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Five Essential Ingredients to Facilitating a Killer Brainstorm

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Stephanie Bellay

Stephanie Bellay

Senior Designer

FreemanXP

How to generate breakthrough ideas for your next brand experience

This article originally appeared on FreemanXP.com.

Some of the most innovative and influential ideas for brand experiences come when people with diverse perspectives come together. We believe in “intersectional design thinking” — the power of bringing together diverse viewpoints to solve a challenge or think creatively about an opportunity.

But the act of bringing people together doesn’t always result in breakthrough thinking. The difference between a great brainstorm and a KILLER brainstorm is not leaving it to chance. As a facilitator, there are five important pieces to the brainstorm puzzle you can use to guide the conversation. They will enable you to command the ship, respect the attendees’ time and energy, and make the most out of the time you have.

Harness the potential power of your brainstorm by following these five simple steps:

Provide pre-meeting materials

Prepare a brief ahead of time that provides all of the information your participants need to understand about the project’s challenges and outline your goals. Send it out at least 48 hours before the meeting so everyone can find time to read and digest the information. A friendly email the morning of the brainstorm can not only build excitement, but also remind everyone about the prep materials.

Free yourself up to facilitate

Dedicate a team member to take notes so you can focus on leading and encouraging ideas from your participants. If facilitating isn’t your forte, be sure to select a facilitator ahead of time and meet one on one to make sure he or she understands the goals you want to achieve.

Never say no: “No” is a bad word. “No” crushes creativity and discourages new ideas.

Set ground rules

Always set some ground rules and remind everyone of your parameters at the start of the meeting. Here are some simple, easy-to-follow guidelines that apply to nearly every brainstorming session:

  • Quantity, not quality: The purpose of the brainstorm is to generate as many ideas as possible. It’s the facilitator’s job to go back and refine the ideas afterward. Today is all about encouraging and cheerleading ideas. 
  • Treat everyone with respect: This one is simple … the more respect, the more participation! Don’t let anyone tease or gang up on anyone else, and don’t let anyone “hold the mic” for too long, or do anything else that isn’t supportive and positive.
  • Never say no: “No” is a bad word. “No” crushes creativity and discourages new ideas. “No” comes in many forms: “I don’t like that.” “That’s not what so-and-so likes.” “That’s been done before.”

Tip: As the facilitator, if you feel the need to say no in order to stop the tangents, instead try: “Love these ideas, very imaginative… but let’s refocus on the project’s goal.”

Be aware of time

Start your meeting by reviewing key elements on the brief, highlighting the goals (better yet, make them visible on your whiteboard or in the room), and getting started. Halfway through, take a moment to do a high-level review of what the group has ideated so far, and see if it’s in line with what you’re looking for. If it is, or is close, let them know what a great job they’re doing, and which ideas you especially like.

If not, level-set and review some of the key elements that the group may need to refocus on. For example, if all of the ideas are out of budget, remind the group of the project’s constraints and perhaps throw out ideas that may be a better fit to get the creative juices flowing. In this instance, suggest reusing past materials, experimenting with the maker movement, or tapping into the trend of low-tech solutions. Remember to always encourage — just adjust those sails and lead them down a slightly different path.

Tip: If you are having a very long meeting, pack in “bio breaks” and allow people to get up and move. Breaks also allow people a specific time to check their email and make calls, so their attention can remain focused during your meeting. Bring in some snacks. Have a big shift in the agenda. Ideas WILL get stale if you stick to the same topic with the same goal for 2+ hours. I’d recommend 1.5 hours MAX without a break.

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Wrap it up

After the session ends, compile the notes and send them out to your participants. Include a few extra people who weren’t able to make the meeting — their minds will be nice and fresh! Highlight the ideas you thought were golden or noticed the group rallying interest around, and then ones that could use a little more love. Put some personality in the email (I’m a huge fan of funny GIFs) to gather some interest and start the conversation. You’ll be surprised at how many great ideas you can still squeeze out of the team once the actual meeting has ended. People’s minds don’t just stop when the brainstorm ends; they continue to churn as they walk out the door. If you find people aren’t responding to the email, find some downtime to walk over to their desks or pick up the phone and see if they have any other gems. 

With these tips in hand, you will be well on your way to creating a killer brainstorm session. The end result will be breakthrough creative ideas that will make your next brand experience one that won’t soon be forgotten! 

Learn more about our design thinking process for generating engaging, creative ideas for brand experiences.

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