Brainstorming 101: How to Be a Better Participant

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Stephanie Bellay
Stephanie Bellay

Art Director


Get your creative juices flowing with an effective brainstorming session

A big group brainstorm can be an incredibly insightful experience. It’s an important process at Freeman — we love to bring together diverse perspectives, as that is when the magic happens.

Admitted, for some, a big group brainstorm can be a bit intimidating. There are naturally people who love the quick tangential thinking and seem incredibly talented at brainstorming, and then those who dread the idea of attending. If your stomach sinks and you really which you could improve your skills, I’ve curated a few steps to help you quickly step up your game.

Preparing is half the battle.

If G.I. Joe was a brainstorm facilitator, this would’ve been his motto. The best participants have taken the time to read, digest, and think about the creative brief or any other materials and challenge at hand.

From that initial pre-read, you’ll gain an understanding about the goals that need to be achieved, the pain points of the clients, ideally some history about what has been done in the past, a few resources to check out, and some primers to get your head in the game. Give yourself an hour to read the material, go through the research, access the resources, and do some initial brainstorming on your own.

If you have questions about the client or the goals, let your facilitator know! Odds are, you are not the only one who needs more information. Often times, the facilitator has been in the trenches so long that a lot of the knowledge is second-nature, so vital bits may have been left on the cutting room floor. They’ll be grateful that you’re preparing for the brainstorm, and will appreciate the attention you are giving to it if you come up with thoughtful questions.

Alternatively, hold those questions to help spark conversation in the brainstorm if you think they might do better in that capacity.

It’s not all about you.

Listen to what other people are saying and the direction that the facilitator is leading the group in. Use those cues to help guide your ideas. Not all the ideas you come up with need to be brand-spankin’-new, 100% original ideas. Build off of other people’s thoughtful solutions, and tweak to their language help nudge those ideas to the next level. Example: Slip-and-slide might not be the answer, but what about a water-slide, or a water-mist tunnel?

“Yes, and…” is a great tool those in the improvisation and theater space are well aware of. Listening, acknowledging, and adding to are the name of the game — and you’d be surprised at how many people bypass listening and acknowledging. Ever notice how some people sit silently in the corner, and just seem to be waiting to throw their idea into the mix? Also notice how those ideas tend to have nothing to do with the current train of thought and actually derail the momentum that is building by working through a concept? That person has shut their brain off and is working alone. Be a part of your brainstorm team and contribute in a way that helps push the synergy forward.

Brainstorms aren’t just for the extroverts.

If you are someone who is quiet or uncomfortable speaking in a group setting, there are still ways you can contribute that will help the group, but will help you keep the stress of that meeting manageable.

Volunteer to take notes: Offer to be the note-taker (either visually or on your laptop) so that the facilitator can focus on getting the most out of the participants.

Summarize: Capture everything that’s been said and put on stickies/white boards. While you’re doing this, try organizing the ideas into categories or like-groups, and weed out the duplicates.

Follow-up: Read through the provided notes and see if you can expand on any of the ideas or flesh out some fresh options. Do some internet research on some of the ideas provided (Example: Can you ACTUALLY helicopter someone in at Levi’s Stadium? Has it been done? If not, what is an alternative that got some press that could work for your client?)


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