Breakout sessions are a staple at conferences. If you are wondering what conference breakout sessions are and why more and more conferences are incorporating them, then continue reading. We will be answering all of your questions and more, below.
A breakout session is when a large group of people is split into smaller groups to learn about different topics. All of these topics revolve around a central theme, the conference’s main theme. More than ever we are seeing conference breakout sessions used to create a more personal feel that feeds off participation and involvement from the audience. Below we will work through the perks of adding breakouts to your next event, how to organize conference breakout sessions, the importance of adding tools that foster engagement, and most importantly we will go over 8 ‘Out of This World’ breakout sessions to include at your next event. Let’s jump in!
Perks of Adding Breakout Sessions to Your Next Event
Adding conference breakout sessions to your event will give your audience the choice to pick and choose what topics they want to learn more about while sticking to the overall theme of the event. I bet you have overheard people say they get tired of attending certain conferences because they have to sit and listen to the same idea over and over again, all while feeling alone in a banquet room full of people. Those events might have left them feeling like they wasted their time and money. Breakout sessions will erase that feeling because they will no longer have to sit through a session they have no interest in. Allowing choice results in more participation and higher levels of audience engagement because the audience is genuinely interested in the topic.
Conference breakout sessions also give people the opportunity to share ideas and network with those around them. Every session has a different set of attendees which equals a larger opportunity to meet new people and share ideas
Beginner to Advanced
The next perk is that conference breakout sessions can involve different levels of knowledge on a specific topic. Meaning, if the topic is broad you could break the topic into different levels: beginner, moderate, and advanced. This is called staircase learning. The audience can gradually learn the topic step-by-step. This provides a deeper understanding of the topic for beginners and a fast-track option for the advanced. Not everyone at your conference will be at the same place in their journey, this allows everyone a chance to get just what they need.
Another benefit of incorporating conference breakout sessions is that they don’t always have to revolve around the theme of the conference. To have a successful event you will always want to add a couple breakout sessions that involve reducing stress or balancing work and home life. Involving a couple of the more relaxed sessions allows the audience to try something new or learn about personal health. Always make sure your conference breakout sessions are in line with why you are having the event, though they don’t have to go with the exact theme.
The last perk of incorporating breakout sessions at your next event is that the audience leaves your event feeling like their time wasn’t wasted on the same old, same old. We all know with travel, conference passes, and lodging, conferences are not cheap. By giving attendees options on what exactly they want to see and learn, you give them power. They leave the conference feeling like they were in charge of their learning and that your event was well money spent because it catered to their needs.
Organizing Conference Breakout Sessions
Create Inviting Breakout Sessions
First and foremost, you will need to create inviting breakout sessions that will appeal to your audience and revolve around the theme of the event. In order to create ‘Out of This World’ breakout sessions, you will first need to brainstorm the purpose of each session. Once you have the purpose of each session in line, you will be ready to open the gates to freedom of choice. Allow the attendees to select their sessions in advance. Pre-selection benefits both you and your audience. It allows you to know the expected size of the audience and it gives your guests the freedom of choice.
Set Time Frames
Next, you need to set time frames for each session. This seems like a simple task, but you will need to take note of the overall flow of the event. Will you be serving a light breakfast? How will you be addressing the keynote of the event? Is there be a raffle? Are you going to incorporate a silent auction? How long will the guests break for lunch? How far apart are the rooms? What time do you want to address the final thoughts? What time do you want the event to end? Refer to your event planning timeline when planning for your conference breakout sessions.
Quick tip: Many sessions break for 5-10 minutes between sessions to allow for restroom breaks and networking.
The time frame for the session itself is also important. Many breakout sessions are around 30-60 minutes long. You will want to make sure the sessions are not too long because many participants will begin to lose interest and will be eager to break.
