It's not easy to run a brainstorming session. Proper prep is essential, otherwise, it can become a big 'ol waste of time. Imagine a big rowdy group talking all at once and discussing ideas that have nothing to do with the topic. Not exactly a productive afternoon.

Now imagine having that kind of chaos with a distributed group: people on-site, remote, and across multiple locations. How do you run a proper brainstorm as a virtual meeting?

It's even more of a challenge, but it can be done! And when it's done well, the results are always worthwhile.

Virtual Brainstorming

A virtual brainstorm is a discussion between members of a group who are working from different locations. The purpose of virtual brainstorming is to come up with new ideas and find resolutions to problems. Teams typically use set up a time to brainstorm at the beginning of new projects and campaigns to kickstart the planning process. Brainstorms can be held in-office, remotely, or with hybrid teams.

1. Use collaborative tools and technology.

Have you ever experienced a virtual meeting where you could never figure out the right moment to talk? You either kept accidentally all speaking at once, or you waited and thus experienced an excruciatingly long and awkward silence. It's not done intentionally – if you don't have video (or good video) it's simply because participants can't see each other's facial expressions.

Facial expressions and body language make up 55% of communication.

And thus without good video, you're only getting half the context. Make sure your video conferencing setup has dynamic video and audio. That way, the meeting is remote-inclusive and remote callers can easily follow along. It's the most important step to a successful brainstorming session.

2. Send out the topic and a clear overview of the goal/purpose of the brainstorm beforehand.

If you have to review the agenda and topic during the meeting, you're wasting precious time. Make your team aware of the topic before the brainstorm session, so participants can properly prepare.

Ensure they take a few moments to jot down any ideas or questions they might have. If each individual comes with ideas, you can jump right to the team discussion. It will help the entire meeting run smoothly.

3. Set a time limit for the meeting.

Be respectful of your employees' time. There are tasks that need to be done each day, so any additional time spent over the scheduled meeting could push into your employees' personal time.

For example, remember that members of a distributed team aren't always in the same time zone, so even though it's 9:00 AM for you, the meeting might be cutting into someone's dinner. If the discussion isn't finished by the end of the meeting, schedule another time to talk.

4. Appoint a facilitator.

It's hard for teams to stay on track for an extended period of time. One topic sparks another topic and before you know it, the hour is up. Appoint one person who is willing to step in and bring everyone back to the topic at hand when side conversations strike.

Ensure this facilitator is someone who's not afraid to speak up. They should always be thoughtful of the remote attendees' ability to speak. It might be harder for them to raise an idea if the in-room participants begin dominating the conversation.

5. Send a follow-up.

As a leader, it's essential to turn those brainstorm ideas into action. Send out a follow-up message . with meeting notes and a check-list of any tasks that need to be accomplished before the next session and deadlines. This way, you'll keep the topic top-of-mind.

Virtual Brainstorming Tools

Here are a few virtual brainstorming tools you can use for your next virtual brainstorm session.

Virtual Brainstorm Software

Virtual Brainstorm Hardware

Document Brainstorm Tools

Visual Brainstorm Tools

Effective virtual brainstorms can be done – they just take a bit of preparation that's always worth the outcome. Looking for more? Check out these ways to avoid wasting time in meetings next.

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