s up, switch to the other team and the next player on the list. I find it easiest to search the next player number in the chat box or participant box to see who’s next and invite them to play.

Allow 15 minutes for round 1 with an equal number of players per team.

Then hold up your sign for round 2 and tell them:

  • Round 2 is based on the game of Charades. Last time, you had to describe the clues by talking without acting. This time, you’ll have to describe them by acting without talking
  • We’re using the same clues (throw away unused clues which will make them laugh, and let them see you put the used clues back in the hat), so now it’s a memory game as well as a guessing game. If in doubt, just shout out what you remember

Continue with the next player on the list. Allow about 10 minutes for this round.

  • Round 3 is the same again, but this time it’s based on Pictionary, the drawing game
  • Ask each player if they want to use pen and paper or the whiteboard to share their drawings

Allow about 10 minutes for this round.

At the end

Get the scorekeeper to announce the winning team, get them to turn on their cameras, and unmute everyone so they can applaud.

Optionally, draw out the learning points. For example:

  • The winning team is usually a balance of good describers, actors, draw-ers and guessers
  • Mix real (paper clues, hat, signs) and virtual for online engagement
  • Make it physical (acting, drawing) to regain or raise attention
  • Change the activity every 10-15 minutes to avoid boredom
  • Get people to attend your session by inviting them to submit clues in advance
  • It’s a good revision activity because people will remember what they do more than what they hear or see, also because it embeds the clues in their brain using multiple modalities
  • Adapt these ideas for your own purpose e.g. add more rounds

The wrap-up takes about 5 minutes. You can then hand back to the host for the next session.

If you’d like more information, or to book me to facilitate these games for your event (whether Christmas or otherwise), please contact me.




“I think successful online social events need… something for people to do.

Games are an obvious answer, and Jackie was the obvious person to turn to as she has practiced and honed her skills at running fun, informal events.

What was great is that people stayed for the whole hour-long event, everyone participated (even those who’d started by saying they just wanted to watch) and lots of people commented that Jackie had basically ‘reinvented’ what an online social event can be.”

Steve Bustin

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