Brainstorming is one of the most effective ways to come up with creative content ideas and marketing strategies. It can even promote productivity and team-building! At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. If you’ve experienced the complete opposite of this, don’t despair! You just need to fine-tune your process until it’s giving you the results you’re after. And that’s where our brainstorming tips come in!
We’re going to walk you through the ways in which you can get the most out of your brainstorming sessions—from before it even begins, to during, and after. Your brainstorming won’t ever be the same!
Image source: Kelly Sikkema (via Unsplash)
Include the right people
You’re not going to generate great ideas if you’ve not taken the time to think about who you’re inviting to your brainstorming sessions.
Though you might ordinarily stick to your own department, you should consider expanding your horizons a little. Enlisting the help of people in your sales or customer service departments might offer you some new perspectives and give you the chance to generate even more diverse ideas.
To avoid utter chaos, however, you’ll likely want to limit these sessions to no more than ten people. If this is a virtual session, you’ll probably want to reduce this further to no more than eight people.
You can always conduct a session for each department, to ensure that everyone has their chance to speak and to avoid missing out on any valuable insights.
Make the agenda clear
To avoid any confusion during your brainstorming session, you should set out an agenda for everyone involved. You don’t want to spend the first fifteen minutes explaining why you’ve called for a brainstorming session.
So, carefully consider what you want to focus your efforts on in the session:
- Are you looking to generate ideas for your blog? Or are you also interested in your website, social media and email marketing?
- Do you want some input and discussion surrounding your marketing strategy and campaigns?
You’ll also want to warn people of any specific constraints you might be dealing with—like a limited budget—to avoid wasting unnecessary time on ideas that simply aren’t doable.
Ask people to prepare
We’re all for spontaneity, but it can often be detrimental to idea generation. Unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you want people to consider their ideas in advance so that you’re not spending the entire session rejecting half-baked ideas.
So, send out an email (preferably a few days beforehand) asking people to come up with some ideas relevant to the agenda. This will make it easier to get the ball rolling and ensure that your session kicks off with some well thought out ideas.
If you’ve got a few shy team members, however, you might want to make it clear in your email that you’re not going to force people to read out all of their ideas—emphasise that the intent is to ‘get the juices flowing’.
Even after ensuring that your environment is non-judgemental and friendly, there’s still a chance that people will be intimidated by the brainstorming session.
Whether it’s due to shyness or a lack of confidence, some people simply aren’t willing to voice an idea to a large group. An unfortunate by-product of this is that you end up missing out on some great ideas. To avoid this happening, set up a Google Form to enable people to submit their ideas anonymously. You can then appoint someone in the group to voice these ideas during the brainstorming session.
Appoint a mediator
Whether you’re conducting an in-person or virtual brainstorming session, you need to appoint someone as the mediator. This person will direct the session according to the agenda and ensure that everyone gets their turn to speak.
This is especially important for virtual brainstorming sessions, as people often end up talking over each other, or worse, decide not to talk out of fear of interrupting someone. A mediator, however, can direct questions at people—coaxing them out of their shells—and ensure that the session keeps moving at an adequate pace.
Make sure that everyone knows who this mediator is beforehand. This will help them know who to look towards if they want to get a word in, and also enables them to approach the mediator before the meeting, e.g., to tell them they’d prefer not to get called on.
Appoint a notetaker
To ensure that nothing gets missed, you should appoint someone to take the notes for your brainstorming session. It’s usually best if this person isn’t taking part in the brainstorming, as they might get too distracted. If this isn’t possible, appoint a primary and secondary notetaker. This will allow them to take turns when the other is discussing their own ideas.
If you’re conducting a virtual brainstorming session, you could forgo a notetaker altogether and simply record the meeting. You’d then have to get someone to transcribe it, of course, but it means that everyone there is paying close attention to what’s being said.
Set a strict time limit
Though you don’t want to get too militant about it, brainstorming sessions always work better when there’s a time limit. When people know they have a strict deadline, they tend to buckle down and avoid going off on tangents. Though it will depend on how frequently you brainstorm and what people’s schedules are like, you’ll want to stick to somewhere in the 30 to 60 minute margin.
If you’re conducting a session with people you don’t see regularly, you might want to consider adding a ten minute section at the beginning or end of the session so that you can catch up. Not only will this help with team building, it will also make it easier for people to separate work discussions from personal discussions.
Image source: MING Labs (via Unsplash)
Ask for everyone’s undivided attention
When you’re in the middle of generating ideas that could take your content and marketing strategies to the next level, the last thing you want is to be interrupted by an impromptu Slack message or email notification.
So, if you can, ask everyone involved to mute their notifications and ignore their emails for the duration of the session. Given that you’re working within a limited timeframe, your team members shouldn’t miss anything important. If that is a concern, however, tell them to set up notifications for important clients.
Let everyone have their turn
Every team in the world has at least one or two members who hog the microphone, so to speak, during group discussions. To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to put their ideas forward, you should implement a turn-taking policy.
Enforced by the mediator, this policy will reduce the chances of people talking over one another and keep the waffling to a minimum—when people know they’ve got a limited time to talk, they’re more likely to get straight to the point.
