Breakout sessions are one of the few times during a conference or event where guests get to interact with one another in a more structured way.

During a breakout session, the crowd is broken up into smaller sections where attendees can get more one-on-one attention and speakers get to answer more direct questions. This format works well to give guests a more intimate experience and can be less overwhelming than the larger crowds on the mainstage. 

You can use breakout sessions to essentially host an event inside of an event, and even use the opportunity to sell tickets to attendees who are interested in a particular speaker. Of course, as with anything, there are guidelines that will help this session format flow smoothly. Here are a few things to consider when planning your next breakout session. 

Choose the right facilitator or group leader

Select which of your speakers are most appropriate for a breakout session. This is an opportunity to go more in-depth in their subject matter and create a space for discussion and thoughtful discourse. Select a facilitator who has a recent project  to refer to in the session. This is also a chance for speakers who have a CD or book to sell to get in front of guests who may be interested in buying their product. 

Pro tip: Just make sure their content is something your guests will be excited to learn about and interact with (you can gauge interest with pre-surveys that inquire about the type of sessions attendees would sign up for).

Choose the right location and space

Select a smaller space off of the main stage and look for the following:

  • A space that will allow you to rearrange chairs easily and has a projector or other AV equipment to aid the facilitator’s presentation. 
  • An area where you can direct people to with simple signage to make it easy for people to find coming out of the main stage audience or other sessions. 
  • A professional atmosphere, but with an intimate feel that makes attendees feel comfortable getting to know one another and interacting more closely. 

Break out small groups and encourage sharing

Breakout sessions are perfect for breakout groups, or groups of 3-5 people working on a discussion, short activity, or project they will present.

This is likely one of the only times your guests will have the opportunity to engage in deeper discussion with fellow attendees on a specific topic. This interactive experience provides a lot of value for both your speakers and your attendees, particularly as it is an opportunity to begin relationships and connections that can continue outside of the event. Here are some breakout activity ideas:

  • Small group meditations
  • Build something with Legos that pertains to the subject
  • Discuss a selected topic and select a representative to share
  • Hand out brain teasers and have the groups compete to solve them
  • Have each group make up a new exercise to share 
  • Collect solution ideas to a main prompt from each group 

Collect post-session feedback

You’ll always be iterating on the best way to manage break out sessions for your event. Make the opinion and feedback of your attendees king when you are determining the success of these sessions and how to move forward with the next one.

Ask questions about their experience, comfort, and the overall impact of the session. Make sure you also ask them to rate the speaker and the content to determine if the session is one you should bring back next year, or modify.

Use these feedback scores to plan your next event and don’t forget to include one of the most important sections the open feedback section. This gives your attendees the chance to share clear and direct feedback that gives you a no-holds barred insight into the value of the session.

It’s beneficial to try out multiple formats at your event, and a breakout session is a great opportunity to give a strong facilitator a platform to engage with your attendees. Make sure you use this opportunity to not only “wow” your guests, but also give a platform to your most popular speakers and facilitators.

These tips will help you do it the right way. Start here and plan your next event.