What do you remember most about your last conference? Was it the brilliant keynote speaker, or perhaps the take-home swag? How about the breakout sessions that connected you with fellow attendees or helped you learn a new skill?
Breakout sessions are key to facilitating important conversations, networking, and skill-building. They break up the pace of the conference day and diversify the attendee experience.
Read on for 37 creative conference breakout session ideas to add to your next conference program!
What Are Conference Breakout Sessions?
Conference Breakout Sessions are a key opportunity to break larger groups (E.G. panels, workshops) into smaller groups, to facilitate networking, conversation, and exercises.
Breakout sessions can be implemented into a session agenda for all kinds of reasons, like:
- Discussing a specific topic in greater detail
- Networking or breaking the ice between attendees
- Problem-solving or ideas generation
- Changing up the pace of the conference
And more! Regardless of the reason, breakout sessions are great ways for attendees to connect.
How Do You Make a Breakout Session Interesting & Productive?
When you plan your breakout session with your goals in mind, opportunities for creative implementation may jump out of the woodwork and surprise even you!
Here are our tips for crafting a dynamic session that offers even higher value to participants.
Get feedback before the event
You don’t have to plan in a vacuum! You never know where other people’s feedback might take you.
Some people to ask for feedback could include:
- Experienced facilitators. Do you know someone who’s organized a great breakout group or two in their time? Ask what helped make their experience great—and what to avoid.
- Experts in the field. Running an educational breakout session? Ask seasoned experts in the field what they wished they’d learned earlier in their career.
- Your conference attendees. If you can poll attendees before they arrive, ask them what experience they’re hoping for! Questions could include what skills they hope to build and what their ideal conference structure looks like.
Select the best format for your session
The right format for your breakout conference session depends on what your session aims to achieve!
- Skill-building. These sessions might allow attendees to practice the skill in mind. For research, sales, or pitching, a three-minute thesis format might fit the bill!
- Leadership. A leadership session could involve role-playing exercises or a roundtable discussion with prompts.
- Teambuilding. Strengthening bonds takes time—and it can be fun! Your session could focus on skill-sharing and collaboration. An escape room is a great example.
- Networking. Attendees need an interactive format to connect with each other. Consider small groups with conversation prompts, speed networking, or experience sharing.
- Relaxation. Sometimes attendees just need a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the conference environment. Consider guided meditation, a breathing exercise, or a quiet collaborative activity.
There are also ways to vary how attendees participate in sessions. For example, interactive conference session ideas could include gamifying your session to encourage greater participant engagement.
Set clear expectations
When you set goals for your breakout session, you not only provide yourself with planning guidelines—you also have built-in attendee participation guidelines.
Be sure to convey your goals to your breakout groups before they begin.
Keep the breakout on topic
With so much happening at conferences, it can be easy to wander off-topic! Appointing facilitators within each small group is a great way to make sure the session moves in the right direction.
Give your facilitators a hand by providing an outline or other facilitation tips. Even a few sample segue phrases could help keep the group on task.
Designate the right amount of time
How much time do you have available for a breakout session? Make sure that participants have enough time to warm up to their group, get into it, and figure out—if relevant—what they’ll share on the other side.
Too short, and the breakout sessions won’t be productive. Too long, and breakout session participants might complete the task and disengage.
Calculating the right amount of time may require some trial and error. “Three-minute thesis” events make it quite easy to estimate timelines, but a more collaborative and constructive event might need more flexibility.
Everybody deserves a chance to speak, so don’t forget to factor in the number of participants in each breakout group!
Use the right space or event tech
From the in person setting to the virtual space, your environment and tools set the tone for your breakouts.
For in person, is the room big enough, or too big? Does each breakout group have their own space? Does everyone have the tools they need (whiteboard, pens, paper, fidget toys, seating), and, if relevant, privacy?
For virtual, do you have event tech that lets you easily set up and run virtual breakout rooms? Do your facilitators know how to use it, and is there troubleshooting available for your participants?
Figuring out your needs before the event gives the session itself more time to flourish.
Mix introverts and extroverts
The trick to any well constructed group is balance. Group strong talkers with strong listeners for a dynamic conversation full of insights and different ways of processing information.
Create an inclusive event
An important question to consider when planning your breakout session is: how easy is it to alter or accommodate the setup depending on participants’ abilities and needs?
- If there’s a strong visual component to the session, is there an alternative way for people with low vision to participate?
- If there’s a strong physical component, how can mobility needs be accommodated?
