Breakout Sessions- How to Manage Them in the Virtual World

Breakout Sessions

So, you have made the switch from in-person meetings to virtual ones?That’s really a good decision. 

Even corporate giants like Google and Apple had to make the same transition.

Last year, the Google Cloud Next ’20 event was shifted completely to digital space, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you love it or hate it, virtual breakout sessions are the new norm.

And since face-to-face meetings will not be coming back anytime soon. Why not learn a few tricks to make your virtual breakout sessions more fun?

 In this article, I will walk you through everything you need to do to make your next virtual breakout session more fun and engaging. 

Are Breakout Sessions Really Worth It?

Liz Lathan, CEO Haute Dokimazo says: 

“Just like with face-to-face meetings, people attend virtual events for learning and making connections. So, locking people for long hours doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t work in live meetings, and it won’t work in a virtual setting either.”

That is why during virtual meetings, breakout sessions provide room to breathe. 

They offer more one-on-one conversations that help to engage the participants. They also help generate a more conversational and welcoming experience for the attendees.

A Case Study:

To illustrate this better, let’s look at an experiment conducted by HCA Healthcare.

They introduced virtual breakout sessions into two separate online sessions.

Each online session was an hour and a half long. And the breakout sessions were timed at 15 minutes. After the session, participants came back to the main group and reported their breakout discussions.

Individuals reported loving this format of virtual meetings. The closer interaction between group members facilitated learning. In the end, 86% of participants were happy to try breakout sessions again.

So, the take-away is, even though virtual breakout sessions are challenging, they are worth the effort. 

When done right, they can greatly enhance learning and spark conversation. It results in healthy group discussions and better engagement overall.   

What are the Benefits of Virtual Breakout Sessions?

Virtual breakout sessions surely have their own merits, some of which are:

  •  Accessibility- No matter where you are in the world, you can attend online meetings. All you need is a stable internet connection, and that is about it. 
  • More Inclusive- Virtual breakout sessions encourage critical thinking. They make discussions easier by providing an interactive environment to all the participants. So, everyone can have a voice. 
  • Quick Setup- Because of the easy accessibility, virtual sessions are fairly easy and quick to set up. You don’t have to wait for days before you start your meeting. 
  • Lower Costs- Since you don’t have to travel to attend a virtual session, you save some cash. No need to arrange expensive hotel stays and book plane tickets. 
  • More Engaging– For instructors, these sessions prove to be more productive and engaging. You can easily switch between groups. Moreover, you can coordinate and participate in various activities at the same time.

Reasons Why Breakout Sessions Can be a Pain for You

Online breakout sessions are highly advantageous. But you may have to with a few hiccups along the way. 

Some of these might be:

  • The participants may show up unprepared. It means you only end up wasting time.
  • You don’t properly time the breakout session. So, they take too long.
  • The presenter as well as the participants struggle to deal with tech issues. Sometimes the mic may not work. Other times, the members just don’t know what to do.
  • No one pays attention or makes an effort to take part in group activities.  
  • A bad internet connection can cause audio issues. So, not everyone is able to participate fully.

How to Ensure Smooth Breakout Session?

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Though breakout sessions can be a pain for you, planning them properly can be key to generating new ideas, finding solutions, and creating understating.

So, to get the most out of your breakout sessions, follow these tips:

1.      Appoint a Moderator

Getting a moderator to manage your breakout ensures greater efficiency and productivity.

Since moderators are expert in the industry, they can help facilitate the session and will be able to know if there are any technical issues 

They can also guide participants if they face difficulty navigating the breakout sessions. 

2.  Tech Test

To carry out a successful online session, fix problems even before they occur.
Test your online platform in advance for any bugs or technical issues.

Here’s a great infographic from you can use for virtual sessions:

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Besides this, you should also consider if your chosen platform matches your meeting’s goal. 

For a breakout session to go smoothly, your platform must be equipped to support the way you plan to carry out exercises and activities.

Otherwise, you may face unnecessary delays on the day of the presentation due to a mismatch of format.

3.  Come Prepared

Targets are easier to achieve when things are done according to plan.

For an online event, it is best to sort out your plan in advance. And it is also important to communicate the plan to all attendees.

It is to make sure that all participants show up prepared for the session when they know what is expected of them. 

How to Make Your Breakout Sessions More Engaging?

If there is one thing that single-handedly makes breakout sessions more effective, it is ENGAGEMENT.

The structured small groups generate organic conversation. They also let the participants get to know each other better and create meaningful connections.

According to Amy C. Edmondson and Gene Daley:

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However, while striving to make things more interactive and interesting, it is easy to lose track.

It is hard to know if what you are doing is right.

So here is a list of some tips you can use to make your breakout sessions more engaging and productive. 

1. Initiate Fun Activities 

There is nothing better than an icebreaker to make people feel a little more at ease. The same concept applies to the virtual world as well. 

The host of the meeting has to be the icebreaker to make a breakout session more fun. 

They can ask an interesting question from the participants. Or they can have them take part in a fun little activity to get things started. 

Such actions can make people feel more welcomed and relaxed.

2. Get Everyone on Board 

During breakout sessions, it is important to make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. 

For this, employ a bridge moderator who makes sure no one is left out from group discussion. 

It is their job to assist anyone facing technical issues to ensure total inclusivity. 

3. Give Clear Instructions

As a host, it is your job to clearly communicate any and all meeting instructions with the participants.

People have different ways of soaking in information. So, it is best to provide them the instruction in every way possible- be it verbal, written, or through visuals.

Also, don’t forget to include instructions about how your online platform works so that attendees know what to expect.

4. Gather Feedback

At the end of the session, ask participants for their feedback on how to improve the overall experience. After all, we are all a work in progress.

Therefore, listening to the valuable feedback of your attendees and acting on it promptly is necessary. 

It will guarantee a quality experience for both you and your meeting attendees next time. 

5. Make Every Second Count

It is a good idea to give ample time to each breakout group for discussion.

But if you give it too much time, the session might become counterproductive.

Gloria Pierre, owner of Clearly Speaking says, “Breakout sessions are not a box-ticking exercise.” 

There is no point in having a break-out session if you can’t achieve the target.

With long time limits, the participants will get bored and start discussing tangent topics. And you don’t want that at any cost.

6. Smaller Is Better

Have you ever tried taking over people in a face-to-face meeting?

It never works, honestly! And it is the same scenario for a virtual session.

So, for breakout session groups, keep the number small to initiate healthy discussion.

7. Let Participants Share Their Thoughts 

Following a virtual breakout session, you must conduct a final large group meeting. 

But don’t rush it. 

Instead, let each breakout group share their results and opinions with the main group. 

This is vital for participants as they can share their thoughts and takeaways from the session. And this pooling of knowledge encourages growth and learning.

Final Words

Even after the current pandemic is over, one thing is certain.

Virtual meetings are here to stay.

And thus, virtual breakout sessions are not going anywhere either. 

Leveraging technology into our routine is necessary to meet the demands of the future.

While managing virtual breakout sessions is tough, these challenges will go away with time. 

So, it is better to adapt to these new changes. 

If you still have any questions about breakout sessions, feel free to reach out to us. We will be glad to help!

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