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Op-Ed: How to host a virtual creative brainstorm

Lara Burnes shares her top tips with learnings from her team’s creative planning for their newest venue, CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park – opening late next year.

As many across the events industry begin to find a rhythm of working from home, there are tasks and processes that have had to adapt significantly in order to be done well.

Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom have become ‘the new office’ for many – helping us stay connected, share information and conduct meetings with internal colleagues and industry peers.

When it comes to creativity however, which thrives off ideas and discussion, running a virtual brainstorm can certainly present challenges.

Melbourne & Olympic Parks General Manager of Premier Events & Experiences Lara Burnes has been busy putting together a procedure for hosting virtual creative brainstorms for the iconic precinct’s newest venue CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park, which opens late next year.

Lara shares top tips, guidelines and ‘dos and don’ts’ on how to generate and optimise creativity in teams, through remote collaboration.

  1. The role of the organiser

In order to run a successful creative brainstorm, the team must assign an organiser. This person will own the session’s admin; calendar notes, invitations, event summary, project name and video link – and lead the creative brainstorm and discussion.

Outside of the admin tasks, they’ll be responsible for setting up the brief and objectives to share with the team ahead of the call, so everyone can prepare notes and ideas.

A great way to drive the conversation is to share three questions with the group ahead of the session. Some examples that we used:

  •       “What can we do to showcase a Melbourne experience to international delegates?”
  •       “Because we can’t bring our clients to the venue right now, how can we bring the venue to our clients?”
  •       “As our venue embodies the surrounding native Australian landscape, what native local produce could we introduce to enhance our premium menu offering?”

It’s also important to allow a variety of team members to play the role of ‘organiser’ – this brings creative diversity and individual leadership development.

  1. Ways to enhance your creative brainstorm session

Whether your team is working off Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom, make sure you’re up to date with the latest features and tools available to get the most out of your team’s session.

A new one that’s recently launched, that my team absolutely loves, is Microsoft Whiteboard. We’re able to easily share our screen and brainstorm as if we were all physically next to each other, jotting down and scribbling ideas. The best part about it – once you’re done, you can save the screen and share across any device. If you don’t have a whiteboard feature available, the organiser can share their screen on the video app with the pre-prepared briefing document as the landing page.

Another feature available across most video conference platforms is screen recording. This will allow you to play back any proposed ideas and discussion points to ensure nothing has been missed, as well as share to anyone who might not have been able to attend.

  1. Time to brainstorm

To get the most from your session, keep brainstorms for each question limited to three or four minutes, max. This avoids the team getting bogged down on one item, and keeps the discussion flowing.

Here’s how it works in practice:

  •       The organiser reads out loud the first question, ours is “What can we do to showcase a Melbourne experience to international delegates?”

○        Note, it’s also a great idea to put the question on the shared screen in bold, too. This gives your team something to refer back to during the brainstorm.

  •       The organiser then sets a four-minute timer and each of the participants silently writes down their ideas, starting each sentence with“What if we…”
  •       When the four minutes are up, the organiser invites each participant to read out their ideas – allowing all people in the team to share turn-by-turn..

○        Note, make comments as you go –  before you forget the best ideas and need post-session time to refresh. Alternatively, if you are using Microsoft Whiteboard, these notes will be saved automatically on the collaboration whiteboard.

  •       Once all parties have read out their suggestions, it’s on to question two (and three)!
  •       Allow time at the end of each question for an open forum discussion on some of the team’s ideas. A useful tip is to read back all the answers and have the group vote on the best (if applicable).
  •       It’s important that the organiser follows up with a written overview from the brainstorming session and key actions that arose. This will keep the group accountable and engaged for the next session.

This method keeps brainstorms under 30 minutes and helps assign clear actions and objectives to the meeting, ensuring that you get the most out of your team.

Whether you’re looking to take your events from physical locations to online, or wanting to stimulate creative outputs among any team or project, these three steps will hopefully be an effective guide to ensure you can still hold a creative brainstorming session and make the most of this time.

Author:  Lara Burnes, Melbourne & Olympic Parks General Manager of Premier Events & Experiences. 

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