5 best practices for breakout sessions during virtual meetings

Best practices for breakout sessions during virtual meetings

More businesses than ever are embracing video conferencing as the new normal. If your organization relies on remote working to any degree, make sure you’re leveraging breakout sessions when hosting video meetings. Breakout sessions are a great way of ensuring attendees remain engaged and on task for the duration of a meeting.

Breakout sessions during virtual meetings and webinars

For many remote workers, video meetings are the only time they engage with others professionally. Breakout sessions are therefore vital in bringing the human connection to corporate communication. Eager to make small-group discussions a staple of your video meetings? Read on for five best practice tips to bear in mind.

1. Assign a moderator to each breakout room

For your online meeting to go smoothly, assigning an experienced moderator to each virtual breakout room makes sense. Ideally, it would be best to have a chief moderator to facilitate the virtual event and enough moderators to take charge of individual breakout rooms.

Do assign experienced users to moderator roles

An experienced moderator should have the skill to keep discussions on topic. They should also be able to manage any conflicts that might arise during breakout sessions. Furthermore, a moderator should be familiar with the technology deployed during your breakout sessions, helping others overcome any technical issues.

Don’t allow participants to shy away from discussion

Engaging in meeting participants is challenging enough in a conventional setting. In a virtual environment, it can be even more problematic. A moderator will be able to keep each participant engaged while also ensuring all discussion points are effectively summarized when sharing with the main group.

2. Break up big virtual meetings into smaller groups

The best virtual meeting platforms allow users to make use of breakout features. It’s OK to engage with larger groups to kick things off, but once you’ve established agendas and meeting objectives, it’s time to assign smaller groups to virtual breakout rooms.

Do make a decision whether groups will be predetermined or random

If your meeting objectives are particularly specific, it makes sense to predetermine the line-ups of breakout rooms. This is particularly important if online meetings are on a tight schedule. However, if all attendees are from largely similar backgrounds, or you’re hosting an event limited to just one department, randomizing breakouts is something to consider.

Don’t make groups too big

Regardless of which approach you take to create breakout rooms, ensure you’re keeping group numbers small to combat the drawbacks of video conferencing. Some users will have faster internet connections than others, making communication lags likely. There’s less chance of attendees constantly talking over one another with smaller group sizes.

3. Choose your platform and tech wisely

Choose your platform and tech wisely

Technical issues can quickly derail a webinar or virtual meeting. To make sure your event goes without a hitch, you must familiarize yourself with the features and limitations of your chosen platform.

Do take the time to test virtual platforms before using them

Set aside some time for a demo run before you even think about scheduling an event. Moderators must be intimately familiar with the workings of your video meeting platform. Even though moderators will take charge of proceedings, other users will also need to have a basic understanding of breakout session functionality. You can prepare for this with a verbal introduction and provide on-the-spot support via chat boxes. If remote working is a pivotal part of your business model, think about including breakout session guidance as part of your remote onboarding process.

Don’t forget to record sessions for later reference

There’s a good chance at least one of your attendees will experience connectivity issues during a meeting. It’s always worth recording main discussions and breakout sessions for later reference. These can be uploaded and shared in their raw form or used to produce detailed summary notes for distribution among attendees.

4. Use time wisely

The length of a virtual meeting will vary depending on the agenda. However, it makes sense to limit the length of a virtual meeting to between 45 to 60 minutes. This will provide plenty of time to discuss critical points and allow for breakout sessions while ensuring attendees remain engaged for the duration.

Do keep the main meeting agenda brief

Although the length of breakout sessions can be flexible, try and keep the main agenda to a tight schedule. If you’re hosting a gathering of individuals who’ve never met before, allow a few minutes for introductions. With those out of the way, you can introduce your agenda in more detail and outline meeting objectives that need to be realized.

Don’t be afraid to be flexible with breakout sessions

In an ideal world, individual breakout sessions should be brief. If breakout facilitators have been prepared ahead of time, sessions can last for as little as a few minutes. If these sessions prove too succinct, you can always build up to longer discussions in the future.

5. The importance of debriefing

As with conventional meetings, debriefing is a vital part of any effective virtual meeting. It’s even more essential if your main event has split into several breakout discussions.

Do make use of feedback

If you’re thinking about migrating meetings and other business networking to a virtual space in the future, make sure you’re paying attention to feedback from participants. You can also try different approaches. For example, you may decide that not every breakout discussion needs a moderator, while you can also experiment with randomized rooms.

Don’t forget to share takeaways from breakout sessions

Key takeaways from breakout groups mustn’t be confined to the group that originated them. Once breakout sessions have finished, make sure there’s plenty of time pencilled into the main schedule for groups to share what’s been discussed. The most valuable summaries will help steer future discussions and provide even more insights.

Read also: The Importance of Post-Conference Blog Posts

Final thoughts

With more people than ever working remotely, video meetings are here to stay. Breakout sessions are a great way of getting maximum value out of online meetings. As an organizer, make sure you’re fully versed with the virtual conference you intend to use. It’s also essential to have a team of experienced moderators who can effectively manage small-group discussions.

Most importantly, don’t restrict insights to the breakout groups that realized them. Instead, follow each breakout session with a succinct debriefing to share findings with the larger group. Recording each breakout session will also provide you with an invaluable learning resource for later reference.

We are sure you will succeed, and our webinar software platform is an excellent virtual meeting service for your ideal events.

Greg Tuohy
Greg Tuohy

Greg Tuohy is the Managing Director of Docutec, a business printer and office automation software provider. Greg was appointed Managing Director in June 2011 and is the driving force behind the team at the Cantec Group. Immediately after completing a Science degree at UCC in 1995, Greg joined the family copier/printer business.

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