- If there is a strong verbal component, is there a visual accommodation (like captions) for people with audio processing disorders?
After all, the last thing you want is for someone to be unable to enjoy the event you’ve so thoughtfully put together!
Create safety measures
Attendees come from a variety of backgrounds and each may have varying levels of comfort at events.
Safety measures help all participants feel empowered to participate in breakout sessions, where event staff might not be present to help moderate uncomfortable situations.
These can include:
- Providing facilitators with de-escalation or segue skills. If tensions rise in a breakout group or if someone says they aren’t comfortable, facilitators should feel empowered to quickly address the tension and/or move the conversation along.
- Code of Conduct. A comprehensive code of conduct that attendees are required to agree to beforehand holds everybody to the same standard and protects you from any attendee misbehavior.
- Security. Invest in hired security so that you can focus on running your event and supporting your facilitators. That way, any in person disruptions can be professionally addressed.
- Moderation. In a virtual setting, it’s important to task one or more people with moderating the digital space and managing breakout room assignments. With EventMobi’s GoLive! Production Services Team, you can even find expert support for your breakout sessions.
- Incorporating illness-prevention protocols. Recommending and providing masks or ensuring your venue implements air filtration helps you create an inclusive event. Disabled and immunocompromised people may feel more comfortable coming to your conference and breakout sessions! Plus: no one likes con crud.
What Are Some Good Conference Breakout Session Topics?
Hosting the best conference breakout session will depend on what kind of conference you’re hosting!
To start brainstorming ideas, focus on your goals for the session.
Not sure of your goals? Ask yourself:
- What are people learning? Are they building skills, or gaining knowledge? Another way of framing this is what conference-goers want from the breakout session—whether that be industry info or professional skills.
- What are people sharing? Again—will they share skills, or knowledge? Another way of framing this is what conference-goers have to offer the breakout session.
- How do you enrich the existing programming? Will you provide attendees with new skills, new knowledge, new connections? Will you build on or deviate from existing conference programming?
- What tools will facilitators use to drive discussion? This could include technology like slideshow presentations or facilitation tools like brainstorms and mediation skills.
With your goals clearly established, it’ll be easy to align your conference breakout session ideas with your attendees’ interests!
Looking for breakout session examples? Attendees at a leadership conference might benefit from a breakout session that allows them to share leadership experiences and problem-solve. Or, at an academic conference, a three-minute thesis competition could encourage academic inspiration and learning.
How To Structure a Breakout Session
Breakout sessions are more than just the main event! Here’s one structure to help make your sessions feel social and natural—and to build connections between your participants.
- Provide a framework or outline. This helps you share your goals for the session with attendees. Make sure participants know what’s expected of them—and how to time the components of the session.
- Appoint breakout leaders/facilitators. Identify leaders before breaking into groups, or ask the groups to elect one amongst themselves. Ideally, your leaders will volunteer!
- Facilitate introductions. This is a great time for an icebreaker question, or even an activity if time permits! Have participants offer one fun fact about themselves, or ask what made them smile in the last week.
- Dive into the activity. The reason everyone’s here!
- Wind the session down. Provide some light guidance on how groups should wrap the session amongst themselves before returning to the main room.
- Reunite and share findings. Everyone will be eager to share what they learned! Have a plan for how best to discuss the conference breakout session once everyone’s come back together.
- Ask for feedback on structure. Find a way to collect feedback efficiently, such as through live polling, then implement those suggestions in the next session you host!
Now you know what should be included in a conference breakout! If you’ve set goals for your sessions and planned around them, odds are that your breakout session’s structure has already started taking shape.
Now, let’s explore 37 interactive conference session ideas to help guide your next event.
Recommended Resource: Great breakout sessions are only one part of creating a memorable event. Check out our full guide on event Experience Design!🎨
5 Collaborative Discussion Conference Breakout Session Ideas
A conference breakout session that focuses on discussion can be a great way for attendees to connect, problem-solve, or brainstorm.
If you’re hoping for attendees to come away with some bright ideas, try one of these breakout session ideas:
Roundtables are a classic breakout session. A roundtable discussion allocates time for small groups to discuss a specific topic or prompt. Generally non-hierarchical, these sessions can be a great chance to give quieter attendees dedicated space to share their thoughts.
Case study discussions
Looking to solve a problem? Assigning a case study to your breakout sessions allows your attendees to put their heads together and focus on the solution. When you reunite as a room, you’ll have many new ideas to consider. Many hands make light work, after all!
