What is a breakout session? [+ How To Plan Your Own]

After attending many meetings, I can definitely say that sometimes I am overwhelmed. While enjoying the content discussed, I may feel tired and want a break to decompress before I concentrate on absorbing the information again.

I am sure that I am not alone with these feelings, that many of us want to absorb all that we can while still having the opportunity to temporarily separate and let our minds wander.

What we are looking for is a breakout session where the meeting hosts understand and consider the need to take a break and specifically make time for it. This post explains what a breakout session is, how to schedule a successful session, and introduces ideas to incorporate into your next meeting.

What is a breakout session?

Breakout meetings, sometimes referred to as breakout meetings, are small, planned sections of larger agendas that allow attendees to share and decompress with others.

These sessions are less structured than general briefing sessions and usually allow attendees to participate rather than just sit in the audience and listen. These sessions can relate to the entire content of the meeting, but they can also focus on unrelated topics.

Breakout sessions can take place in both face-to-face and virtual meetings. The former usually send participants to different areas of a conference venue, and the latter use breakout room functions typical of virtual conference tools. These sessions are especially important in virtual meetings that already have an element of built-in separation, as the participants are in their respective locations.

Below are some ideas that you can use to incorporate engaging breakout sessions into your upcoming meetings.

Breakout Session Ideas

There are several breakout sessions that you can schedule for, such as: For example, those that are directly related to meeting content and others that are entertaining and involve the participants playing with each other.

Lightning talks

Lightning talks are a great way to break up meeting sessions. They are short so that more than one person can attend, and a moderator will set aside a certain amount of time to give short presentations on a topic of their choice that relates to the entire content of the meeting.

However, Lightning Conversations can also be customized so that moderators can present themselves on any topic they are passionate about. This allows participants to learn more about each other and let their thoughts wander elsewhere before concentrating on meetings again.

Speed ​​networking

Speed ​​Networking Breakout Sessions allow attendees to meet and make professional connections. You can split people up, set expectations, and instruct participants to spend a certain amount of time talking to one person and switch to another person once the time is up.


Games can help participants relax and relieve stress, especially if they are interactive, and can encourage engagement with others. These meetings are different from the other ideas on this list in that they are less related to the content of meetings than others.

During face-to-face meetings, you can organize bingo games, bring people together to solve puzzles, or even play charades. Virtual games are also possible.

Goal setting meetings

Goal setting sessions are great because they can encourage attendees to delve into meeting content in a relaxed environment where they can have conversations with others and express their thoughts. You can assign a moderator to each breakout room who can initiate a conversation about the content of the general meeting and encourage attendees to relate the content to their wishes.

For example, suppose your larger meeting is focused on introducing a new company-wide workflow. In this case, the participants in these sessions can set goals that will define what they want to achieve with the new strategy in the next year.

Ask me about something (AMA) sessions

AMA sessions are a great breakout idea, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to answer all of the questions.

Participants can be divided into different rooms and groups and ask questions or express their thoughts about what happened during the meeting. An experienced moderator can be there to answer them.

Outdoor activities

Outdoor activities are best for face-to-face meetings, where groups of attendees can go outside together. They can be less content-oriented and involve something like a scavenger hunt, but general breakout sessions can also be held outdoors to allow attendees to change scenes.

However, if you use an outdoor session during a virtual meeting, you can encourage attendees to log off for a few minutes, go outside and tell the group about something they saw while out there, or to share a photo of them An object that you asked them to find and identify outside.

Open the microphone session

Open microphones are always exciting and can be great for encouraging engagement and giving attendees a moment to have fun and learn about their peers. Open microphones can focus on the content of the meeting, e.g. E.g. service employees exchange customer stories or are not in contact with each other and the participants stand up and share a hidden talent.

Drop-in discussions

Drop-in discussions are a great idea as you can schedule several different sessions for attendees to choose from. They are also a low pressure format for conversation and networking. People can navigate to a room where the content is related to their interest and even pop in to multiple sessions if they can’t decide.

While this is not an exhaustive list of ideas, they can certainly be used to create and design engaging breakout sessions for your next meeting.

Examples of breakout sessions

Below are some real-life examples of breakout sessions that can serve as additional inspiration for your planning.

Nonprofit Leadership Center

The Nonprofit Leadership Center is an organization that supports other nonprofit organizations. An annual executive conference is held here that includes multiple breakout sessions led by industry leaders from which attendees can choose.

In a breakout session of the 2020 conference, Courageous Conversations: Understanding and Confronting Unconscious Prejudice with Margarita Sarmiento, it was discussed how to create work environments that are inclusive and positive for everyone in which they can participate. The breakout session related to the overall theme of the conference, which was about leading courageously.

Building on our dynamism (BOOM)

Mount Holyoke College hosts an annual diversity conference called “Building On Our Momentum,” which encourages community members to attend events and learn more about diversity, justice, and inclusion in live conversation and recorded content.

The BOOM 2021 conference includes various breakout sessions to help attendees grapple with content in smaller groups and get away from important topics that they may learn about.

One of the sessions, Tuesday Crafternoon: Zines, encourages attendees to get creative and create a zine while learning about its history and uses in marginalized communities.


INBOUND is HubSpot’s annual marketing conference that has a wide variety of options, including breakout sessions. During these sessions, attendees can decompress, delve further into content, and connect with other attendees.

Meetup: Black at INBOUND, an INBOUND 2020 breakout session, created a safe space for Black attendees to meet other professionals, network and discuss interesting topics.

Breakout session template

Given the benefits they can offer, it is important to understand how to plan and run a successful breakout session. Let’s go over some tips.

1. Set the specified time frames.

Because breakout sessions are specific periods of time between main meeting sessions, it is important to establish specific time frames in which to take place. Make a note of the activity of the session, how long it will last, and try to stick to this schedule.

2. Define session goals.

Breakout sessions designed specifically for decompressing attendees are great. Regardless of the intent, however, it’s important to set goals so participants know what to expect.

Maybe it’s just networking and having conversations, but it could also be outlining personal goals. Letting people know what to expect can help ensure that these sessions stay focused and that attendees can get everything done within the time frame they want.

3. Design seating to complement the breakout format.

This tip is more related to face-to-face meetings, but it’s important nonetheless. It is important to create seating arrangements and meeting rooms that complement and facilitate meeting intent.

For example, a round table room would not be conducive to a speed networking session in which two people are discussing with each other. Understand what you want attendees to achieve during the decision and design a meeting room accordingly.

4. Use the correct equipment.

Using the right equipment is relevant for both face-to-face and virtual breakout sessions as you want to make sure you have everything you will need upfront. For example, suppose you are running a breakout session game. In this case, you want to make sure that you have all the necessary materials to run the session smoothly, such as B. Enough parts for all participants and printable instructions to refer to during the game.

Proper equipment is also important as these sessions are designed to help people decompress. So you don’t want people to be waiting or stressed about what’s going on, especially with virtual events.

All in all, breakout sessions are valuable aspects of meetings, both virtual and face-to-face. They give attendees an opportunity to connect with other attendees, think deeply about meeting content, and generally have fun and engaging conversations.

Use the tips on this list when planning your next meeting and you will likely get feedback from attendees that the sessions were fun, exciting and inspired them to attend your next event.

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