How to Plan a Brainstorming Meeting

How to Plan a Meeting

By Matt Alderton

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There are many reasons to have a meeting. Although the most common are networking and education, another popular reason — especially for senior executives — is brainstorming, which is especially useful in the context of strategic planning.

"If you think about something like a 10-year objective, you have to think big, you have to brainstorm, you can't get tied up in the little issues that may be relevant today but aren't big picture-focused," Paul Faletti, president and CEO of consulting and training firm NCM Associates, tells Successful Meetings Senior Editor Leo Jakobson.

Because there's more to brainstorming than a table and a whiteboard, meeting planners must give brainstorming meetings just as much thought as they do other types of events.

"Just because brainstorming is about coming up with ideas rather than making concrete plans or resolving specific business issues does not mean that it should be treated casually," says Jakobson, who offers the following tips for planning a successful brainstorming meeting:

Keep the group small: "Group size has to be particularly small for brainstorming," Jakobson says. "The maximum single-group size [should be] in the six- to eight-person range … with 12, each person would only get to speak for five minutes per hour, which requires subdividing the group."

Choose the right meeting space: "The internal meeting spaces in offices are often long, narrow, boardroom table setups and that's absolutely the wrong setup for this sort of session," Bruce Withrow, founder and owner of Meeting Facilitators International, tells Jakobson. "You need a large, open U-shape where people can see each other. It's more egalitarian, you have eye contact and people can interact with each other, see screens and access wall space."

Schedule more, longer breaks: When it comes to creative thinking, time away from a problem is just as important as time spent solving it. For that reason, Jakobson says: "Most important of all are the meeting breaks, meals and networking functions. For brainstorming, you want them more frequently and lasting longer."

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