If you’re doing this virtually, it might be a good idea to ask the mediator to keep people on mute until it’s their turn, to avoid any interruptions.
Break things up
If you’re working with a team of over eight people, you might want to consider breaking everyone up into smaller groups for part of the brainstorming session. Tell them to spend ten minutes discussing their ideas, before bringing them all back together to share.
This approach can help you to reduce the chances of people talking over one another and can also help to encourage people to talk if they feel uncomfortable in larger groups.
If you want to create an environment where people and ideas thrive, you need to be very careful about the way in which you (and your team) critique each other’s ideas. If you thoughtlessly throw someone’s idea in the metaphorical bin, you run the risk of hurting their feelings and putting them off participating ever again.
Unless someone is pushing for an idea that isn’t relevant to the agenda, or goes against your budgetary constraints, you might want to follow the ‘no idea is a bad idea’ approach. Just because you’re not keen on an idea doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved or expanded upon.
You’ve also got to bear in mind that this is just a brainstorming session. Once you’ve got all of your ideas, you’ll have to set up an evaluation process to sift through your list and decide which ones are actually worth pursuing.
Don’t be afraid of silence
When you think of brainstorming, you probably imagine a room full of people talking non-stop—bouncing off one another with bigger and better ideas. In reality, however, you’re likely to face a few moments of pure silence during your session.
Awkward, right? Not necessarily! Silence is very common during brainstorming sessions and often occurs because people are mulling over what’s been said. Instead of piping up, sit still and let it happen. This will give everyone a chance to develop their ideas.
Of course, if it is a case of awkward silence, your mediator will be there to get the ball rolling again with some careful questions.
Consider a visual accompaniment
When you’re in the middle of throwing ideas around, it can be easy to lose track of what’s been discussed and where you might have strayed from. To help everyone stay on the same page, you might want to consider using a visual accompaniment.
If you’re conducting an in-person brainstorming session, you could use a whiteboard, post-it notes on a wall, or a projector, to jot down ideas or draw a mind map. If you’re doing this virtually, the mediator could do this on their screen and share it with the rest of the team.
This isn’t just beneficial for keeping track of your ideas, it’s also great for helping you see exactly how an idea has developed—from one person’s original iteration to the dozen offshoot ideas that it inspired. Plus, it’s great for simply showing how much you’ve accomplished in such a short space of time.
Image source: Patrick Perkins (via Unsplash)
Distribute meeting notes
After the brainstorming session, give your notetaker some time to tidy up their notes before distributing them to the entire team. This will help to remind everyone what was discussed and accomplished. If you created a visual accompaniment, be sure to distribute that as well.
Set things up for the next step(s)
Now that your brainstorming session is done, there’s no time to rest on your laurels. You need to get the ball rolling to ensure that your hard work actually pays off. This means moving on to the evaluation process!
Here at Supersede, we like to do this with a Trello board. We’ll place all of our ideas into a general ideas column and then create additional columns for ones we’re interested in pursuing or developing, ones that we want to sit on for a while, and a general binned column.
Not all of your ideas will be worth developing, so don’t feel bad if you’ve got to throw something in the bin. Besides which, you can always give people the option to return to a ‘binned’ idea in future sessions if they feel like they’ve got a new angle that could be worth exploring.
Give people the chance to follow up their ideas
Ever had a situation where you’ve come up with a witty response or brilliant counter-argument three hours too late? Well, the same thing can happen with ideas after a brainstorming session.
Some ideas simply take a while to ferment. To ensure that nothing gets missed, let people know that they can follow up ideas after a session. If you’re using Trello, just tell people to leave comments on each idea’s card. Alternatively, you can use collaborative tools like Google Docs or Slack.
Think about what worked (and what didn’t)
Even after following all of our brainstorming tips, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. If you want to refine your process and ensure you’re providing your team with a friendly, encouraging environment, your best course of action is to ask for feedback.
Use Google Forms to ask team members what you could do to improve future brainstorming sessions, for example:
- Is there anything that could encourage more people to participate?
- Were there too many or too few participants?
- Was the mediator a good choice?
- Did the session need to be shorter/longer?
If you noticed that one person didn’t speak much, you could ask them privately what you could do differently to encourage them. If you think that they might feel put on the spot, however, it’s best to leave it alone to avoid any awkwardness.
Consider digital brainstorming
In-person and virtual brainstorming can be incredibly helpful and fun, but they can also be completely unnecessary at times. When your team is swamped with work, and you’re in a rush to generate ideas, it’s simply not feasible to organise a brainstorming session.
When this happens, you can switch to a digital brainstorming session instead. Simply create a Google Doc or Sheet, or even a new Slack channel, and ask people to contribute their ideas. To encourage participation, post some of your own ideas first and then give them all a deadline.
It might not be as fun and interactive as in-person or virtual brainstorming, but it’s still a great way to generate ideas when you’re pressed for time.
And that’s that! You’re now equipped with all of our brainstorming tips and techniques. For more handy advice, keep an eye on the Supersede Blog!