Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


A 13-Point Checklist for Brilliant Brainstorm Sessions

< Blog home

A 13-Point Checklist for Brilliant Brainstorm Sessions

We’ve heard the rumours – brainstorming doesn’t work.
Well we think that’s nonsense, and here’s why.

Buzzing sessions where thoughts are bounced around can be brilliant for encouraging a culture of ideas and creativity. They can help your organisation to grow and innovate whilst engaging participants and letting them know their contributions are valued. Sharing ideas to help them grow is a practice that’s been around for centuries – because it works. And it’s something that we fully advocate at Alive, with a few words of caution and our tips for running a top session.

All you need to do is watch out for the classic cloggers that’ll trip you up and then focus on the factors that’ll make your session a success.

Let’s start by looking at some of the reasons why brainstorming ‘doesn’t work’:


A cognitive bias where we tend to put undue weight on the first idea presented. The group then focuses way too heavily on this ‘low hanging fruit’ and before you know it, time has run out and it’s turned into a flop.


It’s true that ideas are fragile little things and it doesn’t take much to crush them before they’ve had chance to take shape. So it’s tempting to ban all criticism and just let all ideas flow. Whilst that’s a popular approach, it can leave the group pursuing pointless, ineffective avenues that waste time and cause untold frustration.


Often the loudest individuals in the group will dive in with their ideas and dominate the session, leaving the others out in the cold. Going along with the most dominant person in the room can be the default approach, preventing other, often better ideas from seeing the light of day.

These are three typical reasons why brainstorming can be seen as a waste of time. Yet once we’re on the lookout for them, and we’re armed with the many reasons why brainstorming actually does work there’s no reason why our sessions shouldn’t be a storming success.

13 tips on running a successful session to achieve results

Keeping in mind the super productive purpose of brainstorming, we’ve put together these thirteen points. Start by setting the scene and defining the objective with crystal clear clarity. Make sure everyone understands the brief and knows what you’re looking to achieve. Remind participants that idea generation and development is a gradual, organic process where an idea needs to be bounced around, developed and shaped. It’s not about those mythical ‘eureka moments.’ And then tick off the points on this list as you plan and move through your session.

  1. EARLY WARNING. Brief people on the topic in advance so participants can attend armed with a few initial thoughts and ideas, getting the session off to a flying start. Don’t let people go in cold.
  2. SPLIT IT UP. Consider splitting the session into two – an initial session of ideas generation, followed by a second one of categorising, ranking and judging those ideas. These could happen on the same day or you may prefer a break in between where those ideas have had time to develop.
  3. ENVIRONMENT IS ESSENTIAL. We’re not talking crazy swinging chairs and uber-funky mood lighting. Just comfortable surroundings with a bit of privacy will do.
  4. WATCH THE CLOCK. Keep it brief. Being highly stimulating and responsive can be exhausting work so plan sessions that run for around 30-45 minutes. Be clear from the outset with a couple of questions to prompt the appropriate response, making the most of your time.
  5. UNPLUG. Try to keep phones and other devices switched off to prevent distractions. These sessions shouldn’t be long and it’s a good opportunity to drop the digital world for a short while as you focus on the people in front of you.
  6. FACILITATE EFFECTIVELY. Avoid demotivation and chaos by keeping things in order as well as having someone enthusiastic to tease out those ideas if things tail off. It’s important to have someone watching out for those classic cloggers that’ll hinder proceedings. Keep it moving and make it fun!
  7. BRING IN SOME BOUNDARIES. To get the process moving it can sometimes be better to work within ‘constraints’. Contrary to most people’s perceptions this is when it’s easier to be more creative. So set some temporary boundaries around your subject. Perhaps try removing the constraints as the ideas start to flow.
  8. FOCUS! Avoid straying off the topic – which is often easier said than done. Focus on the objective at hand, have it written on the wall and check in periodically that you’re still on track. This is where your facilitator plays a vital role.
  9. ALLOW CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. Use some tact and common sense to make the most of the session and identify those ideas that warrant more attention. Careful criticism is a necessary part of creativity.
  10. PROMOTE PECULIAR PERSPECTIVES. Encourage attendees to think about the opposites, consider a different point of view. Use props and visual stimulus to get the thinking juices flowing. Leave the left-brain at the door and collect it on the way out.
  11. SET SECRETS FREE. It’s natural to want to protect and preserve your own ideas. You might be super proud of your contributions – and rightfully so. But keeping them squirreled away won’t help them to develop so get them on the table. Connecting ideas is far more productive than protecting them. See how others can help them thrive.
  12. RECORD IT ALL. Keep a note of all that is said. Consider recording the whole thing on video to review afterwards. What may sound unusual at the start could turn into the best idea ever after a little tweak!
  13. BREAK AND BREATHE. Take a break and actively look for inspiration that isn’t related to the challenge in any way, then try to make a connection back. This adds a fresh perspective that comes from an unrelated source.

So it seems to us that, managed effectively, the mighty brainstorm session can actually be a triumph. It all comes down to a little forward planning, keeping a watchful eye out for those classic cloggers and knowing what works for you.

We’d love to hear about your experiences. What works well? What techniques help most when it comes to running a brilliant brainstorm session? Tweet us @AliveWithIdeas with your thoughts.

Further reading on ideas generation

15 Easy Ways to Have More Ideas

There are certain practices that should be encouraged when creating a culture where ideas flow freely, happily and without fear of judgment. They can become everyday habits and can also be encouraged to flourish in others too. Here we explore fifteen great examples.

INFOGRAPHIC: Set Your Creativity Ablaze! 7 Ways to Generate New Ideas

Ideas are our bread and butter. And we never run out! The secret? Maintaining everyday habits that keep our brains bursting with marvellous ideas…

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo