Most event planners and organizers have used traditional brainstorming to build team alignment, create collaboration, or generate innovation. Virtual brainstorming.
But as hybrid and remote work becomes the new norm, groups find they no longer sit in the same physical spaces or even in the same time zone. So to maintain an innovative edge, event teams must adapt their traditional, in-person brainstorming strategies.
Virtual brainstorming techniques allow people to collaborate on projects without being physically present in the same room. As Gleb Tspipursky writes for the Harvard Business Review, virtual brainstorming “provides a better experience for group members as a whole, generates more novel ideas, and balances the preferences of introverts and extroverts, optimists and pessimists, and lower- and higher-status members.”
Running a great virtual brainstorm is all about the approach. Being organized and using online tools can make all the difference in improving collaboration and making sessions more engaging and effective.
Here’s how to conduct a productive session.
Identify the participants
In any brainstorm, people are encouraged to think outside the box to generate diverse ideas. And for that, you need a diverse group.
Empower everyone to bring their creativity by selecting people with different skill sets and perspectives to the virtual table. Don’t limit participation to only those familiar with the discussion topic.
Ideally, you’ll keep the discussion to a group of five to eight. But you can always start with a larger group and then move to smaller virtual breakout working sessions, coming together at the end to share ideas with the entire group.
Prepare & share resources in advance
The virtual brainstorming session should have an ultimate goal in mind. Whether it’s a particular event challenge to solve, coming up with a new event design approach, or something else, you must prepare in advance to ensure the group has the best chance of achieving the goal.
Begin planning a productive brainstorming session by defining the end goal. What do you hope to achieve? That will keep everyone focused even as they unleash their thoughts and ideas.
Then, draw up a short brief or slides explaining the desired outcome of the session. These materials are excellent to share in advance with the group, so they have time to review and start sharing suggestions and ideas. Plus, sharing materials in advance helps the group make the best use of the time together, focusing on the brainstorming session itself rather than explaining the goal.
Choose the right tools for creative problem solving
Using collaborative tools for creative problem solving during virtual brainstorming has several benefits:
- Allows people to work together remotely.
- Encourages collaboration between different disciplines.
- Reduces the need for follow-up meetings.
- Makes it easier to share ideas and build consensus.
- Improves productivity by reducing distractions and increasing focus.
You’ll likely need a blend of collaborative tools when planning a brainstorming session. The specific tools required depend on the type of virtual brainstorming session you’re running.
Here are several types of tools to consider:
- Communication & Collaboration Apps — Google applications are one of the most widely available tools for virtual brainstorming. This free online service lets you collaborate with others through documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and more. Most people already have access to Google apps.
- Virtual Event Platforms — To encourage more robust collaboration and more easily reach group consensus, up-level to a virtual event platform. Look for a platform that doesn’t require a download and can be accessed from any browser for maximum participation. For example, ConnexMe lets participants upvote and downvote ideas with a simple tap and provides ways for teams to interact more as if they’re in the same room.
- Online Whiteboards — For virtual brainstorm sessions that are highly complex, or take place as an ongoing process, online whiteboards and other collaborative tools like Miro are tailor-made for team members to share their ideas in real-time. Think different formats like sticky notes, diagrams, and more.
Don’t forget to consider how readily your event team can access different solutions. Is there a free option available? Or does it make sense to invest in a platform for the entire team to use on an ongoing basis?
Start with an icebreaker
When running a virtual brainstorming session, even with advance preparation, don’t expect everyone to come ready to start sharing ideas.
Quick icebreakers or warm-up activities are a fun way to begin a virtual brainstorming session. Pick a short, fun, and simple activity to get the creativity flowing!
For example, try:
- Two truths and a lie
- How are you feeling today poll
- This or that quiz question
- Show and tell your pet
- Take a picture of the view from your office
- Would you rather…
- Say it with an emoji
Let the ideas flow!
Since the session is virtual, don’t constrain idea sharing to a specific date and time. Instead, instruct participants to start sharing ideas as they come to mind through the designated collaboration tools.
During the session, remember that brainstorming isn’t a rigid process. Leave room for improvisation and let the discussion proceed organically. Encourage the facilitator to shift directions if the team gets stuck. Have someone document all ideas throughout the process, even if those concepts may not initially connect with the original goals.
Evaluate the ideas
Once you’ve finished brainstorming, review and assess what was shared. This will help you determine whether your ideas are worth pursuing further. For example, you might find some ideas are too broad or not feasible. Or maybe you didn’t consider them before.
This is also an excellent time to have participants come back and comment, rate, or vote on the generated ideas. This process can help identify ideas to move forward with immediately, which should be put in the medium-term plans, and which should be put on the back burner or even discarded.
New ideas and approaches are the lifeblood of events and meetings. There’s no reason a brainstorming session can’t be run virtually. Follow the tips outlined above, and you’ll keep the lifeblood of ideas flowing through your organization.