Ask the Google for "holding a great brainstorming session" and you'll find over 54,000,000 (yes, 54 MILLION) results. Add in "content marketing" and you'll find thousands more. No need to wade through all of those (unless you want to) because we did it for you! 

In our experience, the very best brainstorming sessions are simple - but there's an important disclaimer I need to give you right now. If your environment isn't conducive to the free sharing of ideas in a non-judgmental way, this blog post is not going to fix that for you.

Brainstorming is all about getting a bunch of ideas on the table - without judgement, without critique, and without fear - which is why we start our list with just that principle.

Step One: Be clear on the ground rules from the start

Brainstorming sessions are judgment-free zones. Every idea - even if you think it is ridiculous, goes on the board (or the flip chart, or the shared document).

  • Criticism, judgement, and negativity are not permitted
  • Every idea is valid and appreciated by all
  • Don't interrupt another person in the middle of his or her idea - but DO feel free to "camp on" or expand if someone else's idea jump starts your own thoughts
  • Actively encourage others to participate while you are participating yourself
  • Keep to a time limit - for real (otherwise you end up sapping the energy out)
  • Speaking of which, keep the atmosphere high energy, fun, and collaborative

Step Two: Invite a mix of people and let them know the subject up front

Start the creative juices flowing early by letting your invitees know the subject up front. If you can, provide some structure to guide their thinking (like our "28 Questions to Rev Up Your Topic Engine" guide). 

  • Include a mix of people from different areas of your business so you have a mix of viewpoints represented in the meeting
  • Provide some guidance if you have it and/or would find it relevant to do so - thought-joggers that might help spur their thinking
  • Don't discount or exclude anyone because they're not "a marketer." Some of the best ideas will come from business areas that are specifically NOT marketing. For example, customer service team members can have great stories to share.
  • Ask your participants to come to the meeting with at least X number of ideas (3-5 works well)
  • Set the meeting with a defined start time and end time (and then start and end on time). Thirty minutes of brainstorming followed by fifteen minutes of getting to the top five ideas is a good timeframe. 

Step Three: Have a moderator/facilitator and a scribe

Aside from offering up ideas, there are two key responsibilities that must be undertaken for the meeting to be successful. The moderator or facilitator makes sure the meeting stays on track, stops anything that is outside of the guidelines, sets the timeframe, and keeps everyone engaged. The scribe is in charge of capturing the ideas on paper, whiteboard, or into a projected document (more on that in a minute).

Step Four: Start the meeting effectively and agree on expectations

You may or may not reach any conclusions during a brainstorming meeting. It is quite possible you won't get specific topics assigned to specific people. You might do both. Figure out realistic expectations for this meeting, and have a plan in mind on how to carry it forward.

  • Re-introduce the topic
  • Reiterate the rules of engagement and gain everyone's agreement
  • Restate the timeframe - and plan to stick to it
  • If you'll be facilitating, resolve to not interject too much into everyone's ideas - and tell your group that it's okay to call you on it if you do
  • Make it clear if conclusions and assignments are an outcome of this meeting, or not. If not, when will conclusions and assignments be done - and share that info with all who attend.

Step Five: Make it super-easy for everyone to actively participate

Be sure that the recording of all of the ideas is visible to all participants. If everyone is in one room, a whiteboard or flipchart works well. If you're hosting a virtual meeting, have a camera pointed at the whiteboard or flipchart, or take the notes on a computer - but make sure you are ALSO projecting the computer screen in the room so everyone can see the ideas as they're recorded.

Remember, some people may not be comfortable sharing their ideas in front of others. It's up to the facilitator to draw those folks into the conversation. One way to start a meeting is to simply go around the table and record the ideas you had people bring to the meeting. If you keep the meeting non-judgemental - a safe zone - even the most reluctant participants will start coming out of their respective shells.

Follow these ideas, and put your own spin on them to have the best brainstorming sessions ever - and get your content engine revved up again.