How to Plan and Facilitate Creative Workshops

In the marketing world, there are 2 types of workshop we’re asked to facilitate — the creative and the strategic. Creative workshops are all about idea generation — new products, services, names, communications. Strategic sessions are about planning and making decisions. Sometimes you can combine a bit of both, eg creating brand positioning, but they do tend to focus on one or the other.

The core skills of facilitation remain the same no matter what the session. Great planning, rapport building and creating a great process. However, you need to adapt your approach to suit the different types.

Here’s what you need to focus on for creative sessions.

1 Who you should invite

You can be generous with your invitations to creative sessions. Invite whoever you feel has something to offer. Ideas can come from anywhere. You need energy and diversity of input to generate fresh thinking.. They could be internal, external, young, old, expert or naive. Ideally a combination of all. Where possible, invite people who can draw or visualise. Their skills are rare and valuable. If you only have a few people available that’s fine too. However, there will be a lot of pressure on them to generate a high volume of output.

2 What kind of pre-work

Idea generation requires a huge amount of stimulus. It’s very difficult to be creative in a blank and empty space. Therefore ensure the pre-work acts as a stimulus for idea generation. It needs to be immersive. Ask participants to bring along competitor samples. Ask them to develop ideas in advance of the sessions. Ask them to connect with consumers, visit retail outlets and experience the brand. Capture and use what you’ve generated in advance. Ensure you have time to share and display it all.

3 What kind of venue

The venue needs to have a lot of space to move around and wallspace to put stuff up on. Find somewhere big. Also the sessions tend to be noisy, so people need to spread out. Nooks and crannies are fine, but avoid the dreaded break-out rooms. Energy leaves the room and it’s hard to keep track of people. Try to keep everyone in the same space throughout.

There is a tendency to go for quirky, creative spaces. This is fine, but don’t prioritise coolness over functionality. We’re here to work, not to hang out. I’d much rather hold a session in large empty space (as long as there’s good natural light ) than a room full of designer furniture.

4 Materials

You’ll need a lot of stuff. Your basic stock needs to be in place (post its, pens, tape, blu tack, masking tape). You’ll need a range of templates for the creative exercise and for the final ideas. Dots snd stickers will help with the idea selecting. You’ll need glue, scissors and magazines to create mood boards and visuals to bring ideas to life. Plus you’ll need print outs to act as visual stimulus — trends / competitors / adjacent markets. Plus the pre-work outputs. Anything that will be useful in encouraging idea generation.

5 Your facilitation style

Generating energy is key, particularly early in the session. You’re looking to invent a wide number of big ideas. Click here for tips on how to do this. Provide lots of time checks / countdowns to keep people focused. Keep sessions short and sharp and use creative exercises to stimulate idea generation. Click here for some suggestions. Be positive. Be encouraging. Generating ideas requires bravery and trust. You need to create a safe and supportive environment.

So to sum up:

When planning and facilitating creative sessions, you need to turn up the volume on

a) the people: invite a diverse, eclectic big group to the session

b) the pre-work: make it immersive and generate a lot of stimulus material

c) the venue: keep it as big and blank as possible, with of course lots of natural light.

d) the materials: you’ll use up a lot of paper and you’ll need visuals to capture ideas.

e) your energy: keep it high and keep it positive

This way, you’ll deliver the most amazing creative session imaginative.

Tagged: facilitation, idea generation, creativity

London based marketing trainer and coach

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