On top of a great agenda and great people, I’ve found a few techniques that can really help make the most of a brainstorming session.
- Introductions that help break the ice – one of my favorite ways to kick things off is asking everyone to tell something about themselves that nobody is likely to know – this is a fun way to set an open and creative tone for the rest of the session
- Live document co-editing – I’m a big fan of real-time shared document editors like Google Docs and Box Notes. Everyone in the brainstorming session can take notes in the same document at the same time. It’s like a chat forum, meeting notes, and a wiki all wrapped up in one. And, best of all, when your session is over, you have a fantastic crowd sourced overview that can be easily used to create a summary document.
- Use your smartphone camera – white boards are the centerpiece of brainstorming sessions but they need to be erased for each new idea. Use your phone’s camera to photograph the whiteboards (or flip boards) as the ideas evolve and before its time to erase the board and start over (pro tip: copy the photos into your shared document editor to further capture the ideas and flow from your session)
- Keeping ramblers at bay – people that talk too much are the scourge of brainstorming. If a few people struggle to balance their input, suggest that everyone’s comments be limited to 2-3 minutes. Then get all the group to help keep track of each speaker’s time. This makes it less personal because everyone is measuring everyone else. If the problem persists, set a timer each time a new speaker starts.
- Practice an overview at the end – save the last 15 to 30 minutes for an overview. You can pick on a few attendees and tell them to pretend a senior executive or board member just walked in the room. They have 2-3 minutes (each) to give that executive an overview of everything discussed, learned and decided. This is a great way to shift everyone’s thinking into summarizing the session’s key points.
Here are all the parts in my brainstorming series: Part 1: Rules of Engagement, Part 1B: Five Rules, Part 2: Organizing Creativity, Part 3: Rev up the Creativity Engine and Part 4: Tools and Techniques.