breakout sessions

The Essential Guide To Hosting A Successful Breakout Session

Plan your event breakout session with the help of this useful guide! Whether your session is formal or informal your guests will be able to relax and connect with others!
November 11, 2022

Event breakout sessions can be a great tool to use, especially if they are organized correctly and they have a purpose. Be sure to define a clear objective for the breakout sessions, otherwise they can become disorganized and even a waste of time. This guide will help you plan an effective and useful breakout session.

What Is A Breakout Session?

An event breakout session is a group, designed to be a workshop style, that is created to problem solve or brainstorm new ideas! The topics of the breakout sessions should be focused around the conference theme or the company. Breakout sessions are typically shorter than other segments within the event, and each breakout group can present their ideas when the big group reconvenes.

How To Host An Engaging Breakout Session

Event breakout sessions can be tailored to your specific event! These sessions can be any size, big or small, depending on the size of your audience! In order to plan an engaging breakout session, follow these helpful tips!

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Get Input From Attendees With Pre-Event Surveys</span>

Sending out pre-event surveys to your attendees can help event planners understand what the attendees want to see! With the data collected, you can plan your event around what the attendees want and ask if they have any personal or professional goals they wish to meet. Attendees will see that the company values them when the event has been planned around their wants and needs. 

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Pick The Right Breakout Format</span>

Based on the goals of the event, you may need to change the format of the breakout sessions. Goals can differ from event to event, and not every format will fit the needs of every event. For example, if your breakout session goal is to share data and facts, a presentation-style would fit the session best. If you have a more relaxed goal, such as networking or games, you can change the room set up to help with the format!

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  • <span class="mid-size-title">Choose The Right Host</span>

Choosing the right host for the breakout sessions can be a difficult job! You need someone who is going to be not only fun and engaging, but also knows how to move to a new subject when the time comes. These people should know how to easily end one segment and transition to the next one. Be sure they reserve a spot for questions either at the beginning or end of each breakout session.

Finding the best host for your breakout sessions
  • <span class="mid-size-title">Select The Best Technology</span>

There might be instances where you need to use video technology or a computer to present data or facts. Before the event begins, be sure to do a trial run of the technology, to work out any kinks. If you choose to show any pictures or videos, have them queued up and ready to go; that way when the time comes to present, you won’t waste time getting the media to play.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Ask Guests To Register For Breakout Sessions Early</span>

When guests register for your event early, event hosts can get a better idea of how many people are willing to attend. You can see the RSVPs of your guests, and even if they have any goals they wish to achieve at the event. While there are people who will RSVP ahead of time, there will still be people who attend on the day of the event that did not RSVP. Be sure to have a backup plan in case this happens, making sure to accommodate them!

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Time Your Breakouts Strategically</span>

In order to fully have the attention of your guests, be sure to correctly time your breakout sessions! If you have your breakout sessions early in the day, everyone might not be in attendance, as they might have got caught in traffic, for example. If you have the breakout sessions too late in the day, the attendees may be too focused on going home that they might not be able to focus on the topics at hand. Having the breakout sessions in the late morning or early afternoon is a great time to host the sessions.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Design Seating To Complement The Breakout Format</span>

The use of a floor plan can help event organizers see the best way to set up the room, based on the format of the event. As discussed above, the format of the event will determine how the room should be set up. If your goal is for the attendees to meet and get to know one another, then rows of tables and chairs wouldn’t be the way to go! Depending on the size of your event, a U-shaped seating arrangement is a great way for all attendees to see each other’s faces as they speak to create trust between one another.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Use Tech To Boost Breakout Session Success</span>

If you choose to see live feedback from your attendees during your event, there are live polling apps you can use! Seeing data and feedback in real time can help event organizers plan for any future events. If there is an aspect of the breakout session that isn’t working for many people, try to address that concern immediately. There is also another app that attendees can download, and it is essentially a whiteboard app; attendees can use this app to write down any notes, and share those notes with others.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Choose Breakout Session Facilitators Who Guide Without Controlling</span>

When choosing a facilitator for your breakout sessions, you should make sure they know how to facilitate a meeting without being too controlling. The transitions between each segment should be easy and comfortable, with very clear instructions on what is happening next. It can be difficult to transition to a new element of the event with many people, but successful facilitators will be able to do so with ease and not waste any time with the transitions.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Build A Buzz To Improve Breakout Session Participation</span>

In order to gain participation from everyone, try to create a buzz around the breakout sessions! This can be done with raffle tickets for each participant or even rewarding attendees for participating in the sessions. Once attendees see that there are incentives to participate, they will be more inclined to get themselves involved!

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  • <span class="mid-size-title">Ensure Breakout Workshops Cater To A Variety Of Learning Styles</span>

Within your event, there are going to be people who all learn differently! Some may be audio learners, while others are visual learners. Try to cater the learning of your breakout sessions to each of these learning styles, to appease everyone. You want everyone to feel like they are successful within the breakout sessions, and by catering to everyone’s learning needs, everyone will feel like they are taking away valuable knowledge.