Brainstorming and ideation
Big dreams need space to breathe! Your attendees have a lot to offer, but the conference setting doesn’t always enable collaborative ideation. Creating breakout sessions where participants can use their creativity will result in fresh suggestions and help everybody feel heard.
First comes the brainstorm, then comes the plan! Whether it be to set individual, team, or organizational goals, your attendees can take a hands-on approach to the future of your event topic by participating in a breakout meeting centered on goal-setting.
Running an event where a key text or book is central to the attendees’ interests? It’s easy to skip over the individual reading experience when in a large group, so this is where the breakout session shines. Provide prompting questions so that each group has a place to start chatting.
5 Presentation Conference Breakout Session Examples
At a busy conference, not every attendee will get the chance to speak at length to a large audience. But that’s no reason to assume your attendees can’t share knowledge in other ways!
Here are 5 ways to offer presentation opportunities through breakout session examples:
Three minute thesis
A staple of academic conferences, three minute thesis sessions allow presenters to share their thesis in a short, concise manner. Your participants can either register and prepare their pitch beforehand, or even sign up on the day-of and deliver a quick talk.
Demo or showcase
Sometimes the best way to understand a product or new idea is to see it in action. If you’re looking to give attendees a closer look at a product, tech solution, or another tangible item, holding breakout sessions can give better access to individual attendees and a chance to ask and answer key questions. Ultimately, this can be the difference that makes a sale!
Common conference session formats don’t allow for much back and forth between presenters. Through breakout sessions, your presenters can have more freedom to converse on their topic of choice. Or, you can create a team-building exercise and separate attendees into groups to strategize around preset topics. Return from the breakout sessions and let the debate begin!
Even the most interesting conference presentations can feel monotonous after a long day. To break up the rhythm of lengthy conference sessions, use a series of lightning talks. Invite attendees to share their expertise for 5-10 minutes each and you’ll be surprised what you learn!
Engaged attendees will always have questions that don’t get answered in a main conference session. The solution? An AMA—or Ask Me Anything—where attendees get direct access to conference speakers or other experts in a field. Relatively unstructured, these Q&A sessions allow your presenters to speak in greater detail based on the interests of attendees in the room.
7 Skill Development Conference Breakout Session Ideas
Many attendees hope to develop professional skills when they attend a conference.
Whether they’re looking to learn something new or to brush up on old skills, here are 7 breakout session ideas to give attendees a way to improve their skills at your conference:
Most workshops consist of facilitator(s) and attendees focused on a specific topic. With one or several experts leading, workshops can include interactive as well as presentational components. The best workshops give attendees key takeaways to apply after the session!
For many, the best way to remember information is to write it down! Give participants worksheets to fill out in response to prompts during the conference breakout session, or have registrants fill them out beforehand to prepare for discussion. You can pair this idea with others on this list!
Training is crucial to the operations of any organization, no matter the size. And attendees from across different organizations can benefit from learning similar skills to bring back to their teams! A group setting can provide training where attendees have time to ask questions, while also efficiently working through material.
Practice makes perfect, and what better setting to practice in than during a breakout session? Get creative by presenting attendees with a hypothetical scenario they might encounter professionally. Then, invite attendees to play out those conversations! Afterwards, your attendees will feel better equipped to tackle the real thing.
There are many ways to learn, but nothing is quite like having a mentor in the field take time to speak to your specific concerns. Keep the headcount in these breakout sessions low so attendees get individual attention. You could even consider using an event app that makes booking 1-on-1 meetings easy for attendees and mentors alike!
Every attendee of your conference brings something new to the table. Create a breakout session where each participant has a chance to share their skills, perhaps around a theme or organizational need, and your attendees will empower each other with knowledge.
Similar to skill sharing, some attendees will have skills that other attendees are seeking! Rather than bringing in outside experts, tap into the knowledgeable people in the room and encourage them to lead a peer learning session. This can also enhance team cohesion and help peer leaders keep their skills sharp.
3 Networking Breakout Session Ideas
Did you know 80% of professionals consider networking to be crucial to their career success?
Conferences are a great place to form new and lasting career connections, so breakout meetings created for networking helps make that process even easier.
A bit like speed dating, speed networking sets up participants in small groups of two or three to chat and connect. After about 3-5 minutes of conversation, participants will rotate to new groups. You can provide prompts to guide conversation, or leave things open for attendees.
