Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

Idea

 

But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

Brain

The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

If you want to get more from your brainstorms:

Get my top tips, by signing up below!

OR

To get your workshops in much better shape, include a great brainstorm and really get some ideas and discussions flowing then click here to find out more about my “how to” workshops!

 

 

The Wonders of Workshops

workshop group

To do a workshop, there’s a trick

Discovering how people tick.

You’ll want to be part of the group,

You need to feel you’re in the loop.

If you just stand there, blab and spout

And talk and talk around, about,

One direction information

With minimal participation.

Then you’re not making half the most

Of what you should be, as the host.

Your job’s to energise, excite

Get people buzzing left and right!

Involve the group that’s there with you

Create dynamics, include them too.

Engagement is the key you see,

It’s not just them, it’s us and we.

Discussions causing inspiration

Ideas abound and thought creation.

And questions about how to do,

And sharing a new point of view.

A good direction, know you aims

Include some decent fun and games.

Tools, techniques, activities,

A proper process if you please.

It’s not so hard you’ll get the knack

And once you’re on that workshop track,

You start to get the buzz, you’ll see

Just how much fun it really can be.

So let’s get started, find your groove,

Take a first step, bust a move.

You can devise a workshop too,

Don’t just sit there, get up and do!

 

To find out more about my workshops on how to do your own workshop, click here!

Why should you hold a workshop?

As we have already established, I love a good workshop. I love giving workshops, and if they are done well, I love being a participant. I love sharing ideas, having discussions, learning while doing.

20151013_170154

Lots of people do workshops. It is a term that has become a bit of a catch all for those situations where you get a group of people together in the same space and work with them. I know people who do workshops on Social Media, Finance, Sales and Marketing, Business Development, Nutrition and Mindfulness to name but a few. Most of the people who do them are not trainers or facilitators in their own right. They are not necessarily people who work predominantly with groups for a living. They are people who are experts in their field, have a wealth of knowledge to share and have decided to do a workshop as part of their business offering. The topics are vast and the things you can learn amazing.

But it’s not easy doing a workshop. And it’s even harder to do a good workshop. It’s fairly nerve-wracking the first time, standing up in front of a group of people and telling them what you know, watching a lot of faces full of expectation looking to you for the answers. But once you get over that hurdle, it feels fairly do-able. After all, you are the expert.

The hard bit is doing it in a way that maintains a good audience of attentively listening, actively involved, motivated participants. Being creative enough with your worldly knowledge so it is accurately and effectively imparted to a group of paying guests is not something to embark upon lightly. You’ve broken through the “everyone’s listening to me” thing, now you have to keep all those eager faces from drifting away, not sticking to the programme, losing interest. That’s the killer, much worse that everyone looking at you!

So, nothing to worry about at all then. Perhaps I’m not selling it well enough, the idea of holding a workshop. The how, is most definitely something you need to work on. But the why, well that’s much easier…….Continue reading

Embracing those Workshop Fears and Remembering the Metaphorical Hug.

In my line of work I do find myself talking a lot about workshops. After all, it is what I do. Get me going and I can be talking about them for hours…..

I have however come to realise that not everyone shares my passion. That’s okay. The idea of standing up in front of a group of people (whether large or small) can be quite daunting. This is particularly true if you haven’t actually done it before and it is probably the IDEA of doing it that frightens you most. That’s often the way, it is the thought, the notion, the imagined experience of doing something that often frightens us most. In reality, these things often turn out to be not quite so bad.

I do remember my first ever workshop, although fortunately I wasn’t alone. I did it with a colleague of mine and we were delivering a training session on communication development and disorders. It was a topic I knew inside and out and we had planned the content meticulously. We had all sorts of interesting activities in mind, and had consulted and brainstormed so we felt we had it pretty well organised. We knew what we wanted people to learn, and the level of knowledge of our participants. We spent hours planning to get it right. And I was still scared.

Continue reading

People Centred Meetings

A few weeks ago I wrote about bad meetings. The types of meetings you really don’t want to go to. The types of meetings that make people cringe and roll their eyes and wonder why they bother. But what about good meetings? Have you ever been to a good meeting?

Hands up…….there must be a few of you…..

