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Conference breakout sessions are a staple at every conference because they boost audience engagement and have the potential to make events truly unforgettable. They can make or break your event; it all depends on how much thought and planning goes into creating them. 

In this blog post, we define breakout sessions, their benefits, and share best practices for planning them. There are many formats event planners can follow. As always, let your own audience and event goals be your guiding light when designing them.

What Is A Breakout Session?

Breakout sessions are workshops or smaller meetings where attendees can get together, brainstorm, and discuss the conference’s overarching theme, keynote speakers, and other content. They are a great opportunity for your audience to be active participants in your event, meet like-minded individuals, share and learn new skills, and stay energized throughout an otherwise long day at a conference. As such, they are an important part of any agenda.

Conference breakout sessions are shorter than other segments of the event (30-60 minutes), and they happen simultaneously. Attendees divide themselves into smaller groups. Depending on the purpose behind the breakout session, the group might be as small as four participants or it can stretch up to 50. The bigger the group, the lower the engagement and participatory levels. 

Benefits Of Workshops & Smaller Sessions

Conference breakout sessions are a breath of fresh air at conferences. Not every single one of thousands of attendees might be interested in a keynote speaker. A breakout session, on the other hand, gives every attendee an opportunity to dive deeper into specific topics that interest them.

The main benefits of breakout sessions include:

  • Higher levels of attendee engagement and participation,
  • Opportunity to diversify content based on interests or experience levels of individual attendees,
  • Higher knowledge and attendee retention rates, 
  • Providing value to attendees, 
  • Facilitating networking and close collaboration with fellow attendees in organic ways.

How To Plan Conference Breakout Sessions

Conference breakout sessions need to be thoughtfully designed and planned. Otherwise, they might do more damage than good. A great way for planners to organize breakout sessions is to follow these guidelines:

Let attendee data be your guide. Find out what topics and breakout session formats your audience is interested in. Create workshops based on their feedback. You can collect audience feedback via pre-event surveys, social media posts, registration forms, or on your designated event or community platform.

Create targeted content clusters. Not all your attendees will be interested in the same things, so you need to make sure all of them will find a breakout session that fits their particular interests. Additionally, involve different levels of knowledge on a specific topic, from beginner to expert. 

Each conference breakout session should have well-defined objectives. Tell your audience how the session is structured and what are its main goals. If the workshops lack purpose, they can easily turn into a boring, or worse yet, awkward pass time. Do not waste your attendees’ time and ensure you give value in return for their time. The objectives should also inform the seating arrangements and time frames.

Give attendees a chance to relax. Some attendees might not want to participate in intense breakout sessions, and that is okay. Additionally, some attendees would rather participate in a breakout session that might have nothing to do with the theme of the conference itself. For example, you can give your audience a chance to learn more general life skills, mental health, or wellness tips.

conference breakout sessionsBest Tools For Amazing Breakout Sessions

There are many event technology tools event planners can use to plan engaging and fun conference breakout sessions. By crowdsourcing and live polling, you are allowing your attendees to take ownership, not just sit back and watch. 

  • Live polling apps, such as, MeetingPulse, or Glisser, add another level of engagement because it asks people to actively participate. Additionally, event planners can gauge what resonates with the audience the most and evaluate the data in the post-event debrief meeting
  • Event platforms that double down on features, such as ease of use, engagement, networking, and presentations. They are a must for virtual events. Check out our list of top 100 event platforms to filter them by desired features.
  • Event gamification tools. To make conference breakout sessions more appealing, add incentives. For example, hand out raffle tickets or drawings to enter for prizes at each session. Reward desired behavior: give attendees access to exclusive sessions if they visit a certain number of exhibitors. You can also spruce things up with AR filters or VR headsets. Many platforms come with gamification elements built in.

Breakout Session Examples & Formats

Conference breakout sessions come in various shapes and sizes, depending on their purpose and the overall theme of the event. Here are some common and creative breakout session formats:

  • Q&As on a specific topic,
  • Roundtables,
  • Escape rooms (attendees showcase knowledge through clues),
  • Trivia games,
  • Role play,
  • A speed networking session,
  • A fireside chat,
  • A snowball fight about topics, relevant to your conference,
  • Health-focused workshop (a walk outside, a guided meditation, workplace yoga). 

Each breakout room should include a variety of things to ensure it feels innovative. First, it’s a great idea to create a hashtag for each breakout room or at least for the overall event. This allows the audience to interact with others, ask questions, and reach out to those leading the lessons. Also, it allows you to measure audience engagement and gain insightful feedback in real-time.

Conclusive Thoughts & Takeaways

Conference breakout sessions allow you to present a variety of topics to create a more personal feel that feeds off participation and involvement from the audience. They should be carefully planned and promoted, so make sure to see the event venue beforehand with the themed breakout sessions in mind. Additionally, provide sufficient time for the attendees to pre-select their sessions and get the scoop on what the trending topics will be at your event. Include tools that foster audience engagement and think of themes that will leave your attendees inspired.

As a full-service event management company, Endless Events is an expert when it comes to designing meaningful and diverse conference breakout sessions – and more. So, reach out. Let our knowledgeable and resourceful team be your guide to great breakout sessions and events.

Anja Grcar

Author Anja Grcar

Anja, Senior Content Writer at Endless Events, aspires to educate and inspire event planners with the power of the written word.

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