Boosting Engagement and Candid Conversations Through Breakout Rooms

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out to the general public and the world begins to experience the opening of a new (and very different) reality, some may expect to throw virtual events out the window. In-person events offer an opportunity to connect face-to-face, and “Zoom fatigue” is a real symptom felt by many. But how can we be sure everyone is comfortable and ready to move forward with in-person events? Plus, what if people have relocated out of the area due to their company’s remote work flexibility policies? For these reasons and many more, we recommend continuing to take advantage of Zoom (or your preferred tool) and, in particular, the platform’s breakout room feature to boost engagement and participation for your organization’s events.

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of incorporating breakout rooms into your Zoom events, how to administer them during the meeting and tips for making them memorable.

Why Use Breakout Rooms?

Employee in a video call with teammates giving a thumbs upWhether it’s a virtual networking event, an educational workshop or an internal team building activity, breakout rooms are a useful tool to make sure all participants are heard.  People, further, continue to look for candid human-to-human interactions, which were once easy to find in the pre-COVID era, and breakout rooms help make groups small enough to connect with others.

Here are a few ways to incorporate these precious interactions into your next event:

  • To break up a long presentation, pose an open-ended question and then send the participants into breakout groups of four to five people to discuss for a few minutes. Consider opening breakout rooms a few times throughout the presentation and keeping the groups the same, so people can create meaningful connections with the other participants in their rooms.
  • Try splitting the group into smaller rooms of two to three people for events or sessions where the goal is to brainstorm, as you’ll find many participants feel comfortable sharing in more intimate groups. After ending the breakout rooms and coming back to the main room, each group can share ideas with the larger team and offer feedback on all ideas presented.
  • For team building activities or ice breakers, task groups with answering three to four “conversation-starter” type questions when they enter their breakout rooms. The questions can be personal or work-related, or even a combination of both. Encourage the groups to ask follow-up questions and engage with each person’s answers so that everyone can learn more about the members of their group. Questions to ask might include:
    • What is your biggest strength/weakness?
    • Who do you look up to?
    • What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?
    • What was your first job?

Administering Breakout Rooms

Before you can use breakout rooms during a meeting, the feature must be enabled in settings in the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section. You’ll see there is also an option for the host to assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling, also known as “breakout room pre-assign.” This is a good option if you’re confident that all registrants or invitees will attend. However, if you use the pre-assign option and have no-shows, it can make it difficult to rearrange the rooms during the meeting, especially if the no-shows happen to be in the same room. For this reason, we recommend assigning one dedicated host to manually create the breakout rooms during the live meeting, while the other host(s) respond to individual participant concerns and handle other in-meeting logistics.

When you have a finalized attendance list a few days before the event, it’s a good idea to create a map of the breakout rooms to use as a guide during the live meeting. You may choose to randomize the rooms for some meetings; for others, you may divide the groups by industry or title. For internal meetings, you might strategically pair colleagues who don’t usually get the chance to work together. If you’re hosting a virtual networking event, you might consider dividing the group into multiple rounds of unique breakout rooms. Be sure, in this instance, to allot enough time in between each round for the host to reshuffle the rooms, as this can take a few minutes.

Pro-Tip: Zoom displays participant names in alphabetical order. So, when mapping out your breakout rooms, organize the names by alphabetical order for each group to allow for more efficiency in manually creating the rooms during the meeting.

Making the Rooms Memorable

A common mishap of breakout rooms is sending participants to separate rooms without prompts or planned discussion points, as this can result in “awkward silences” or off-topic conversations. To avoid this, we recommended earlier to give participants specific prompts and questions to discuss. Another option is to assign a facilitator for each breakout group to establish the objective of the breakout session, lead the conversation, ask questions and make sure everyone gets the chance to contribute. Before the event, check with each facilitator so that they understand their important role and are comfortable leading the group.

Zoom breakout rooms (and virtual events in general) can be a heavy lift to plan and execute – we could talk about it for hours! If your organization is looking to boost engagement for future events or would simply like to l chat with our event specialists, reach out to The Agency today.

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