Some companies, organisations and places of work have got it sussed. They know exactly how to conduct meetings that make people want to go to them (or at least not groan when one pops up in their diary). They know how to make them productive and how to make the best use of the resources in that meeting. By which I mean the people. Just as importantly, they know what they want to happen after the meeting has finished. They have thought about how the meeting might end and the follow up afterwards.

There is a lot of advice out there on what to do and what not to do about meetings. There are innovators of all kinds who have tried to revolutionalise meetings as we know them. You hear about people meeting standing up, or meetings that happen while you walk , meetings that are short and fast but happen every day , and of meetings that are long and involved and look more like a workshop. There are meetings that use lots of technology, and meetings that happen where no one is even in the same room (this example is another rather over parodied meeting but you get the picture!).

meeting.board room png

 

However your meeting looks, one of the of the most important elements of any meeting is the participation and engagement of the people present. It is about inviting the right people in the first place and ensuring that their time and energy is well used. If the structure and process of the meeting doesn’t allow people to take part, and contribute effectively then it isn’t going to be worth doing. While not everyone is as disengaged as this man we have all been to meetings where we have spent time doodling and thinking about our lunch rather than joining in!

The thing that can really ensure your meetings work are keeping the people as the primary focus, rather than the information you have to get through or the decisions you have to make. A bold statement perhaps. But if you have reached a decision based on only half of your participants really thinking hard about the discussion, then the chances are you may have to go back and revisit it at a later date. Getting people together for a meeting can be hard, so you want to make sure you make the most out of your opportunity. People holding a meeting often plan the agenda, organise a room, check people’s diaries and order tea and coffee. But they don’t always spend time focusing on how they are going to get everyone involved.

Depending on the different positions and personalities in the room, and what type of meeting you are having, the level of engagement and participation will vary. You will have slow talkers and fast talkers, loud people and quiet people, people that love to join in and people that hate it. There will be some people that disagree a lot and some people that agree with everything. The mix and how you deal with it are important. The dynamics of the group and how you manage it can make or break a good meeting.

So, no pressure then!

There are all sorts of tools and techniques for effectively managing a meeting and many different styles of doing so. Tools are really the materials and processes that you use to get everyone working (the activities), while techniques are the methods you employ to make them work (the behaviour that you use). And people “running” a meeting will have different roles; whether you see yourself as facilitating, chairing, managing, running, hosting, leading….there are subtle differences between all of these things, but you are essentially responsible for the meeting itself, and the people in it.

Meeting white board

So in order to keep everyone on track, it might help to think about:

Additional resources, tools and activities that you could use to make the meeting a cut above the normal sit down and talk around a board room table. You don’t all have to be doing elaborate ice breaking activities, or using the height of technology, but sometimes the addition of something other than just talking or looking at handouts is needed. It might be that adding more varied visual materials, writing comments on cards, asking people to get up and write on a flip chart paper, or splitting into side groups is enough. You don’t have to turn your board meeting into a workshop, but there are ideas that can be taken from workshops to keep your meeting attendees actively listening and thinking about the meeting. Sometimes though, a little bit of fun or some quirky activity can also be useful!

IMG_9135

 

The way you are talking to your participants. If it looks as if someone doesn’t understand, can you paraphrase or ask a clarifying question? If someone is talking too much can you find a way to curtail them, or bring someone else in? If people are prone to giving one word answers, are there certain things that you can add or ask to draw some of the information out?

The way you are listening and watching the people in the meeting. There may be people who are itching to say something, or others who wish they could become invisible. But by keeping your eye on the way people are interacting you will get more value out of the people who are there.

Preparation and letting people know what you want from the meeting. People will always feel more comfortable when they know what is expected of them. This is not just about making sure they have the agenda beforehand or space in their calendar but about what they are expected to contribute and do in the actual meeting. Quite often meetings are so frequent and so un-engaging that we have got into the habit of just turning up for them and not really thinking about what we might want to add.

So, when you plan your next meeting, it might not need to be incredibly clever, radical or innovative. But a shift in focus to fostering an environment where people feel able to ask questions, talk freely and have productive interactions may be a good investment. Good meetings take work, and creating the time and space to make them better will in the long run provide better outcomes. A focus on people is hard when you have deadlines to meet, information to get through and tough decisions to make. But the people and their thoughts, opinions, ideas and questions are what make it a meeting. It is the skills and knowledge from the group of people in the room that are needed, they are what it’s really all about.

What are your top tips for making meetings better?