How to Run Creative Meetings that Don’t Suck

w5970_500px_72dpiEditor’s Note: This article is excerpted from The Digital Creative Survival Guide by Paul Wyatt, to be published in May by HOW Books. Find more books on web and interactive design at MyDesignShop.com.

If you’re preparing to lead a creative meeting for an interactive design project, make sure it’s an effective and efficient use of everyone’s time. That starts with the invite list: Don’t include people who shouldn’t really be there and whose time would be best spent doing something else.

Figure out the purpose of your creative meeting: Ask yourself if it’s (a) a purely conceptual/brainstorming session, or (b) a project/status update. Concept sessions shouldn’t really involve project managers or account directors, as you most probably won’t be discussing deliverables, deadlines or budgets. Status meetings should involve the account director, creative lead, project manager, developer, etc.

how to run a creative meeting

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How to run a creative meeting

Creative meetings shouldn’t be about going online and ripping off other people’s ideas. For a kickoff creative meeting, try banning any online usage and instead look at the brief and ask each team member to come up with the wackiest, zaniest most off-the-wall idea for the campaign/project. Each of these ideas isn’t allowed to associate with an existing campaign or piece of work online or on TV. Nobody is allowed to judge what is said, and each idea is written on a white board. Now look at the brief again and, with the team, discuss in which order the ideas should be categorized as most relevant to the campaign. Now work through them again and come up with a hybrid of all the ideas to make one relevant one.

What you’re essentially doing is taking a “blue-skies” idea and bringing it a little bit nearer the ground while retaining the best and most original parts of the original concept. Keep asking questions: “How would the user interact with this?” “How would it work as an app?” “If there were print and television advertising for this, what would be the taglines?”

You’ll find that these questions generate solutions that also generate additional questions—all of which fit under the umbrella of the original concept. This is a far more interesting creative discussion that sitting in front of a screen and saying, “Okay, so Amazon is doing this and I noticed that ASOS is displaying their products like this … So if we do a bit of that and add this functionality that eBay has …” Now, that’s not very original, is it?

How to run a status meeting

If you’re doing daily project status updates, think about doing them standing up. None of us like to be on our feet too long and it’s a tried-and-true technique for keeping a meeting short.

For project status meetings, plan what pertinent points or open issues you want to bring up. If your open issues are liable to take the project status meeting in a different direction—which doesn’t involve anyone else there—then agree to continue these discussions during a one-on-one with the relevant person outside of the current meeting. Nobody wants to listen to a person’s issues being raked over with a senior member of staff if the issues don’t affect them. This is what a one-on-one with your team leader is for, and this type of issue should be reserved for that time.

How to present to the client

After having presented three creative ideas to a client, there always is a sense of anticlimax afterwards. What we’d love them to do is to burst into applause, screaming, “My God, you’re a creative GENIUS!” or “These ideas are so good I want to use them ALL!”

It’s an awkward situation for them and you, as they need time to digest what they’ve heard and seen. They’ve literally been put on the spot, so don’t be disheartened if they want to go off and “get back to you” with their thinking. This is a good thing. Forcing the issue during the meeting will possibly force a few oohs and ahhs out of them but it won’t be a considered response. They may even feel the need to be overly critical because of pressure to say something. Give them a bit of time to think.

After you’ve locked down a creative concept for a piece of work, don’t be afraid of touching base with the client by involving them in creative discussions as the project progresses. Introduce them to the team, involve them in “What do you think?” conversations. This will iron out any potential problems later on and can keep a project on track and on budget.

When presenting to a client, keep the creative team “on the same page” or, as another worn expression puts it, “singing from the same hymn sheet.” I’ve been in pitch meetings where creatives unused to client/agency meeting etiquette have become loose cannons by throwing in new ideas that take a project in a completely new and financially unrealistic creative direction. It’s then left to the senior designer or creative lead to manage the (massively raised) client expectations.

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