10 Brilliant Breakout Sessions Ideas to Drive Attendee Engagement

April 5, 2023
Meisha Bochicchio
Meisha Bochicchio
Senior Content Marketing Manager at Goldcast

In the modern world of event marketing, attendee attention is hard-won. But with nearly half of marketers believing engagement is THE biggest contributing factor to a successful event, you’ve got to do what you can to keep your audience switched on from beginning to end. That’s where a fresh approach to the classic breakout session comes in.

With the corporate events market set to reach $511 billion before 2030, there is a lot competing for your audience’s time and attention. Fortunately, a creative approach to planning your breakout sessions can help you stand out in a sea of competing event invitations while keeping your attendees 100% tuned into your event.

Ready to learn how it’s done? Let’s break out!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is a breakout session?
  • Breakout activities: The benefits of a well-planned session
  • 10 virtual breakout session ideas to win with attendees
  • How to plan a knockout breakout session (+ template!)

First, what exactly is a breakout session?

Breakout sessions are just what they sound like. These smaller and more intimate planned sessions are an important part of a larger event because they “break up” the main content and provide attendees with the chance to discuss event topics in a relaxed setting.

Usually, breakout sessions are fairly short, with a flexible, workshop-style structure and a small number of attendees in each group. But it has to be said, one of the best things about a breakout session is that there’s no one way to plan them.

Whether you want to encourage your attendees to network, problem-solve, learn a new skill, or even just chill for a bit — breakout sessions provide the perfect solution to keeping them engaged.

💡 Check out how easy it is to build binge-worthy breakout rooms in Goldcast

Breakout activities: The engagement-boosting benefits of a well-planned session

Event time is precious. And often, the pressure to fit everything in is real.

Whether your next event is virtual, in-person, or hybrid, here are a few of the reasons breakout sessions deserve a place on the agenda.

Attendee engagement is everything

Traditionally, many B2B events have taken a ‘sit back and listen’ approach. But as attendee engagement becomes increasingly crucial, event marketers are finding some seriously innovative ways to hold their audience’s attention for longer.

Breakout sessions provide an interactive element every attendee craves—a chance to move from passive listener to active participant. In a typical conference breakout session, attendees will discuss, share feedback, and actually engage with the event content you’ve worked so hard to curate and present.

👉🏻 Learn how the team at Falcon.io hit their virtual event engagement goals by embracing experience-driven polls, chat, and Q&A features.

Breakout sessions personalize the experience

According to data from McKinsey & Co., 71% of today’s consumers expect brands to know them on a personal level. And that’s even more true with B2B prospects.

But that kind of personalization is hard to achieve when you’ve got dozens or even hundreds of people in one room—especially in a virtual or hybrid event where there’s already an element of distance between you and your attendees.

With breakout sessions, you can choose who you group together in each room, as well as what it is that they’re solving, discussing, or learning about based on their specific challenges and interests.

Deep dives (and deep data insights) are valuable

By increasing engagement and average time spent in an event, you’ll also have access to rich attendee data. For B2B event pros operating within an account-based marketing framework, that’s a game-changer.

By giving attendees the time and space to dig deep into discussion topics, you can capture:

  • Who spent time in each of your sessions and for how long
  • What key pain points, motivations, or product questions were discussed
  • Future event content ideas your prospects care about

These deep, attendee-level insights can help you personalize the prospect and customer journey long after your event closes, leading to increased event ROI.

Your attendees want to meet each other

Did you know that next to educational purposes, the biggest reason attendees join events is simply to network?Since so many attendees choose an event based on the available networking opportunities, including a creative mix of breakout sessions is a great way to win them over.

And again, there’s no wrong or right way to use your breakouts to achieve that goal.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the latest and greatest breakout session ideas to help facilitate next-level networking opportunities.

10 virtual breakout session ideas to win with attendees

Clearly, breakout sessions rock. 🤘🏼But only if you do them right. Rather than sitting a bunch of people in a room (virtual or in-person), you’ll need to plan for optimal breakout session engagement using the perfect combination of theme, activities, and guidance.

So, first things first — let’s get the vibe right with some engagement-driving event breakout session ideas:

1) The roundtable

Best for: the brainiacs 🤓

As one of the most timeless examples of a stellar breakout session format, roundtables remain an excellent way to bring attendees together to exchange perspectives and challenge opinions.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Ensure an expert moderator is on-hand to keep the group discussion moving and help make sure everyone is heard.

2) The lunch-and-learn

Best for: the time-is-money folks ⏰

Struggling to fit an event breakout session into an already jam-packed agenda? A lunch-and-learn could be the way to go. This fun and relaxed breakout session appeals to both the attendees who just want a break and those happy to be part of an activity, workshop, or tutorial.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Be sure to make this one optional — no one wants hangry attendees!

3) The game station

Best for: the fun-seekers 🎲

One clear takeaway from the rise of virtual team events is that event gamification is a real crowd-pleaser. Whether it’s planning the ultimate escape room challenge or simply introducing some out-of-the-box icebreakers, if the goal of your breakout session is to plan a fun activity, gamification is gold.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Use a virtual event platform that offers next-level integrated gamification features.

