What Is a Breakout Session? (Definition, Benefits and Tips)

: a presentation, discussion, or activity that takes place as part of a larger event (such as a conference, convention, or seminar) and for which some of the event’s participants temporarily separate themselves from the others Wednesday’s workshop will include two panel discussions …

Every well-planned program has a central idea that all of the scheduled talks, activities, and possibly even the keynote address are meant to discuss or elaborate. Breakout sessions give program participants an additional chance to talk about, consider, or take action on those themes in a more private or specialized setting.

Breakout Sessions – How to Plan and Time Them

Benefits of breakout sessions

Here are some benefits of hosting breakout sessions:

Encourage participation

Attendees might feel more at ease contributing in a smaller group as opposed to a larger one. Everyone has the opportunity to speak up in a breakout session in front of a less intimidating group of people. The participants are heard by the group, and the conference organizers may even record their comments to incorporate them into the larger discussion.

Facilitate in-depth discussions

Groups can delve deeper into the conference topics during a breakout session. If something wasn’t clear, they could ask questions or offer suggestions they had while the presentation was going on. Participants can pick up new skills and perspectives from other participants, which can help them comprehend the subject matter and feel a sense of community.

Offer a break from passive listening

Many conferences schedule meals and brief rest periods due to the fact that attendees can become fatigued from long hours of passive listening. Another method for assisting attendees to unwind before returning to the main presentation is through breakout sessions. Attendees frequently appreciate the opportunity to stand up and walk to their groups after having sat for a while. The opportunity for attendees to interact with their peers and think about the presentation they just heard is also refreshing.

What is a breakout session?

During a breakout session, which is a brief meeting, attendees of a larger gathering have more in-depth discussions in a smaller group. Participants in these sessions can also complete a task or watch a presentation to learn more about a pertinent subject. In order to ensure that each group is small enough to encourage participation from all attendees, conferences frequently arrange a number of breakout sessions. Be aware that breakout sessions may also be referred to as breakout workshops or meetings.

Breakout sessions can occur in person or virtually. Conference organizers disperse participants throughout the venue in order to facilitate face-to-face breakout sessions. Groups can facilitate meaningful discussions with fewer interruptions thanks to this privacy. After finishing their breakout sessions, groups can reassemble in the main assembly space. Online conferencing tools’ breakout room features are used in virtual breakout sessions to give participants a similar level of privacy when conversing with other group members.

Types of breakout sessions

Here are some common types of breakout sessions:

Lighting talks

Consider giving attendees lightning talks if you want to continue teaching them during breakout sessions. A facilitator leads each group and presents briefly on a chosen subject. Presenters at your conference or volunteers who want to share their thoughts with their groups can serve as facilitators. By limiting the number of slides they can use or setting a time limit, typically five minutes, you can make sure the presentations stay succinct. The facilitator typically responds to queries or invites group members to discuss the information after the presentation.

“Ask Me Anything” sessions

If conference organizers anticipate many inquiries, they can hold “Ask Me Anything” sessions. There is a skilled facilitator for each group who can share their perspective on the overall presentation. This format actively encourages questions, allowing participants to feel free to clarify things. Group members can use their expertise to add to the conversation while the facilitator is primarily in charge of responding to questions. Facilitators can request that conference leaders go into greater detail on certain topics if they notice that attendees have a common problem.

Speed networking

Speed networking can help attendees meet professionals from different organizations. Additionally, it enables them to interact with coworkers from their own company. You can organize this kind of breakout session by putting people in groups and allowing them to speak with one person for a predetermined period of time in each group. Even a brief session can result in attendees meeting a number of new people. They can develop their networks for potential future career opportunities and feel more at ease at the event thanks to these connections.


Consider including a game in your breakout sessions to make them particularly interactive. The game could be a fun way to make sure your audience members comprehend the information in the larger presentation. For instance, you could design a quiz that reviews the new policies of your company. Alternately, the activity might be a way for your guests to relax and get to know one another. Some companies have groups do team-building activities like:

Outdoor sessions

After spending hours inside, attendees may want to go outdoors. Consider holding breakout sessions outside to encourage participants to stay active and experience a different environment. The event might resemble one you’d hold indoors, such as a bingo game or an “Ask Me Anything” session. Another way to increase activity in the workshop is to conduct a scavenger hunt or tug-of-war. You can hold outdoor breakout sessions even if your meeting is online. Tell participants to log out, take a quick stroll outside, and then return with a photo of whatever it is you asked them to find.

