Breakout Sessions & Breakout Rooms: What, How & Why (With Images)

Posted by Sophia Duplin

In the world of Virtual Events, breakout rooms & breakout sessions are the center of novel and innovative tech advances. Finding ways to Humanize your Virtual Events is at the forefront of keeping attendees engaged and excited about participating.


The Future of Eventtech & Virtual Event Technology is being defined by end-to-end platforms, visionary thinking and value-added experiences. 


Breakout Rooms & Breakout Sessions allow your attendees to have a more individualized and interactive virtual event experience. Although often conflated, there are very specific and important differences between Breakout Rooms and Breakout Sessions. Below we will explain the what, the how and the why of both Breakout Rooms & Breakout Sessions. 

What: Breakout Rooms 

Breakout Rooms are small group discussions that occur after a keynote speaker or live learning module. Your Virtual Event attendees will be separated into small groups (either randomly or by assignation) to continue a conversation on what they just experienced and learned during the virtual presentation. 


Make sure to prepare group discussion leaders for each breakout room and provide them with a list of conversation starters, like: What was something new you learned during the presentation? What is your biggest takeaway? Do you have a real-life example of how some of the material we covered played out within your company? 


Example: You are organizing an event for your organization, an association for HR professionals. You have 150 attendees registered for your virtual event on “Improving Talent Acquisition” and have an industry thought-leader as your keynote speaker. After they give an hour-long workshop, you randomly divide all 150 attendees into 10 breakout rooms with 15 people in each room. You have group discussion leaders guide conversation and ask questions. 


With the right technology platform, your small group discussion leader should have advanced controls to mute participants, display slidedecks, record conversations and initiate chatrooms and polling. 


Screenshot Of BeaconLive platform


The “how” of your Breakout Rooms will be contingent on your Virtual Event platform’s capabilities. You will want to ensure that your technology provider can host multiple sessions at once, as well as support multiple speakers in dynamic group discussions. 


Breakout rooms can be configured at random or by assignment of the event organizer. After keynote speeches or encompassing group presentations, your attendees will view a link on their screen to join their respective breakout room. 


They will be redirected into their respective small group discussion for the allotted time. Small group discussion leaders will be in charge of guiding productive conversation and overseeing technical implementation of chat rooms, polling, Q&A, etc. With the right provider (link to brand video), you should have a team of moderators and technical support staff to oversee discussion and technical implementation of these breakout rooms. 


When the allotted time for these breakout rooms is over, attendees will view a link to redirect them back to the larger group event. Event organizers can bring attendees in and out of their breakout rooms as many times as they’d like throughout the event. 


Breakout Rooms, above all, create a more interactive and engaging experience for your attendees. Breakout Rooms are used to promote collaboration, real-time feedback and enhanced attendee participation. It is also a great time for your attendees to network amongst each other - building up their weak ties and building community with this shared experience. (link to building community blog)


Also, research shows that repeating information verbally, connecting ideas and recalling information improves learning retention. Not only is a breakout room good for getting your attendees to connect with each other, it will help them actually remember the content and information after the event has ended.


Make sure to utilize chat rooms, video chat and live polling to get the most impact out of these conversations. Have your group discussion leaders relay information and feedback back to the event organizers so that they know if and how the attendees liked or disliked the event. Event organizers can use the critical information to continuously improve their event experience and content delivery. 

What: Breakout Sessions 

Breakout Sessions are specific and concurrent learning tracks that happen during your Virtual Event. If you are delivering a large-scale event, you will probably want to host multiple learning tracks simultaneously to appeal to diverse areas of interests of your audience members. 


Breakout Sessions will have designated topics and speakers. This emulates a trade-show or large conference experience, where attendees get to choose which booths and programs are of interest to them. Each individual session will act as its own event, complete with advanced interactive features like live polling, chatrooms, Q&A and attendee management. 


Example: MediaEdge, an association built around providing B2B communications solutions for its clients, is organizing a Virtual Event around online learning & training for thousands of attendees. Their attendees have an array of interests and reasons for attending this event. They organize several different learning tracks, including: 

  • 4 Keynote Speakers
  • 30 Educational Sessions
  • 6 Special Industry Technology Sessions


The event will need to be scheduled and configured properly to host many of these sessions simultaneously, while giving the attendees the ability to hop in and out of different sessions.



Screenshot of BeaconLive's service


Just like Breakout Rooms, the configuration of Breakout Sessions is dependent on your Virtual Event Platform’s capabilities. Attendees should be able to register for different learning tracks on initial registration pages, as well as join different tracks as they engage with your virtual event. 


Giving the option to attendees to pre-register for different sessions will allow them to do some research on the speaker and for the speakers to prepare in advance for who and how many will be attending their session. 


Here is an example of the registration page (add link to registration page blog) from the MediaEdge event. 

Screenshot of BeaconLives services



Once the event starts, your event website page should provide your attendees with the options of going in and out of these specific breakout sessions, as well as registering for and attending other tracks on the spot. Organize your event as a dynamic experience for your attendees. 


Screenshot of BeaconLives services



The asynchronous learning style of Breakout Sessions is conducive to increasing attendance and engagement, as audience members have more control over their Virtual Event experience. Because attendees have the ability to log off at virtually any moment, you want to ensure that their experience appeals to the interests of many. 


Attendees are less likely to be passive during presentations as they have chosen the tracks that specifically caught their interest. Breakout Sessions are great for attendees with shrinking attention spans and help combat feelings of “zoom-fatigue.”


Some more reasons why specific learning tracks benefit the attendee experience:

  • Learning in short bursts is more realistic for absorbing information
  • “Modules” of information offer a better fit for our cognitive architecture 
  • More engagement with materials and participants
  • Highly focused learning objectives


Breakout Sessions are also a great way to humanize your event experience and really emulate what an in-person trade show experience might feel like. Giving your attendees the opportunity to poke around and  stay for as long as they’d like in each session provides them with a dynamic and energetic experience.  


Now that you know the What, How & Why of Breakout Rooms and Breakout Sessions, it’s probably time to start organizing your interactive and dynamic Virtual Event experience. Make sure to partner with a platform that can offer you a highly capable event solution as well as a team of experts to assist in technical implementation and support. 


For some fun activities to do with your team, check out our blog on 5 Virtual Happy Hour Ideas


Topics: Hybrid Events, Networking, Speaker Best Practices, Virtual Events, Webinars & Webcasts

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Can you do a breakout session during a webinar?

Yes! Webinars allow the host and any designated panelists to share their video, audio and screen with view-only attendees in stand-alone breakout sessions based on the needs of smaller groups.

Do you need a camera for a webinar?

One of the most important parts about hosting a webinar is knowing when not to be on camera. You can still engage your audience without video, through visuals or even live interactions!

Are webinars interactive?

Webinars are a great way to get information, ask questions and have discussions in real time. They're also interactive; participants can get active by participating through web chat or polling at certain points during the presentation.