14 Tips to Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions

By Ashley Orndorff, aka Marketing Geek brainstorming concept - black and white doodles, light bulb with splashes of color, and doodles full of color

Brainstorming sessions can be useful tools for generating a lot of ideas, coming up with unique solutions to complex problems, creating innovation, identifying new perspectives, etc. Some are more productive than others. Here are some tips to improve your brainstorming sessions and help make more of them more productive:

1. Set a Time Limit

Internal meetings can take up a lot of time; the same is true for brainstorming sessions. Setting a time limit can help everyone attending the session better manage their time, the rest of the day, and their work for the day.

Having a time limit to stick to can also help keep everyone focused on the goals for the session and may even help the people who get inspired by deadlines generate new ideas. Brainstorming sessions should be focused on getting as many ideas as possible that could help towards accomplishing goals.

Stick to those goals and wrap up within the established time limit. If it turns out you need more time for more ideas or to make progress on new goals associated with them, update your goals and agenda and schedule another session for a later time; you’ll get the best insights if you give people time to process all of the new information.

2. Keep it Short

Whether done by yourself or in a group, brainstorming sessions are tools for generating a lot of ideas. Anything further than that takes the goals beyond what a brainstorming session is meant to provide, and can also limit what you get out of them. You don’t want people second-guessing themselves or feeling hesitant to speak up.

A good initial brainstorming session is about quantity, not necessarily quality. Evaluating and qualifying ideas comes later. In this same vein, you want to avoid fatigue. Because of this, it’s important to also keep brainstorming sessions short. Although some can go for shorter or longer and the ideal length can vary based on the situation, 30 minutes is usually a good guideline.

3. Create an Agenda

Depending on your specific situation and goals, it can sometimes make sense for people to come into a brainstorming session with no preparation beforehand. However, in most cases, you want to give attendees some time to think and process and jot down a few ideas to share in the session.

Creating an agenda specifically with the goals of the session, initial questions, and more ahead of time can help people prepare for the session, keep them focused during the session, and make it more effective. An agenda is one of the conference call tips for better meetings that you can use to get more out of your brainstorming sessions too.

4. Invite the Right People

One of the big tips to improve your brainstorming sessions is to invite the right people. Depending on your goals, situation, and organization, this could be everyone in your company, a representative from each department, or a different group.

“The right people” isn’t always necessarily someone that is directly and personally involved with doing the work around the goals for the session. In initial brainstorming sessions, you want to include everyone who will be involved with the process and outcome of what is being discussed, but you also don’t want to ignore insights from people outside of the process.

These insights can be invaluable when it comes to innovative, unexpected, and unique perspectives and ideas. When thinking about who needs to be involved in a brainstorming session, you want to strike the right balance so that you are not wasting anyone’s time or limiting creativity or innovation.

5. Ask Attendees to Come Prepared

To get the most out of your brainstorming sessions, make sure you ask attendees to come prepared. Even if you have created an agenda and shared it beforehand, you may still miss out if you do not specifically ask attendees to come prepared with a few ideas to share or some thoughts on specific questions you want to address.

6. Identify a Facilitator

Identify a facilitator for the brainstorming session. This person will help guide the session, keep things on track, make sure people have time and space to talk, ask questions to lead the discussion, and more. With the right questions, or even asking for ideas on questions that come up with a specific item or situation, a facilitator can help people generate even more great ideas.

A good facilitator can help create a comfortable session where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and make sure everyone has a chance to speak for a more balanced session. You don’t want to limit ideas or ignore insights, but you also don’t want anyone commandeering the whole session, taking over, or making anyone else feel like they can’t speak.

7. Clarify and Manage Expectations

Brainstorming sessions, especially those at the beginning of a process, are meant to generate a ton of ideas without spending time evaluating them or planning on how to execute them. Your focus is on quantity – get a lot of ideas from different sources and perspectives and worry about sifting through and qualifying them later.

In order to keep a brainstorming session focused on ideas and nothing beyond that, it’s important to clarify and manage expectations. If your goals for the session are to generate ideas to address a problem, you want to find a solution, but you don’t want to waste a brainstorming session on determining the right solution when the goal is just to gather ideas.

Try to keep the session focused on ideation instead of strategy or planning details. If the goals of the meeting include narrowing down ideas to solutions and starting to plan execution, it’s not just a brainstorming session. If this is the case, clarify what problems need solutions and plan the appropriate agenda and meeting to go along with it.

8. Find the Right Location

Location matters in a lot of things; even in brainstorming sessions. You can have a great brainstorming session anywhere you can find space, but the location can sometimes limit creativity or ideation. In some cases, it could even create discomfort and hinder your session.

