I have organised a number of training events and sizeable conferences over the years. I have also contributed as a speaker and trainer in events run by other people in the charity and public sectors. I am going to share what I think makes an effective breakout session.
What is a breakout session?
It involves splitting the audience or participants into smaller groups. Often this happens after a number of speakers have delivered presentations. They can be used simply for networking or ideally to enhance learning and develop action points to take forward after the event.
Breakout sessions need to have a purpose
Although people may want to just chat, I believe breakout sessions should have a purpose otherwise they become mere talking shops often with people talking over one another. Having a clear purpose and desired outcomes from the session helps energize the group. As an organiser you can impose these or be creative and ask the group to formulate them at the start of the breakout session.
All too often I have seen attendees not able to find a breakout area at all or turning up late because clear directions were not given to a breakout space. Visit your venue in advance to check on practical things like acoustics, stewarding and heating. Furniture is another thing to consider as it can set a tone for the session. Would desks and office chairs work or are you looking for the opportunity for attendees to slouch more?
Select your facilitators carefully. You can find people who will do it for free but they may not be the best choices so if you have budget use it. Also ensure that learning from the group is captured by a note-taker so that key points can be shared with other event attendees and online if appropriate.
There is not just one way to run a breakout session. Could you have a quiz or a speed dating type session? How could you harness social media during the session? What team-building activity could you incorporate? Don’t force fun but allow it to happen. People tend to remember information gained whilst enjoying themselves. Consider London office furniture that meets your type of session if you are meeting in the capital.
Finally, always make efforts to learn from the event itself by asking participants for feedback either at the event or shortly thereafter whilst memories are fresh.