Drop-in networking café
A long conference day means hungry, thirsty attendees. Why not combine refreshments with networking? Set up a seating arrangement that encourages new connections, or take an extra step and include prompts at your café tables!
Who says networking can’t be fun? Whether during a dedicated session or at the start of each breakout group, you can introduce games that facilitate connection between participants. From two truths and a lie, to a participant bingo, there are many games that encourage conversation.
6 Casual Breakout Conference Session Ideas
Sometimes what your attendees need after information-packed conference sessions is to unwind.
As a bonus, casual sessions passively tick a lot of boxes that other kinds of breakout sessions explicitly develop!
Help your attendees recharge with these 6 conference breakout session ideas:
Nowadays, employee wellness is more important than ever. In a quiet space, set up your attendees with a meditation instructor to take them through a 15-minute guided meditation between sessions. The peace and quiet will refresh your attendees and they’ll emerge ready to focus on the rest of the day!
Always a hit with a crowd, hosting a trivia game is an easy way to lighten up your breakout sessions. If you want to make things fun and educational, you could break attendees into small breakout groups to answer trivia themed around a talk they just attended.
Set up a leisure space at your conference venue with small areas for different games, and you’ll have an easy way for attendees to relax. You can include board games like Charades or Werewolf at different stations to encourage participants to collaborate on teams.
Regardless of your field, creativity is a valuable skill to cultivate. Give your attendees a way to use their creative energy by providing arts and crafts materials or a canvas and paints. Participants will have a tangible reminder of their time at your conference and get to see the creative side of their fellow attendees!
Send teams on a scavenger hunt throughout your event venue to get attendees moving. You can even use event tech to help gamify your conference breakout session and encourage attendee engagement! Just make sure to think up a valuable prize for your winners.
Independent work time
Do your attendees have work to finish even as they attend your conference? Create a space and time for coworking so that they can focus on work, then let everyone check in or share for social accountability throughout the session. Working alongside others can be very motivating!
9 Virtual Breakout Session Ideas
At your next virtual or hybrid event, try using these 10 virtual breakout session ideas to keep your breakout session attendees engaged:
Virtual lunch & learn
Give your attendees the option to break into small groups that learn as they snack on their lunch! Introverts might spend some time to themselves, but this is a great way to let your high-energy con attendees keep engagement up through rest time.
Virtual Ask Me Anything
Honestly, a lot of the breakout session ideas we listed above can be repurposed for virtual! But expert sessions like an Ask Me Anything can sometimes be MORE valuable online…because your experts aren’t limited by geographic location.
Show & tell
Screen sharing makes showing off projects, experiences, or past events way easier than in person. Make use of the fact that your attendees have all their work at their fingertips, and create show & tell breakout rooms where they can explore real experiences together.
One of the best ways to drive a new strategy home is letting people put it into practice. Give your breakout rooms some time to brainstorm how they’d put their new skills to work in a sample scenario, or work towards an actual project they have on hand. Then they can present their new findings using a virtual whiteboard or similar tech!
Heard of scribblr? Letting attendees have a moment to break out into smaller groups focused on ridiculousness and fun can help them bond and connect, when virtual events can feel less engaging on an attendee-to-attendee level.
Want to challenge some new skills? Give your attendees a script to walk through a scenario, and put them in breakout rooms of 2-4 individuals. One person will be on-script, one person will respond, and the others can provide feedback. Then they can swap roles!
Questions & discussion
A tried and true standby, send breakout groups off with a list of questions for them to discuss. Want to keep things moving? Make sure you get the group to assign a group leader as soon as they start, to shorten those awkward silences.
Are some participants feeling quiet? Live polls are a wonderful way to democratize session decisions and collect attendee feedback in a virtual setting. Then, once you’ve let them choose their breakout session topics, send them off to discuss and return!
Put groups together and let them chat for 2-5 minutes, before swapping who they’re chatting with. This works best if attendees can also book time with one another on the event platform you’re using (psst: EventMobi does this!).
Whether your conference is academic or professional, in-person or virtual, your breakout sessions are sure to impress attendees when you plan around your goals and structure the sessions according to their needs.
Running virtual breakout sessions? It’s so much easier with the right technology partner. With EventMobi, you can:
- Create interactive breakout rooms
- Enable video group chat and screen sharing
- Trust your rooms are being managed by EventMobi staff
- Live stream your sessions for attendees
- Record sessions for future viewing
- And more!
Interested in learning more about EventMobi? Book your personalized demo of EventMobi’s Event Management Software platform today!