Making “ish” up with Agile karaoke

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Getting back into the swing of things in the first week of January can be a bit of a grind.  We wanted to build some excitement about kicking off the new year with a Game On meetup featuring Agile Karaoke. Our members did not disappoint with their enthusiasm and laughter.

As a warm-up, we played a really simple story-telling game “Making ‘ish’ up.” We asked everyone to grab a random object from around their environment and then sent players into small breakouts where everyone took turns making up brief stories about each other’s objects. It’s a really simple game, yet it gets people to stretch their imaginations a tiny bit while demonstrating how quickly the human brain can arbitrarily assign different meanings to an object.

Agile karaoke

Our monthly virtual games meetup for Agile Alliance members aim to create opportunities for applied learning through play, focusing on online-but-low-tech games. Improv games have been a staple of Game On since we kicked off this series, and we were excited to pull Agile Karaoke from our game backlog. In Agile Karaoke, players give an impromptu talk on a topic provided to them based on a slide deck composed of random images that they’ve never seen before.

When we put the challenge to the participants, they reacted with a mix of emotions–trepidation, eagerness, and excitement. After the first round of rapid-fire talks–6 random slides in 60 seconds–people who were initially nervous about getting up to present relaxed, knowing that they had the support of a friendly and encouraging crowd. With each new speaker stepping up to the virtual podium, the overall confidence and comfort level in the room increased, and the fluidity of the talks improved.

Game On is a great space for trying new things–the people who come are eager to play and share insights, and are really supportive of each other’s learnings.

During the debrief discussions, players talked about how the Agile karaoke experience …

  • helps build confidence in presenting and dealing with uncertainty
  • inspires creativity through the challenge of making something coherent (and entertaining) from a collection of random images
  • builds empathy through sharing the nerve-wracking experience of being on stage and not knowing what was coming–especially as more people joined in and experienced it for themselves
  • can be used for fun, team-building, to create a shared understanding of Agile techniques, or possibly even as a retrospective technique

While exploring how Agile Karaoke builds presentation chops, we also touched on the Agile2023 Call for Submissions, which is open until February 12. If you’ve got an idea to share, now is the time to get your proposal in and ask for feedback for improving your chances of getting on the program.

Want to try Agile Karaoke with your team? For this meetup, we used the online presentation karaoke decks from (also downloadable from github), which come ready-made and organized by a variety of Agile topics.

Please join us for the next Game On meetup on February 1, where we’ll be playing with Visual Thinking.


April & Ellen


About the Authors

April leads with empathy and courage while partnering with others to help unlock their full potential. Believes the path to authentic growth and change begins with invitation and a people centered approach. She favors a blended mindset of agile, lean, design thinking, open space and improvisation when engaging. April values connecting people to ownership of their needs and goals. You may find April coaching organizations, speaking at conferences, facilitating social change as a Design Action Lab partner, or mentoring youth.

Ellen Grove is the Interim Managing Director of Agile Alliance. Based in Ottawa, Canada, Ellen has been working in software development for over 20 years, moving from software testing to user-centered design to managing development teams to Agile coaching and training. Ellen is an Agile Coach, trainer and facilitator who works with organizations of all sizes - from startups to multinationals - to help them find more effective ways of working based on Lean and Agile principles and practices. After many years of organizing and presenting at Agile events at home and around the world, Ellen was elected to the Agile Alliance board of directors in 2017, and became the chair of the board in February 2020 before stepping into her current role.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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