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Stokes: A Key Ingredient to Energizing and Engaging Teams in Virtual Workshops

by Katie Ulrich

Workshops are fantastic opportunities to bring teams together to create cohesive alignment and spark innovation… in a short amount of time. Yet, with the not so recent change in setting from in-person to online, it can be difficult to avoid Zoom fatigue.

The key question of any good facilitator’s mind is, "How can I keep the team engaged and energized throughout the entire session?” This question is especially pressing when it comes to virtual workshops.



Stokes are designed to intentionally bring a sense of excitement and energy back into a “room.” They are short games or activities that can be used to kick off workshops or serve as transitional interludes. They are meant to inject fresh perspective into a group.

Born from both improv and Design Thinking disciplines, stokes are now finding a home in corporate environments. They serve as tools to help teams shift away from day-to-day business operations and into an ideation and growth, “yes, and…” mindset. Interested?

Here are a few stokes to get you started (that can be done virtually!) This particular collection of stokes are modified stokes I have participated in, feel free to put your own spin on them!

Monster Mashup

For this stoke each participant will need a piece of paper and a pencil.
Duration: 10-15 minutes.

This stoke is great to build empathy and think about specific user needs when creating a common product for a specific use case and user need. It also is a low stake way of getting into the mindset of product ideation and rapid prototyping that is out of the box.

How to play:

  1. The facilitator will have two lists labeled 1-10. The first list will contain ten common items such as a pair of glasses, a pencil, a coffee mug, etc. The second list will contain ten monsters such as Dracula, a werewolf, the mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.
  2. Participants will choose two random numbers between 1-10 and mark them on their paper.
  3. The facilitator will reveal the two lists to the group and instruct the team to find their pairing. Example: if you chose 1 and 8 it may pair as glasses for a mummy
  4. The team then has 5-10 minutes (workshop time permitting) to individually create a product (and a marketing slogan) for the mummy with glasses (using the number pair referenced above).
  5. The team can take turns sharing out their creations to the group or can be broken into small groups to share.

In Today’s News…

This stoke does not require any additional materials.
Duration: 5-10 minutes (depending on size of the group).

This stoke is also a low-stake way to get everyone on the team out of their comfort zone and verbally engaged with the rest of the team.

How to play:

  1. One person will start by saying, “In today’s news…” and then proceed to explain the plot of a well-known movie. (Bonus points if you say it in the newscaster voice)
    Example:“In today’s news, a young boy unwrapped a chocolate bar only to find a golden ticket.” (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
  2. The rest of the team will attempt to guess the movie. Virtually, you can monitor the chat to see who guessed the right movie first. The participant who guesses correctly takes over the news cast and begins their own story with, “in other news..”
  3. Continue with the news story until each team member has presented their “story.”

Wise Sage

This stoke does not require any additional materials.

A Stanford d.shool classic, this activity is better conducted virtually in smaller groups (less than 15). It is a great activity because while it generates some nonsense phrases, it opens up the room and builds comfortability to off the wall thoughts that may come up in the ideation session that follows. (And also, lots of laughter!)

Example: “When-one-feels-like-a-clown-seek- empathy-and-two-dozen-frogs-for-advice... yes, yes, yes”

How to play:

  1. The facilitator puts a list of the participants on the screen (so everyone knows the order in which to take turns).
  2. The facilitator will start by saying one word.
  3. Each participant will follow, only saying one word until a phrase is created.
  4. Once the group feels that the phase is created, everyone nods and says, “yes, yes, yes” “so wise, so wise, so wise.”
  5. This can be repeated as long as desired, but preferably so everyone is able to get a turn.

Each of these stokes are low-risk opportunities to bring some fun and potential reframe to how teams look at problems they are trying to solve. They stretch people both creatively and empathetically. We hope you’ll try at least one at your next long-ish Zoom connect.

Learn how Sylver uses methods like stokes to build engaging workshops that spark actionable insights.

About the Author

Katie Ulrich is a Design Researcher with Sylver. Katie typically spends her time meeting with coworkers and clients, working on building research materials, conducting qualitative research, creating synthesized project deliverables, and analyzing data. She earned a B.S. in Operations & Information Systems Management from Northern Illinois University and an M.S. in Design Innovation from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her career has been focused around people, data, and how to best connect the two in an impactful way.

  • 2022
  • Qualitative Research
  • Methods

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