How To Plan Conference Breakout Sessions

A lot of planning and detail can go into organising a successful conference. No matter what the ultimate goals of the conference are, you need to clearly map out and define the conference program, the duration of the conference, who the guest speakers are going to be and what activities will be involved in the conference as a whole.

Conference breakout sessions are an important aspect of any successful conference and this article is going to be taking a look at breakout sessions and how best to plan for them.

What Are Conference Breakout Sessions?

Conferences can be made up of many components and no two conferences are exactly the same. Something that’s a common theme at many conferences is conference breakout sessions.

What is a breakout session exactly?

They are separate activities or events that form a part of the overall conference structure. Breakout sessions promote audience engagement and may include things like smaller workshops related to the conference, skills training, private mentoring, brainstorming sessions and much more.

These activities see portions of the conference attendees breaking off into smaller groups to engage in a variety of activities that come under the overall conference agenda. Breakout sessions could be one-on-one or in groups of up to 50 people interacting in a certain activity related to the conference theme.

These sessions are generally quite short, ranging from 30 minutes to one hour. They are also intended to break up the overall conference and keep everyone’s attention more engaged.

If you’re planning on hosting a successful conference, you’ll likely want to include breakout sessions in the program. Professional conference organisers can help you with this but here are a few tips and ideas for planning conference breakout sessions. These sessions could make or break your conference.

Organise Pre-Event Surveys

A successful conference often involves planning the event early, well out from the proposed start date. This not only gives you more time to get things right, but it also enables you some leeway to seek out feedback. This includes feedback for breakout sessions.

You could put together a simple multiple choice questionnaire, where you list your proposed ideas for breakout sessions and have people select the top two or three they are most interested in. After completion of the survey, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what breakout sessions you should include and which ones you should scrap for lack of interest.

Now, you’ll also be in a position to start organising those sessions by approaching the right speakers, trainers or whatever you need to host a breakout session.

Have Guests Register For Breakout Sessions Early

Once you’re firm on what breakout sessions you are going to include and have made the necessary arrangements to ensure those sessions can go ahead at the conference, have guests register for these sessions prior to the conference start date.

Rather than leaving registration until the conference begins, where breakout session attendance could end up being disappointing, you will have well-attended, thriving and vibrant breakout sessions during the conference.

Another advantage of early registration is it still gives you the option to cull certain sessions if they prove to be unpopular, despite the survey you did earlier to gauge initial interest.

Also, you’ll want to plan for extra attendees to a breakout session once the conference starts, as not everyone who is interested will register early. Many will likely make a spur-of-the-moment decision during the conference, so be prepared with things like extra seating and available space.

Define the Goals Of Each Breakout Session

In order to organise effective, informative and engaging breakout sessions, you first need to define the ultimate goal of each individual breakout session. For example, if the goal of the session is to increase engagement, then you’ll want to organise a breakout that’s interactive in nature. Other types of sessions, such as the sharing of information, may be better served by a presentation style of breakout session.

Define the goal of each breakout session and then create a format that will best achieve the desired outcome.

Timing Of Breakouts Is Important

You’ll need to think about timing for your breakout events so the overall conference program remains on schedule. However, there is more to consider when it comes to timing regarding these sessions.

For example, if you time a session too early in the day, you might be disappointed with very low attendance. Likewise, breakout sessions that are scheduled for late in the day could experience the same outcome, with many people perhaps too tired to attend. Those that do attend a late session might be more focused on other things and may not be truly engaged.

Mid-morning and mid-afternoon sessions tend to work best for daytime conferences.

Don’t Plan Too Many Breakout Sessions

Too many sessions in the schedule can look confusing. It may also lead to low attendance if everyone’s attention is divided among a plethora of breakout sessions and activities. Too many sessions can also lead to attendee burnout and possibly burnout for event organisers as well.

Sometimes during a conference, attendees simply need a break from proceedings rather than attending a breakout session, so scheduling breaks is just as important when organising your conference program.

Enlist the Help Of Professional Event Planners

To have the best chance of hosting a successful conference and to seek assistance in planning and organising your breakout sessions, it’s a wise idea to enlist the help of professional event planners and event management services. Teaming up with a professional company will not only lighten the load on you and your team, but your event planners will also come up with many creative and helpful ideas that will elevate your conference and breakouts to another level.

The Takeaway

Breakout sessions can be a vital component in the success of any conference, so it’s wise to include at least a few breakout sessions on each day of the conference. Breakout sessions keep your audience more engaged and provide an opportunity to clearly convey any important messages you wish to get across.

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