4) The micro session

Best for: the specialists 💡

If you want to really personalize your event, micro sessions are a great way to split your attendees and laser-focus on a key topic area that each group cares about. These sessions are great for smaller groups and encourage participants to dive deep into a single area, which provides a ton of value to your attendees.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Plan ahead for how you’ll assign your attendees. You can base this on role, seniority, interest, etc.

5) The zen zone

Best for: the busy bees 🐝Events can get intense. One of the best ways to use your breakout sessions is to slow things down and make the moment worth remembering.

When the events team at Alyce created the format for their annual virtual event YOUniverse, they balanced expert-led data privacy deep-dive sessions with breakouts meant solely to delight, entertain, or just plain chillax.

Gift boxing, cooking, and meditation sessions were just some of the fun and refreshing breakout sessions on offer — and their attendees loved it!

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines with your breakout sessions. If attendees genuinely need a break instead of more content, give it to them!

6) The ‘ask me anything’

Best for: the inquisitive ones 👀

If you’re looking to keep it authentic and intimate, the ‘ask me anything’ or ‘AMA’ format is a great way to go with your virtual breakout sessions.

Whether it’s an industry expert peeling back the curtain on a particularly hot topic or attendees sharing candid open-mic experiences on a specific business challenge, this informal yet highly-productive breakout format can help deepen your relationship with your audience.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: AMA sessions are awesome, but they can be prone to veering off track. Make sure your moderator has some guiding questions on hand just in case.

7) The speed networking setup

Best for: the talkative types 🗣️

You already know virtual networking is a necessity. One way to maximize your networking numbers is to add an element of speed. The speed networking breakout session offers the chance for everyone to get to know each other quickly. And when they’re done, they can follow up on the convos they enjoyed most or plan a face-to-face meetup if they’re in the same area.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Do your background research pre-event to group the right attendees together.

8) The great debate

Best for: the critical-thinkers 🤔

Virtual and hybrid events allow for attendee interaction from across the globe. So put those diverse perspectives to use and set up a debate. Pick a slightly controversial (yet 100% relevant) topic, assign teams to each side of the argument, and let the debate begin! This can also be a fun team-building activity.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Use an ace moderator to get things started and keep things friendly.

9) The goal-setting session

Best for: the goal-getters 🤩

Freebies and swag bags are awesome event takeaways. But if you leave an event with a sense of purpose, plus clear steps for knowing what you want and how to get it, you know it’s been worthwhile.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: Goal-setting gets tricky — be sure to have a pro on hand to guide the discussion and get deep on what attendees really want to achieve.

10) The mentor moment

Best for: the future leaders 👑

Mentors are an incredible source of knowledge that most attendees simply don’t have access to day-to-day. Use your breakout session to create a truly meaningful experience where attendees can delve into the blockers they’re facing and get advice from leaders at the top of their game.

Event Marketer Pro Tip: For best results, keep headcount low — 1:1 sessions are ideal if possible!

How to plan a knockout breakout session (+ template!)

Now that you’re brimming with multiple breakout session ideas, it’s time to plan your breakout activities.

But with so many activities to choose from, it’s hard to know where to focus your energy. Here are a few simple planning rules to help make sure you nail it.

  • Involve attendees early: With pre-event polling, you can understand what your attendees want from a breakout session.
  • Select your topic beforehand: Once you know what your attendees want, think about which topics will best deliver on their goals.
  • Choose a format that suits the topic: If a topic is complex, a lunch and learn may be too informal. If a topic is light, a roundtable may be too intimate.
  • Time them strategically: Too early in the day, and you’ll get no-shows. Too late, and engagement will drop.
  • Prep attendees: Allow time for attendees to pre-register for their session of choice, prep any talking points or questions, and get excited!
  • Decide on a guide: We’ve all been there. A group session where either no one talks or everyone has too much to say. Prep speakers and moderators on how to handle conflict and encourage conversation.
  • Check your tech: Test-run your breakout sessions during your event tech check to make sure everything goes smoothly.
  • Decide how to split attendees: Pre-assigning small groups reduces day-of stress, but no-shows can still happen. If your platform can do it, try pre-assigning attendees for complex issues and use randomized selection for more relaxed sessions.

Make your next breakout session unmissable

In today’s noisy world of B2B events, your success is all in the engagement opportunities you offer. And where virtual breakout rooms are concerned, the possibilities for taking that experience to the next level are truly endless.

However, if you choose to utilize your breakout rooms, be sure you have the right team members in the right event roles, supported by the right event platform to help bring even the most out-of-the-box breakout sessions to life.

With Goldcast, you can create a custom pre-assigned breakout room that can be triggered manually at just the right moment or use our randomized breakout feature to connect attendees and kickstart conversations instantaneously.

Check out our Breakout Rooms Checklist below, and connect with our team to learn more about how Goldcast can support memorable virtual event experiences for your company!

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