20 Breakout Session Ideas

Breakout sessions sometimes don’t need to be small groups of people talking about work topics. These sessions can be fun and engaging for your guests! These 20 ideas can help your company plan successful breakout sessions.

<span class="mid-size-title">1. Lightning Talks</span>

Lightning talks are small chats between employees that can help to break up the meetings of the day! Because these talks are short and quick, attendees can sit in on more than one. Guests can talk about personal or professional topics, which only helps to bring everyone closer.

<span class="mid-size-title">2. Speed Networking</span>

Much like lightning talks, speed networking allows attendees to meet several people and learn about them! The tables and chairs can be set up for people to easily meet their colleagues and learn about what they do. Be sure to tell the attendees to have business cards ready, so the connections that you make during the speed networking can flourish once the event is over!

Networking during breakout sessions

<span class="mid-size-title">3. Roundtables</span>

Sitting in a circle can help attendees see who is speaking, and helps them to create eye contact. Roundtable discussions will help build trust within the guests, and everyone can have a chance to speak! If there is a plan to give everyone a chance to speak, a roundtable set up is the best way to do it. The speaking can start with one person, then the next person either to the right or left of them can speak next, and continue around the room until everyone has had a chance to speak.

<span class="mid-size-title">4. Silent Disco</span>

Silent discos are fairly new to the corporate world, but they are tons of fun for the guests! Every guest receives a pair of headphones while music is playing and the room itself is silent. The music playing through the headphones can be played by the event organizers or the attendees can select their own music. Either way, the attendees will have a great time dancing with their colleagues.

<span class="mid-size-title">5. Meditation Sessions</span>

Meetings and events can become stressful, for everyone involved, especially if some of the attendees have traveled from other states or even countries. Gathering together to have a meditation session will help to center everyone and relax. Allow your attendees to relax and focus on their breath as you instruct them to get comfortable! 

<span class="mid-size-title">6. Photo Booths</span>

Photo booths are a fun way to let attendees share their fun side! Photo booths provide all kinds of props and costumes for your guests to use to take fun pictures, and those photos can be printed out and kept as a memento from the event. Photos can be taken individually or in groups; the more people who try to fit in the photo, the better!

<span class="mid-size-title">7. Walking Tours</span>

If your event is taking place in a city where not many of the attendees live, try taking them out on a walking tour! There may be places and hidden gems within the city that will be fun to show off to the attendees. It will also help everyone get up and moving as well as getting fresh air. Encourage everyone to take as many pictures and videos as possible, and maybe you can use these pictures as marketing for next year’s event!

<span class="mid-size-title">8. Paint A Portrait</span>

Paint nights are a fun way for your guests to show off their creative side! Each guest can get their own easel and art supplies, while an instructor teaches them how to paint. The end result will be a beautiful painting that the guests can feel proud of and want to show it off. 

breakout session ideas - paint a portrait

<span class="mid-size-title">9. Treasure Hunt</span>

Treasure hunts can be fun for everyone, especially if there is a prize at the end! Guests can work together in teams or work individually, and work towards the treasure. Maps can be provided, and guests can use clues to decipher where the treasure is! This builds great relationships within the team and will also provide a lot of laughs for everyone.

<span class="mid-size-title">10. Trivia Night</span>

A trivia night is always a fun way for your guests to become a little competitive while working towards answering the questions! The questions can be separated into categories, with guests receiving points for each correct answer. If the event is held around a certain holiday, you can create the trivia questions around the holiday. Whichever team has the most points at the end is the winner and can receive a prize or bragging rights for the rest of the event!

<span class="mid-size-title">11. Virtual Lunch / Coffee And Learn</span>

If your event has people tuning in from other parts of the country or even the world, you can connect with them through a meal. Encourage everyone to take their lunch together, and the conversations can be relaxed and informal. Guests can learn about their colleagues, especially the ones who have dialed in! 

<span class="mid-size-title">12. Goal Setting Workshop</span>

Each attendee of your event is going to have different goals, both personal and professional. If you are in need of a breakout session idea, consider a goal setting workshop! Guests can speak about their goals and how they plan on achieving those goals. Guests may even find other people within the crowd who either have the same goals, or even someone who may be able to help them achieve their goals. 

<span class="mid-size-title">13. Virtual Party Games And Activities</span>

Party games are alway a fun way to get everyone participating and having fun! Virtual games can be played by everyone, no matter where they are in the world. Some virtual games that can be played are musical trivia, bingo or even “who is most likely to?” These games allow your guests to relax and unwind with their colleagues, while learning a bit more about each other!

<span class="mid-size-title">14. Ask Me Anything (AMA) Sessions</span>

Ask me anything question sessions help guests to ask any questions they may have about a variety of topics. These questions can be both personal or professional, and the moderator can answer the questions to the best of their ability. One guest may have a question that someone else might be afraid to ask! Once the questions start to be asked, others will feel more comfortable asking their questions.

