Conference Breakout Sessions are a Powerful Way to Motivate Connections and Creativity.
The basic idea is to take participants at a large event and separate them into smaller groups. It’s important, however, to plan ahead and organize your conference breakout
1. FIND THE RIGHT TIME AND SPACE
To get optimum results from conference breakout sessions, they need to occur at the right time and in a suitable space. Don’t plan them at the end of a long day when people are tired. Nor should you use them in place of breaks. At any event, participants need time off without any scheduled activities. It’s best to schedule them in the middle of the day, perhaps after a short break.
The physical space plays a large role when it comes to breakout sessions. You need a space that’s large enough to accommodate the size of the groups. If the area is too small, people will be stumbling over one another and voices from neighboring groups will be distracting. If other events such as meetings or presentations are nearby it will be hard for participants to concentrate. When possible, outdoor spaces can be good for this purpose. Another option is to have each group leave the premises for a designated period, perhaps go out for lunch or a walk and everyone meets up later.
2. FIGURE OUT THE LOGISTICS
When creating breakout sessions you need a method for assigning participants to groups. You can do this based on certain criteria such as background, skills, or job title. On the other hand, it can be interesting to mix things up and simply create random groups. This allows for diverse points of view on the issues being discussed.
You also need to figure out the optimum size of the groups. This will depend on factors such as the size of the conference, the amount of available space, and whether you want more intimate discussions or larger groups with more input. Finally, you have to set an appropriate time limit for the session. Brief brainstorming sessions of around 15 minutes can be fun and challenging as they require people to come up with ideas on the fly. On the other hand, longer sessions of up to an hour allow for more detailed discussions.
3. SET CLEAR OBJECTIVES
One of the main challenges with breakout sessions is that people who may have only met for the first time are thrown together and aren’t sure exactly what they’re supposed to do. If the instructions are too vague, you’ll tend to get little more than random conversations on hundreds of topics. Set one clear objective for each session so people are clear about what they should be focusing on.
You can also let the participants decide what they’d like to discuss. This, however, still needs to be determined before the sessions begin to avoid confusion and chaos. You might suggest a few possible topics and let people vote on them.
4. HAVE A POST-SESSION RECAP
If you want breakout sessions to be constructive, team building exercises, it’s important to summarize what was accomplished. One way to do this is to get everyone together after the sessions and share their results. This should be done in a way that recognizes as many ideas as possible so people feel that their contributions are appreciated. One or two people from each group can share the main points and take questions and comments from the audience.
5. KEEP THE IDEAS FLOWING
After the breakout sessions, it’s helpful to discuss future possibilities for promising ideas. This way, the sessions don’t feel like a disconnected exercise but the start of an open-ended process. Encourage participants to follow up on these discussions after the conference. This can be done on an individual basis or by setting up formal online groups on social media sites or on a discussion forum connected to the conference. The latter is helpful for facilitating conference networking and for staying in touch with participants for future events.
Conference breakout sessions can be stimulating and team building activities that nurture useful ideas and bring people together. If you want these sessions to yield the best possible results, make sure you put sufficient planning into them. Over time, you can finetune your approach and learn how to create even more fruitful breakout sessions.
Unique Team Building will help you plan effective conference breakout sessions as well as other team-building strategies. For more information, contact us.