Moreover, it is important to select the size audience you think will benefit each session. That number can differ depending on the type of breakout session. Remember that breakout sessions are beneficial because of the smaller, more intimate feel. The smaller the group the higher the chance of participation and probability that your audience will be engaged and network with those around them.
To make conference breakout sessions more appealing add incentives, like handing out raffle tickets or drawings to enter for prizes at each session. Breakout B.I.N.G.O. would add a layer of excitement and competition to the event. It’s good to keep your audience buzzing during your event and little incentives typically do just that. They keep people actively involved throughout each session. Raffles are also a good way to give back to organizations or donate to a specific cause. And who doesn’t like a good ole’ game of B.I.N.G.O.?
Additionally, it’s important to find people to facilitate the session that are entertaining and knowledgeable on the topic. No one wants to sit in a room and listen to a speaker with a monotone voice and watch a boring powerpoint. Find people who are known for the topic, influencers, people that want to get their name out there or people that are innovative and FRESH like industry thought leaders. Click here to find more ways to maintain audience engagement.
Spill the Details
Last but not least, add descriptions for each session so that participants get to read a little about the topic in advance. This also gives you the opportunity to create unique conference breakout session names that will intrigue your audience. Suggested ideas to include in the description are the names of the presenters, links to related websites, apps that will be used, or even a short clip introducing the session.
Putting forth the extra effort to provide details in advance gives the audience a taste of what they may see during the breakout session. If the description is done well, it will leave the person feeling prepared and most of all pumped for what’s in store for your event. Lastly, adding a description to each session is a great way to market your website, book, idea, or brand.
Best Tools for Conference Breakout Sessions
Including the following tools at your next conference breakout session will amplify audience engagement by giving them a voice. By crowdsourcing and live polling, you are allowing your attendees to take ownership, not just sit back and watch. Crowdsourcing ensures the topics are what the attendees want to hear. Live polling adds another level of engagement because it asks people to actively participate. Below are a few tools you should definitely include at your next event to make your conference more engaging for all.
Begins with attendees entering an event code which will then take them to a live-feed. The presenter is able to post questions and get real-time responses, add audience polling, and incorporate live video streaming. Sli.do also gives the presenter freedom to switch between different apps, like Prezi and Keynote, for their slide presentations. This is a must-have tool to increase audience engagement.
This is an easy to use app that is accessible by a mobile device or a web link. All the audience needs is an access code to join the meeting. MeetingPulse gives the presenter the ability to post Q&As, polls, surveys, run reports, and interact with the audience in real time.
This tool allows the presenter to slide share, post questions, add polls, and quizzes all while tracking the feedback. Glisser gives the audience the ability to ask questions and share ideas through social media outlets like Twitter. Glisser allows the presenter to share the slides right to smartphones. This is a really unique feature that allows the attendees to save and share ideas with team members that are not at the event. This is awesome in two ways, your attendees no longer have to write countless notes, and you are getting more promotion because the content is easily shareable! A win-win if you ask me!
We all know Q&A can become a logistical nightmare. People slowing passing the mic around the room can be a time suck and quite frankly, boring. Why not make Q&A into a fun game where the audience can throw the mic around! With Catchbox can do just that! It is a crowd microphone that is throwable which makes Q&A sessions fun and interactive, a must have for any event!
Like we mentioned above, passing the mic around can really put a damper on your breakout room Q&A. Why not use your attendees’ smartphones and turn them into a live mic? Crowd Mics is a free app that allows anyone to turn their phones or tablet (iOS or Android) into wireless microphones. Allowing the guest to speak over the room’s sound system through the app. A presenter can also see the order in which attendees have requested to speak allowing for order.
Breakout Room Must-Haves
To create a more innovative feel each breakout room should include a variety of things. 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 in live time. Also, it allows you to measure audience engagement and gain insightful feedback in real time.
The second addition would be to incorporate a little competition by creating a breakout B.I.N.G.O. (or something along those lines). Which would then result in raffle tickets and prizes for those who get win the games.