<span class="mid-size-title">15. Outdoor Activities</span>

If the weather permits, you can take the group outside for some outdoor activities! This allows everyone to get some fresh air while getting away from the meeting for a few moments. You can play outdoor games, take a nature walk or just get some sunshine; it will be a nice break in the day and will get everybody to focus once they return to the meeting.

<span class="mid-size-title">16. Open Mic Session</span>

Open mic sessions allow guests to express their creativity! Before the event begins, create a signup sheet for the guests who want to perform during the open mic session. Guests can sing, dance, recite poetry or share stories and can learn a lot more about their peers when they see them on stage expressing their creativity!

Open mic during breakout session

<span class="mid-size-title">17. Virtual Mini Talks</span>

These talks, like the lightning talks, are short and quick talking sessions that can be joined easily by anyone. The topics of these mini talks can vary, but try to keep them relevant to the event. If guests feel so inclined, they can take notes about the mini talks and if they have any questions, they can ask them at the end of the mini talk.

<span class="mid-size-title">18. Virtual Escape Room</span>

Virtual escape rooms allow guests to work together to get out of the room! These teams can work together to search for clues and answers within the room. There may be various clues that need to be worked out, and it takes all eyes to try and figure out the riddles. The satisfaction that the group will receive when they leave the room is great for building team trust and relationships!

<span class="mid-size-title">19. Murder Mystery Party</span>

Much like the virtual escape room, a murder mystery party takes teamwork to find out who the killer is. Everyone can work together to solve the mystery. This party forces guests to work together to problem solve, which can then translate to the professional world!

<span class="mid-size-title">20. Human Bingo</span>

Human bingo helps guests get to know each other better! The prompts for this human bingo game can be “”who has the most children?” or “who has traveled the farthest?” These questions make guests get up and move around the room, asking questions to people they may not ordinarily know.

3 Breakout Session Examples

Below are 3 great examples of successful breakout sessions that can help you plan your own breakout session! 

Nonprofit Leadership Center

This breakout session is a nonprofit that helps to support other nonprofits. This conference happens yearly, and helps to create a positive work environment for companies. There may be some workplaces that are not healthy, and companies aren’t sure how to fix it. With this leadership center, they can work with companies on how to fix their workplace environment and how to make it a healthy and fun place to work!

Building On Our Momentum (BOOM)

Mount Holyoke College holds a yearly diversity conference, which helps to encourage guests to attend events about diversity and inclusion. These events can be live or pre-recorded, and guests can learn how to decompress from any hard topics they have talked about throughout the day. BOOM prides itself on teaching and educating people on diversity and learning about the history of marginalized communities.  


INBOUND is a yearly marketing conference hosted by HubSpot, which encourages guests to interact with the content being presented. Participants can engage with other guests and event hosts and learn about marketing strategies! This marketing conference helps guests better understand the business world and make personal and professional connections. 

Breakout Session Template

This template is the guideline for a successful breakout session. When combined with thinking about the event objective and what attendees take away from the event, everyone will benefit from the breakout sessions!

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Designated Time Frames</span>

When creating your breakout session timeline, be mindful of the time frames! You will want to think about how long the breakout session will take, and plan accordingly. If you have a longer breakout session, you will want to plan that in the mid-morning when people will be more productive and more receptive to what is being said. If you plan multiple events within the year, and you have breakout sessions regularly, stick to a schedule; your guests will know when the breakout sessions are coming and they can prepare themselves accordingly!

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Set Session Goals</span>

Allow your guests to express their goals, both personal and professional goals and how they plan to work towards achieving them. If there are multiple guests with similar goals, have them connect with each other and even work together to achieve these goals. It will be easier to achieve the goals when you have someone helping you along the way.

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Design Seating To Complement The Breakout Format</span>

Depending on the format of your breakout session, you will want to arrange the seating to support that. If you plan on presenting information and data, then rows of tables and chairs will be the best way to go, as everyone can face forward towards the speaker. If you plan on having your guests get up and move around, then scattered tables and chairs will be easier for people to grab a seat when it is time to reconvene. 

  • <span class="mid-size-title">Use The Correct Equipment</span>

You may feel the need to use audio and visual equipment for your breakout sessions. If this is the case, be sure to have a trial run of the equipment. Technology can be tricky to work with, so try to work out any of those kinks before your guests arrive. Having equipment that works efficiently will make your event run smoothly and on time!

Create The Best Event Breakout Sessions With Hubilo

If you’re not sure how to begin to plan your event breakout session, try reaching out to a virtual event platform! Hubilo takes all the guesswork out of planning and they can help you plan a successful event breakout session. Whether you want to have your breakout session formal or informal, your guests will be able to connect with one another. Breakout sessions help to break up the routine of the meeting, and it allows guests to relax and unwind while still connecting and building relationships with their colleagues.

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