Tips for facilitating breakout sessions

Here are some tips for facilitating breakout sessions:

Provide a clear objective

When planning breakout sessions, consider establishing a goal. Consider what you want attendees to achieve during the brief meeting. You might want them to interact with more attendees or inquire about the more extensive presentation, for instance. Knowing the session’s goal can help you create a structure that is easy for participants to follow, which could increase participation in general.

Establish a time limit

Breakout sessions are brief, allowing participants to rest and maintain concentration on the conference. Consider imposing a time limit to keep group meetings brief. Depending on the type of breakout session, a specific time frame should be used. For example, a scavenger hunt might take longer than a session of speed networking. You can provide structure and allow everyone to participate by setting a reasonable time limit. Additionally, the time limit can guarantee that you have enough time for the remaining conferences events.

Organize groups strategically

Some conference leaders organize groups right before the breakout sessions. During the presentation, they might group attendees based on last names or where they sat. Conference organizers can use this technique to randomly assign the groups, but they may also gain from strategically arranging the groups. Consider ensuring each group has members of different experience levels. A mix of junior and senior staff can offer groups fresh perspectives and in-depth knowledge. To encourage networking opportunities, make sure each group includes participants from various departments or organizations. Try to get people to sign up before the event so you can organize the groups properly.

Choose the right group size

When planning breakout sessions, take into account the number of participants you want in each group. Less crowded groups can encourage greater participation, while more crowded groups might make people feel more at ease. The ideal group size can be determined by your attendees’ preferences, but you should also take the breakout format into account. For instance, using larger groups for lightning talks might be more effective since many people can listen to a single presenter. More intimate settings that encourage members to ask questions may be beneficial for “Ask Me Anything” sessions.

Design spaces appropriate for the breakout format

If the meeting is online, you can set up breakout rooms using the online conferencing tool. Most programs let you divide participants either automatically or manually, and the host can enter various rooms to monitor conversations. The host can also use messages to remind attendees to return to the main meeting and indicate how much time is left.

Try to create physical spaces that are appropriate for the breakout format if the meeting is in person. A room with rows of chairs, for instance, might be ideal for lighting discussions. For speed networking events, having fewer chairs might be preferable because it encourages participants to speak with more people.

Use the right equipment

You can guarantee breakout sessions achieve their goals by providing groups with the appropriate equipment. A microphone or projector might be needed for lightning talks so that everyone can enjoy the presentation. If you organize enjoyable activities, you can give groups whiteboards, paper, and pens, or other supplies to finish the activity.

Consider rotating groups

Consider rotating groups if your breakout sessions include various presentations or activities. After a certain amount of time, attendees can switch groups or join groups that interest them. You can encourage attendees to participate in what interests them by allowing rotation. You can encourage rotation even if every breakout session has the same activity to help attendees meet more people.

Consult with group facilitators

After the breakout sessions end, consider consulting with group facilitators. These leaders can inform you of the topics that were covered in the meetings, enabling you to tailor the remainder of your presentation to their inquiries. Additionally, you can use the comments to enhance subsequent breakout sessions. For instance, you could extend the meeting’s time limit if you discover that not everyone had a chance to share their opinions.


What is breakout session in a class?

Event breakout sessions provide opportunities to:
  1. Learn, polish, or share skills.
  2. Discuss common issues.
  3. Brainstorm solutions.
  4. Explore ideas in a less structured format.
  5. Break up the overall event schedule.
  6. Regain attendees’ attention.

Why is it called breakout session?

Divide students into smaller groups during class meetings so that they can participate in discussions, group projects, and other activities. During a session, rooms may be opened and closed multiple times, or people may be moved between rooms.

What is a zoom breakout session?

Generally speaking, a breakout session is a brief meeting where a select group of attendees from a larger conference or convention discuss particular topics or facets of the main event’s overarching theme. Sometimes these intimate gatherings are referred to as breakout meetings or workshops.

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