Next, it would be savvy to add the option of virtual attendance so that people who are not able to attend have the possibility to participate and interact in some of the sessions as well. It is almost expected to have your event live streamed now. While there are many different methods to live streaming, talk to your AV Company to ensure you choose the best method for your event.
Lastly, it would be beneficial to add Q & A time during each session as well as time for participants to network with others.
Breakout Sessions That Will Leave Your Audience Wanting More
Still stuck on what to do with your conference breakout sessions? Now that you have the basics here are our 8 favorite ways to leave a lasting impression on your attendees.
Add gamification to entice those who favor the virtual world. This option allows many to explore the topic instead of being spoon fed. Gamification also taps into the VR and AR event trend. You can go as far as VR training or keep it simple with some AR scavenger hunts. The opportunities are limitless.
2. Role Play
Add role play which would include the audience to create a hands-on experience. Being hands-on creates an opportunity to network and includes a high chance of them taking the topic further in their own career. Come up with topics beforehand. Gather props and whatever is needed for each scene. Make sure you have mics for the audience participants and space for the scene to play out.
3. Escape Room
Create an actual breakout room! This would take a little more time and effort, but I’m sure it would be loved by all of the participants. Make sure you have rules for the game, pointers for when they get stuck, and props to break out of. Participants could slowly break out of the room by working their way, as a team, through each lock while learning more about the topic of the session.
4. Take it Outdoors
For certain occasions, taking the session outdoors would allow people to experience a more relaxed environment, soak up the sun, or enjoy the breeze while learning something new. If you host an outside seating session, make sure you have proper seating and double check that the weather will be comfortable for all. With this session, it would allow for more of a relaxed feel that would generate ideas and would likely involve more participation. It is wise to create a backup plan for this type of breakout session should the weather have a mind of its own.
5. Sip and Chat
Add a sip and chat session towards the end of the event. Cocktails and appetizers could be served while they sit with others, network, and talk about what they’ve learned. It would perfect for wrapping of the event. This session would allow for plenty of Q&A.
Adding this session would provide a more intimate feel and allow the presenter to break the audience into even smaller groups to talk about mini-topics. You could even incorporate jigsaw learning where each table has a different mini topic to discuss. After allowing time for each group to learn and discuss their mini topic, the presenter would then split the group again so that each person is originally from a different round table and each person has a different mini topic to bring to the table. This session would provide time for collaboration and gives each audience member ownership over their topic.
7. Attendees Pick the Topic
This session allows the audience to pick the topic of discussion, similar to path story books where you get to pick what comes next. This session is quite enjoyable to see play out because it allows the audience to be in charge of the presentation based on which route they want to take.
For example, the leader could ask the audience to vote on topic 1 or topic 2 by using a polling app. Once the results are in the presenter would have to talk about the voted topic. Once the topic is introduced there is another split in the road and the audience would have to pick between option 1 or option 2. This session will keep them on the edge of their seat.
8. VIP only
This session would be by invitation only and would give the attendees exclusive access to certain breakout sessions. Make sure to make the speakers buzzworthy and include access to free exclusive items. Let them be the first to test the latest products and of course include complimentary drinks and snacks. This would be a great session to add to any event!
To Wrap Things Up
Incorporating conference breakout sessions at your next event will allow you to present a variety of topics under the main idea to create a more personal feel that feeds off participation and involvement from the audience. Remember, when incorporating breakout sessions it’s always good to think of what you expect will happen and plan for that. Check out the event space beforehand with the themed breakout sessions in mind. Make sure the event space has the proper lighting, space, and tech pieces required for each breakout room. Use the event planning timeline as a tool to organize your event. Send out a newsletter and provide 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! Now that you have our favorite ideas for your next conference breakout session in your back pocket, it’s now time to share these ideas with others and get to planning your next event, today!
What is your favorite breakout session you have attended? Comment below and let us know!