Tim Stobierski
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Annual strategy sessions are a staple in the calendars of most educational marketing and admissions teams. Yet, these gatherings often fall short of sparking the effective collaboration necessary for a notable boost in performance—a fundamental objective for any educational leader or administrator outlining the strategy.

If you’re looking for some new ways to infuse creativity into your next kickoff or brainstorming session, incorporating brainstorming games or activities into the agenda is a great place to start. You can begin the meeting with an activity and then transition into others over the course of the event to get ideas flowing and help break the ice, showing participants that it’s okay to throw out ideas and suggestions regardless of whether it is well-thought through, big, or small.

Here are five engaging brainstorming activities designed for educational professionals, ready to be integrated into your next enrollment marketing or academic strategy session to foster greater collaboration, innovation, and effectiveness.

Free Brainstorming Activities Worksheets


1. The Five Whys

Often, it can be difficult to see the true cause or problem behind an issue that your organization is having. Instead of seeing the true underlying problem, we tend to see only the symptoms. But by treating the symptoms and not the cause, we give ourselves much more work to do—and no guarantee of success. This brainstorming activity is designed to help your team uncover the root causes behind the problems that they are facing.

To play, you must first identify a problem that your team needs to evaluate. Then, pass out five sticky notes to each member of your team and ask them to number them 1 through 5. Once set, ask your team to answer the question of “why” the problem is a problem. This answer goes on sticky note 1.

In the next phase, ask your team why the answer on sticky note 1 is true. This answer goes on sticky note 2. Then ask them why the answer on sticky note 2 is true, and have them write the answer on sticky note 3. Repeat unto you have used all 5 sticky notes.

Once you are done, create 5 columns on a whiteboard, and at the top of each column place the question “Why?” Each team member will then place his answers in a row, with their final assessment coming in the last column. Evaluate these answers, marking similarities and differences amongst answers, and allow for discussion.

Hopefully, this will identify a few key areas that you can focus your improvement efforts. If not, you can repeat the process again until you have a clear answer.

This activity can also be instrumental in understanding the perspective of your potential students or parents, and uncover some of the root causes or events that trigger their journey towards submitting an application. These ideas can be used to shape your marketing team’s content marketing editorial calendar, as well as your business development team’s prospecting strategy.

This exercise will likely take around 1 hour to complete.

2. Empathy Map

A pivotal aim for annual enrollment marketing meetings is to outline the student recruitment and engagement strategy for the year. One great way to kick off this exercise is to create Student or Student-Family Personas—semi-fictional representations of your ideal prospects. An “Empathy Map” is a great visual way to kick off this process and get your team’s creative juices flowing.

Doing this will help your team recognize an ideal prospect when one appears, will help them to become more attuned to the  individuals needs and concerns, and will allow them to quickly check whether or not they are working in a way that will appeal that individual.

To conduct this exercise, create a circle on a whiteboard and label it with the name of the person you are focusing on (you can turn the circle into a head if you’d like). Then, label areas around the head with the words “Thinking,” “Seeing,” “Hearing,” “Feeling,” “Doing,” and “Saying.”

Value Proposition Workshop
Creating Empathy Maps at a Value Proposition Workshop

Ask your team to explain what the person’s experience is, from that person’s perspective. Do this for each of the 6 categories. By the end of the exercise, your team will have developed a certain degree of empathy for the individual in question, allowing them to identify the person’s motivations.

By asking themselves “What would so-and-so want?” or “What would he think about this?” they can quickly do a mental check to make sure that whatever they are doing is on the right track. (For example, a marketer might ask themselves, “Is this the kind of content that our customer wants to see?” or a salesperson might ask themselves, “Knowing how busy our target customer tends to be, maybe we need to rethink our outreach strategy.”)

The exercise should only take 10 to 15 minutes for each “persona.”

3. Brainwriting

One of the key powers of working in groups is that it brings together individuals of different perspectives and worldviews so that you can create ideas that you may not have been able to create on your own.

To play, first identify a topic that you need to generate ideas about (for example, increasing audience engagement). Ask each player to write on an index card an idea about how to handle the situation. Then, each team member will pass the card to the person to the right, who will elaborate upon the initial idea. Continue this until each team member has had the chance to read and add to each index card.

Once you are done, as a group you should evaluate the ideas and identify the ones that seem most worthwhile in pursuing. Discuss the ideas generated and see if you can put of them into action.

This exercise should take between 30 and 45 minutes.

4. Elevator Pitch

This activity draws inspiration from a hypothetical yet impactful scenario: Imagine you're sharing an elevator ride with a potential major donor, an influential community leader, or a key figure who could significantly advance your school's mission. You have only until they reach their floor to present your case. The pressure is on! Given the brief nature of elevator rides, your pitch must be concise, compelling, and to the point.

Consider the importance of an elevator pitch when you find yourself sharing a ride with a parent considering schools for their child, or a prospective student exploring their higher education options. In those fleeting moments before they reach their destination, you have a unique opportunity to make a memorable impact. Elevator rides are brief by nature, requiring your pitch to be concise, compelling, and directly relevant to their needs and aspirations.

To prepare for this moment, start with the following essential questions within your team:

  • Who is your audience (parents or prospective students), and what are their primary concerns or goals?
  • What is the unique value proposition of your school or program?
  • How does your institution address the specific needs, interests, and aspirations of your audience?
  • What distinguishes your educational approach from others?
  • Why should they choose your school or program over others?

Then, develop your pitch to include all these points in a succinct manner. This task might seem simple but crafting a message that is both brief and persuasive can be quite challenging.

Conducting this exercise with your team not only brings out the diverse strengths of each member but also fosters a collective understanding of your school's or program's strategic messaging. Completing this task will equip your team with a clear narrative about the institution's benefits, ready to be shared in any quick, impromptu discussion, such as an elevator ride with a potential parent or prospective learner.

The exercise will likely take between an hour and an hour and a half.

5. Pain-Gain Map

Decision-making in education, particularly for students and parents, often involves weighing benefits against potential challenges. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for enrollment marketing teams. This insight can significantly improve strategies aimed at student recruitment and engagement.

To begin, identify the individual or group you are analyzing (for example, prospective students or parents). Next, pinpoint the 'challenges' that may lead prospective students or parents to consider your institution: What concerns do they have? What responsibilities do they bear? What obstacles are they encountering? What issues are causing them stress? Describe a difficult day in their life. 

After that, highlight the aspirations that may encourage individuals to engage with your institution: What are their educational goals? How can your programs help them achieve these objectives? What unique benefits can your school or university provide?

By developing a nuanced understanding of key prospective student personas, your marketing and admissions teams can tailor their outreach and processes to directly address these concerns and aspirations.

The exercise will likely take 10 to 15 minutes per persona investigated.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

Engaging in one or more of these brainstorming activities can significantly aid your educational marketing and admissions teams to better understand their roles within your organization and how your school serves your community’s needs. The power lies in collaboration, creativity, and teamwork.

For more great team-building and brainstorming activities, check out Gamestorming by Dave Gray and Sunni Brown.

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