Top tips for virtual brainstorming

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Here at Missive, we pride ourselves on keeping creativity at the heart of our work. Creativity can take many forms – it might be a full-blown stunt or media campaign, or simply an interesting angle for a thought leadership article. With our ongoing drive to find new ways for our clients to spread their message and achieve their objectives, a brainstorming session is an essential tool for us to unearth the best ideas from across the team. Throughout lockdown, we’ve perfected our virtual brainstorming technique, so thought we’d share the love. Here, Missive Associate Director Hannah Devoy, shares her top tips for success.


Solid preparation is in my view, key to any successful brainstorm, becoming even more important when thrust into a virtual setting. Every brainstorm should be different. This is because: a) your brainstorm should be tailored to the challenge at hand, and b) changing format and style will keep participants on their toes and interested. 

To ensure the brainstorm is effective, I decide on up to four questions for attendees to answer. To decide on these questions, I like to know what our campaign strategy and objectives are first, to make sure the questions are totally relevant. 

Then, I think about how to structure the brainstorm and who should attend. I might divide the session into four sections, for example, in line with the four questions. I consider the people attending the session, the required outcomes and then apply different brainstorming techniques to each section accordingly. 

Finally, I send everyone attending the session an email 2-3 days beforehand to brief them and get them thinking about the challenge ahead of time. This means that on the day, people will come with some ideas ready to go, as well as reducing the amount of time needed at the beginning of the session to explain the brief. 

Consider what you want to tell people in advance and what you want to hold back. It might be that you don’t want to reveal the purpose ahead of time, to encourage a wider range of ideas.

Break the ice

To mitigate Zoom fatigue, a fun exercise to kick things off will help warm up attendees. I like to keep this as relevant to the brief as possible. 

For example, we recently held a brainstorm for a digital car rental company, so I asked everyone to spend 5 minutes describing their first car. This helped me to tap into the thoughts and feelings that people associate with owning a vehicle, which then helped with the questions I posed during the session. 

Engage the senses

As mentioned above, no two brainstorms should be the same, and I love the opportunity to experiment with techniques to stimulate different parts of the brain and unlock ideas. When we’re in the office, I bring along props like lego and toy cars for attendees to play with while they’re thinking; I get people to move around the room and use coloured post-it notes to write down ideas; or take people out of the office entirely. It may seem unnecessary, but I’ve found people to be much more engaged and enthusiastic in this environment. 

In a virtual setting, we’ve trialled tools like virtual white boards to allow people to scribble or use digital post-it notes. Recently, we’ve also used simple Google docs, pre-loaded with pictures, gifs or video clips to set the right tone. Think about whether or not a particular emotion is important – perhaps a piece of music played at the start will help get people in the right mood. 

Encourage collaboration

We’ve all been in brainstorms where the loudest people are heard and those who are quieter fade into the background. This is a waste of time and talent – that silent attendee at the back might have the best idea of all, and likewise the louder person may unintentionally end up steering the session to an unhelpful conclusion. One way of combating this is to ask people to spend a few minutes brainstorming by themselves in silence, before presenting their thoughts back to the group. 

Another way is to put people into pairs to come up with ideas together. Each pair could be asked to brainstorm something slightly different to give a wider range of outcomes, and individuals could be partnered for the duration of the session, or could swap throughout. We ask couples to give each other a call or write on a Google slide to share ideas. 

By giving pairs time in between sections of the brainstorm to talk about their best ideas, others in the group have the opportunity to add further thoughts and build on them. Always ask people to write their ideas down as they’re brainstorming so that you can go through them again afterwards. Sometimes a discarded phrase can trigger a fantastic idea after the session is over. 

Sometimes, the most challenging briefs can lead to the best ideas, simply because they necessitate a high level of creativity to find the right approach. Likewise, a team spread out remotely shouldn’t be seen as a barrier but an opportunity to find new ways to collaborate, using the tools available to inspire and, most importantly, to have a bit of fun. 

If you want help coming up with creative ideas to shake up your communications programme, get in touch:

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