12 essential tips for a successful online brainstorm

April 2020, Esther van der Storm

 

Mid-March, Dutch prime minister Rutte announces that meetings with more than 100 people are no longer allowed. I notice that the STORMPUNT agenda is emptying and decide to look for alternatives. Within a week both myself and my colleagues test Mural and Miro and organise a number of online brainstorms to test the concept. I have shared our experiences and tips in previous blogs, which can be found on our blog page

Several weeks have passed since – with more than 30 online sessions and training sessions. Time for an update! In this blog we share 12 new tips that will make your online creative sessions a resounding success.

 

Miro

At STORMPUNT we use Miro for our online sessions (you can read the reasons for choosing Miro over Mural in this blog post). Miro is a large online whiteboard on which you can easily collaborate with teams. From ideas to concepts to digital sprints: the possibilities are endless. Because there are so many options with such a tool, it is easy for first time users to get lost or overdo it. These are our essential tips for a successful online brainstorm:

 

1.    Let people practice with the tool in advance

This is our number 1 tip. From the moment we asked participants to practice beforehand, workshops and training sessions went a lot smoother. We have created a special warming up board, so people can get familiar with the most important Miro functions one by one. The majority of participants can then easily paste digital post-its. In fact, I’ve had quite a few self-proclaimed digitally challenged people in my sessions, and so far everyone has been able to participate quite well in these.

Are you curious what our warming up board looks like and would you like to play with one yourself? Just send us a message message and we will be happy to send you a link to our warming up board!

 

2.    Keep it simple

Platforms like Miro have hundreds of functions. While that’s great for facilitators, it’s can be overwhelming for participants. So keep it simple – this is also very nice for yourself when you start using the tool. Then slowly increase the number of features you use over time. I work in Miro with one of my project teams. We have been using the tool since the start of the crisis and we have gradually started to use more and more of its features. I have really seen a fast learning curve in the team.

 

3.    Alternate between offline and online forms of work

After weeks of experimenting with online methods, I am now increasingly using offline methods as well in my online sessions. Yes, you can do that. The variation creates more energy. No-one really gets energized from just staring at a screen. Ask participants for example to collect a tray of LEGO and have everyone build something. Share the result in front of the camera, or have the participants take a picture of it and put it in Miro. Also drawing something, or writing an answer on a real post-it and showing it to everyone else in front of the camera is a nice variation on just being digital. Variation always works well.

 

LEGO online

 

4.    Provide a logical structure

I see other people post the most beautifully constructed Miro boards. Often these have magnificent layouts, but the structure is not always logical for participants. After a lot of experimenting I found that a simple chronological structure – from left to right, and then numbered – works best in a session. This allows people to navigate well on the board.  You also make things easier for yourself as facilitator, because you can say things like: “We are now proceeding to step 3”.

 

5.    Create a ‘secret corner’

One of the things that I really had to get used to is that the entire structure of the session is immediately visible to participants when you are working online. In face-to-face sessions you can be much more flexible. You can for example spontaneously decide to omit a step from the process or to add a work method if the situation demands it. But… I have also found a solution for that in online sessions. These days I construct my boards in Miro in such a way that only the steps that I am definitely going to use are included in the main flow. I put all the methods I might use in a far away corner on the Miro board, out of view of the participants. So far, not a single participant has discovered my secret corner…. If during a session I need to add a new or adapted work method, I simply ‘pull it out of the corner’ and add it on the spot. Success and surprise guaranteed (huh, where did you get that from!). This has gives me a lot of extra flexibility as facilitator.

 

Miro

 

6.    Use breaks to organize your board

“When do you go to the bathroom?” a participant in an online training session asked me recently. Not during a break! As a facilitator, I usually structure the Miro board, or prepare instructions for the next round. It is no different from a face-to-face session where I use breaks to clean up and prepare. Need more time? Feel free to take an extra break. People should leave their screen once an hour anyway, so an extra break is always appreciated.

 

7.    Let people ‘digitally mess around’ for a while

To date, I have not had a lot of technical hick-ups. But I did need to get used to the fact that I do not always have everyone’s full attention. Sometimes the internet connection of a participant breaks or they are still trying to figure out how to give that post-it a nice pink colour. It’s all part of the job! I have noticed that it sometimes works better to let people fiddle around for a while. Part of the working online. You can always repeat your main instructions at a later time.

 

8.    Unmute

Sometimes, that mute button is a real godsend. But I prefer not to use it. I think it is just awkward when everyone is on mute the whole time. Besides, it creates an extra threshold when a person does want to say something. When muted, he first has to actively do something (un-mute himself) before he can speak. Say goodbye to spontaneity. No more agreeing “h-m”, no more chuckling or a quick remarks. Therefore, I always like to open everyone’s microphone. This provides much more energy in the group. It’s handy to agree though that people will mute themselves when they experience a lot of background noise.

 

9.    Make a connection, talk into the camera

Quite regularly I notice facilitators that do not talk into the camera. If you do not look into the camera, it is hard for others to connect with you. I myself work with two screens, and I always ensure that I look at the camera when I explain or tell something. Test what works best for you: speaker mode, talking to yourself or to the webcam. You can also put a sticker next to your camera with a thick arrow and the text LOOK HERE (tip from Mireille Beumer). Whatever you do, make sure you look into that camera. That way participants feel they connect with you and that is really important online.

 

10. Work with smaller groups (or with subgroups in break-out rooms)

In face to face sessions I find a group of twelve people normal. Online, I prefer to work in smaller groups. I personally feel that eight people is a good number. Large enough to bring a variety of perspectives to the table; small enough to have everyone to have their say. With larger groups I have learned that the interaction immediately reduces. When you do need to facilitate larger groups, I suggest working a lot in break-out rooms.

 

11. Turn on the music

During face-to-face sessions I always use music. Most of the times I use it to mark the end of a break: when the music stops, we resume the program. You can also do that online! It is very nice when participants immediately hear that it is time to get back in front of their screen. In addition, music improves the atmosphere. I found that In Zoom you can easily share your sound. A useful feature, because when captured via your microphone the music loses a lot of its sound quality.

 

muziek sonos

 

12. Rely on your skills

Finally: trust yourself. If you guided a group offline, you can guide a group online as well. You do not suddenly lose all your skills. Yes, it is a little different and yes, you will have to get used to it. But you will find that once you have facilitated a few sessions, it will go smoother and smoother. So make those hours! Prepare yourself well, make sure you are ready and get to work. It is really amazing what you can achieve with a group online!

Want to learn how to facilitate your own creative sessions using Miro? Check out our training course Effective Online Brainstorming. You will learn all the tips and tricks needed to successfully facilitate creative sessions.