Breaking Down: Breakout Sessions

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What is a Breakout Session?

A breakout session, also known as a breakout meeting or workshop session, is generally a workshop, discussion, or presentation on a specific topic that serves as a portion of the agenda of a larger program, such as a seminar, conference or convention.

 

How do Breakout Sessions Work?

Breakout sessions come in many shapes and forms, but their one unifying characteristic is that they are relatively short sessions (as compared to the greater agenda) in which small groups of conference or convention attendees meet to discuss or learn about relevant topics relating to the greater theme of the larger or main program. Generally, breakout sessions occur simultaneously, with all attendees participating in a small group for a designated period of time before returning to the larger group. As such, breakout sessions require some method of breaking up the larger group attendees into smaller groups with an objective - whether it be the completion of an activity, an opportunity to discuss a topic or the call to brainstorm.

 

Are there Different Types of Breakouts?

Well-planned programs have an overarching theme to which all agenda items be they scheduled talks, activities, or perhaps a keynote speech are geared to discuss or elaborate. Breakout sessions offer the program attendees another opportunity to discuss, reflect or act upon those themes in a more intimate or specialized setting. Breakout sessions may be offered to speak to specific areas of interest or to delve deeper into a certain topic that relates back to the program theme. Breakout sessions can also be organized by skill level (such as beginners vs. advanced) or by role or company positions to better speak to the group.

 

Benefits of Breakout Sessions?

Breakout sessions also offer a way for presenters and meeting coordinators to literally "break up" the agenda productively and breathe life into the program. While meals and short breaks are a must for programs that span more than a few hours, breakout sessions can offer attendees an active and productive chance to shift from passive listening and learning, which can aid in prolonging their attention span. In a larger program with a bigger audience, the primary benefit of breakout sessions is that they serve as an opportunity for all program attendees to participate more actively. Many large-scale program agendas are dominated by a series of presentations during which the attendees are merely passive audience members.

 

Most Common Breakout Session Mistakes?

While planned breakout sessions can greatly benefit a larger program, more often than not, breakout sessions suffer from the most common breakout mistake: an unclear objective. All too often a breakout session is scheduled to break the monotony of a program without giving clear instruction to participants as to what the objective of the breakout actually is. Supplying guests with simple instructions, a discussion outline or list of questions will aid in the process. Without a clear objective, you can count on aimless discussions among attendees and an overall waste of precious time.

 

Photo Credit: Alejandro Escamilla via www.unsplash.com, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/