The Complete Tutorial for Hosting Exciting Breakout Sessions


Any good event manager would know that a lot of networking happens in between large sessions, during lunch hours, or even at the bar. All of these places feel like a natural place to hold a conversation.

That’s why breakout sessions are an attendee favorite. An absolute breath of fresh air at virtual conferences. They’re stimulating, fun, and allow brands, attendees, exhibitors, and presenters to connect in a personal and exciting way.

A lot of virtual events platforms realize this, and they try to imitate the environment in a virtual space. Of course, this comes with a bit of a learning curve. If you’re organizing a virtual conference and wondering how to host breakout sessions, this guide is for you. 

What Are Breakout Sessions at Conferences?

a breakout room at a virtual conference

Before we get started, let’s discuss the effectiveness of breakout sessions and how they work.

Breakout sessions are small workshop-style activities. Attendees are divided into smaller groups and asked to solve problems. This way, it helps people explore new ideas for their products or businesses.

As the name implies, these sessions are shorter than other things that are planned for the conference. So, what are some more benefits of these breakout sessions? 

Here’s how they help:

  • Improve overall engagement
  • Provide opportunities for deeper discussions
  • Targeted content based on specific interests
  • Breakaway from the main event, and keep audiences interested
  • Targeted content across experience, skill level, and positions

Finally, what makes a good breakout session?

An enjoyable breakout session should relate to the event theme to make sure attendees are invested in it. It also allows you to draw people from the crowd, who otherwise would be hesitant to speak up or participate in the main sessions. 

How Do I Create a Great Virtual Breakout Session?

Now that we‘ve talked about the importance and value of breakout sessions, let’s have a look at how you can create them. 

Many video conferencing apps have breakout sessions built into them. Here are some things you need to get out of the way before you get started:

  • Select the topic beforehand. This will help you decide the needs of your session.
  • Determine whether the group will be random or pre-selected. Random selection works best when the problem presented has many possible solutions. Pre-selection is more ideal with complex problems that require experts and professional advice.
  • Work with smaller groups. Remember, breakout sessions are supposed to be engaging, enjoyable, and interactive. Too many cooks spoil the broth after all, so create several breakout sessions. 
  • Test the platform and experience beforehand. You don’t want to run into any problems during the actual sessions. Furthermore, make sure that the attendees are familiar with the process as well so you don’t have to worry about the technology.
  • Assign a moderator or spokesperson for each session. This person should monitor time limits, keep the conversation going, and make sure that all the goals are met by the end.

What Video Conferencing Tool Has Breakout Rooms?

A lot of companies and organizations already have hosting platforms set up for webinars, conferences, and breakouts. Two such apps are Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Let’s have a quick look at how the breakout session feature works here.

Breakout Sessions in Zoom

Zoom is intended to be easy and intuitive. Fortunately, this also means that setting up a virtual conference with breakout sessions is quite easy. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Head to the Zoom app and click on ‘Schedule a Meeting’.
  2. Fill in the details about your virtual conference. These will include the title, description, and date. 
  3. Go over the meeting options and see what you want to use. 
  4. From pre-assigned breakout sessions, use the ‘Breakout Room Pre-Assign’ option. Assign titles and people to each session.

If it’s a smaller event or just a business meeting, you can host a breakout session during the video call. While live, the event host should click on the ‘Breakout Rooms’ option near the bottom of the application. The host can use this to either randomly or manually select people to put in the breakout sessions.

Breakout Session Ideas

Now, let’s look for some breakout session inspiration!

Breakout sessions are extremely versatile. You can shape them to be anything you want. Of course, all of this depends on the objectives, the atmosphere you desire, and the people attending the session. With that said, here are a few ideas that have worked in the past. 

1. Lightning Talks

A lightning talk is a short presentation that lasts for only a couple of minutes at best. These are usually given at panels or forums, but they work well for breakout sessions. 

Rather than regular presentations with bullet points, videos, and other content, lightning talks just explore one idea very quickly. This makes the listener pay attention and stay engaged. 

These lighting talks are managed by a moderator or organizer. It is an enjoyable way of getting people to convey their ideas within a limited time frame. 

2. Virtual Coffee Rooms

Everyone knows that few things can compare with the feeling of catching up over a cup of coffee. The same applies to conferences and events. The idea for virtual coffee rooms is the same as a coffee space in a regular physical space. People can grab a cup of coffee, sit, and talk with others from the comfort of their own rooms.

Virtual coffee offers attendees a break from the hustle and bustle of a busy conference. Such an easy-going and pleasant environment encourages attendees to be more comfortable while talking to other visitors during the conference. 

3. Speed Networking

The idea and format are quite similar to speed dating. Participants share information and details about each other quickly within a time limit. After that, they quickly move on to the next set of participants. People discuss their skills, professional expertise, business goals, and more during this session. However, they are encouraged to be quick, which adds an enjoyment factor to it.

This can be done in a couple of different ways. You can have one-on-one meetings between two individuals, or it can also be group-based. Speed networking often gets a lot of great feedback since the adrenaline rush makes us more open to new conversations. 

4. Virtual Escape Rooms

Virtual escape rooms are an alternative to the very popular physical escape rooms. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, here’s how they work. 

In a physical setting, a group of people is locked inside of a room and asked to escape. Usually, there is a theme around this escape, with clues hidden inside of the room. Participants must think fast in order to escape before the time runs out.

Virtual escape rooms have the same concept. They’re also easier to set up and affordable to host. These serve as great breakout sessions as they are extremely stimulating. 

To set up your very own virtual escape room, separate people into groups and teams. Give them the clues and ask them to work together in order to escape. Working together in such a high-pressure situation brings on an adrenaline rush and makes for an unforgettable experience.

5. Video Games

trivia games at a virtual event

Many physical events feature a dedicated game room. These are either indoor games such as ping pong and snooker or video games such as football. Some events even host entire tournaments as breakout sessions.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-setup yet highly engaging breakout session, video games are the way to go. There are so many options out there. Try strategy games like chess or offer old-school arcade games like MetalSlug. Games such as FIFA, Tekken, and Smash Bros are a perfect fit for breakout sessions.

6. Debate Session

A debate session is a great idea if you want to promote participation and conversation among your attendees. 

Debate sessions can be highly rewarding for participants. Assign a topic, divide people into teams, and make the audience vote on which speaker spoke the best. This adds an element of competition to it. You’ll also need a moderator to oversee things. The last thing you want on your hands is an argument to go completely off the rails. 

However, know when to incorporate debates as breakout sessions. If you’ve had a long day of webinars, meetings, and keynotes, then people will likely be too exhausted for debate sessions. The timing is crucial for a session such as this one.


All in all, breakout sessions can be rewarding and successful for both the hosts and the attendees. They break the monotony of virtual conferences and give attendees a stimulating and collaborative exercise to indulge in. Use these tips to entertain your attendees and make their event experience memorable. 


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