You want people to be comfortable and to be able to speak freely. This may mean finding a private location with a lot of comfortable furniture and room to move around. Depending on how important the brainstorming session will be for your goals, you may even consider renting a space specifically for it.

9. Make the Session as Easy as Possible

You want to create a comfortable environment where people are encouraged to share freely and be creative for a brainstorming session. Making the session as easy as possible can help remove any friction that can limit creativity and ideas.

You can even add elements or use tips to tap into creativity to help people get in the right mindset. Make it easy for people to attend, easy to contribute, and more; this will help you get the most out of your brainstorming sessions.

This is one of the tips to improve your brainstorming sessions that you can use even when you’re doing one by yourself. For example, if you’re trying to come up with content ideas and you get stuck, make it easy on yourself. Give yourself a break and some grace, and don’t be afraid to use content marketing tools to help get around a block and jumpstart your creativity.

10. Use Tactics to Encourage Ideas

Even if you ask people to come prepared with a few ideas, you could find your brainstorming session becoming stagnant after those ideas are shared. Although staying focused on ideation instead of finalized problem-solving can be a common challenge with brainstorming sessions, sometimes, the biggest challenge is getting things started or keeping momentum once the session begins.

You can try a few different things to get the creativity flowing, like curveball questions or provocative prompting, but it could also be helpful just to get people relaxed and even a little distracted. You can try to do some team activities or icebreakers to help build a more comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. At times, this alone can help create an environment where people feel like they can share ideas freely and even help kickstart some ideation.

11. Use “How Might We” Questions to Maintain Momentum

As things get started and get going, it can be helpful to use questions to help frame attendees’ thinking. You don’t want to lead too much with questions, but the right questions can help maintain momentum and progress in a brainstorming session.

Provided they are not too broad or too narrow, “How Might We” questions, in particular, tend to be helpful for encouraging ideation and launching effective brainstorming sessions. Common tactics for framing these questions are:

  • Highlighting Something Positive
  • Focusing on an Emotion
  • Asking About Extremes
  • Questioning Potential Assumptions
  • Digging Into a Highly-Specific Element
  • Using Analogies For Interesting Insights
  • Flipping the Script and Exploring the Opposite

By using these questions, you can inspire ideas relevant to the goals of your session and improve your brainstorming sessions; both in how they are run and in the outcomes you get from them.

12. Find Ways to Effectively Document Everything

It’s one thing to have a great brainstorming session, and entirely another to remember everything that happened. You don’t want to lose out on great ideas! This is why figuring out effective ways to document everything in the brainstorming session for easy reference afterward is an essential tip for improving your brainstorming session.

Every idea may not be helpful at the time, but you never know what it could inspire in the future. It’s entirely possible that your brainstorming session results in great ideas for the goals you wanted to accomplish and several ideas that inspire other initiatives.

Being able to keep track of what will help you progress towards specific goals as well as anything else that will be useful helps you make the most of your brainstorming sessions. But, you don’t want to hinder ideation at the expense of note-taking.

Recordings, digital whiteboards, transcriptions, and more can all help you ensure ideas are captured for reference without limiting creativity, motivation, etc. With all of the technology available, you can find the right mix of digital, analog, and integrated approaches that work best for you.

13. Fuel Attendees’ Bodies and Minds

The right environment and questions or prompts to suit your needs can help attendees brainstorm ideas, but also consider their physical states as well. If you’re planning on a brainstorming session that’s close to 30 minutes or longer, consider providing refreshments like drinks and snacks. Not only is this thoughtful, but it can also keep attendees focused on the goal of the session and not on how hungry or thirsty they feel.

14. Wrap Up Brainstorming Sessions With Clear Next Steps

Even if the goal of a particular brainstorming session was just initial ideation, it was still done for a reason. Depending on the goals of the session, desired outcomes, and the end goal in mind, the next steps will vary. However, every brainstorming session is meant to lead to something afterward.

Make sure your brainstorming sessions end with clear next steps. Even if the next steps are to do some individual brainstorming before another session, make sure people are aware of what is expected, what the updated goals are for the next session, and when that next session is scheduled. If there are action items, make sure those are clear and are addressed with whoever is responsible for them.

Customize Your Approach For Better Brainstorming Sessions

You can use data to generate content ideas, but sometimes nothing is better than a good brainstorming session. These are just a few tips to improve your brainstorming sessions. If there are any you’re not using, try implementing one or two in your next session to see if it helps.

The best approach and mix of tips will vary from person to person and group to group, and maybe even from session to session depending on your goals. Don’t worry if something doesn’t work for you; give it a few tries and then move on to something else until you find the approach that works best for you.

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