“We want longer in the breakouts!”

“I loved talking through the learning points”

“It’s so nice to connect more deeply with just a few people”

These are just some of the comments we get using breakout rooms during virtual meetings – forming smaller groups of people from your main session who can then have a deeper discussion about specific content.

red10‘s Piers Carter explains how breakouts can really help, explaining key ways we’ve discovered to really enhance the process.

Kit Bag of Tools

If you find this article useful, have you seen our Free Facilitator’s Kit for Virtual Meetings ?

Free Facilitator’s Kit for Virtual Meetings

This article is one of the Behaviours in our 3Bs Virtual Kit – Basics, Behaviours and Bag of Tools to help leaders facilitate great virtual meetings. There are advanced tools that you may be interested in too, such as Breakout Rooms and Annotations for prioritizing

Pose & Paste

Asking groups to discuss specific points to bring back use focused and generates better content. I will pose the question for the discussion in the main room, paste it into the main room chat and then ask people co copy it to paste into their breakout room chat which means it is visible to everyone.

With longer of more complex instructions or questions, providing an instruction document or template via the main room chatbox gives people a comprehensive set of instructions/topics to follow.

Ask your breakout room participants to share screens and co-create a whiteboard or fill in a template document they can then return to the main room and share.

Before They Go

There will be some announcements to make.

Here’s a helpful collection:

  • (Most platforms) – A pop-up box will invite you to go to your Breakout Room. You won’t travel there until you click on it.
  • (Most Platforms) Once you are in the breakout, you can still access the chat from the meeting so far. From the point you form the breakout, though, anything new in the chatbox will only be seen by your breakout group. If you need anything from it before your return to the main room, please copy it before you leave.
  • (Currently Zoom only) – In the breakout room, you will find an option to call me for help – please feel free to use it
  • (Most platforms) You can always come back to the main room if you need me.
    If I’m not here, please wait as I won’t be long – I will just be spinning round breakouts to check on them.
  • (Zoom Only) When I call you back, a timer will appear with the option to return early. You can keep going until the last second if you wish – the system will then automatically bring you back.

Invite specific contribution

On returning to the main room it is possible some people are reluctant to speak up. Most platforms allow you to see who is assigned to which breakout room, use this to say;

“So, breakout room 1, (list names) please could you give is a summary of what you discussed”

Talk & Type

Another way to encourage sharing of information is to invite the summary from the breakout rooms via two channels:

  • Person 1 explains verbally what they discussed
    (possibly also displaying a document or whiteboard they created)

whilst

  • Person 2 (another member of the same group) types a summary of what person 1 is saying in the group chat. This also allows you to capture the chat for reference after the meeting, and may also allow questions in the chat that person 2 can respond to.

Re-allocate or stay the same?

If using multiple breakout sessions, decide if you want to keep groups the same or reallocate – both have advantages, if people are working on specific content through the session keeping the groups the same can be useful. Reallocation can also change things up and help people connect with new faces.

One thing to note:

  • It’s quick to randomly assign to breakouts.
  • To manually choose who is in which room, you may need to plan a break beforehand to give you time to code assignments.

Embed at the End in Pairs

Towards the end of a session, putting people in breakout pairs to discuss insights and actions can help embed the learning or action points from a successful meeting.

Timer/Scribe … Action

Asking groups to appoint roles really helps with efficiency. The key ones are someone to keep an eye on time, someone to take notes and someone to drive the activity as a mini chair.

Things your mum never told you

There are a few advanced glitches and things which happen that no one ever mentions.

  • Platforms and their Quirks

At the time of writing, only two of the major platforms provide Breakout Rooms – BlueJeans® and Zoom®.

In BlueJeans – we’ve frequently found people losing audio or video when moving between rooms. Dropping out of BlueJeans and re-joining seems to sort it – warn people beforehand.

In Zoom – we’ve not seen any tech issues so far with Zoom. Breakout Rooms are not switched on by default – switch them on in your account settings.

  • Lost in the internet
    On some platforms it is the journey from the main room to the breakout when people get lost.

Inform people ahead of time that if they get lost or need to be in/out of the meeting, simply drop out of the meeting and re-join so you can reallocate them from the main room.

  • 1 person … 2 devices – If people are having audio or video problems they sometimes dial in with a computer and a phone – when allocating breakouts be sure to assign their video and audio feeds to the same room.
  • 1 device … many people – Sometimes groups of people join on the same computer. Remember to workout breakout room numbers keeping the group of 4 on the same screen in mind – they could be 1 room of their own.

Too much of a good thing

And finally, yes, breakout rooms are excellent and get people talking; people love the change of pace but it is possible to do them too often.

Two breakouts on any 90 minutes is about enough. What we are learning about virtual meetings and trainings is variety helps to maintain attention and focus.

Take a look at our other support guides for running powerful, engaging virtual meetings.