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How to Build and Utilize an Effective Virtual Breakout Space

Breakout spaces are useful to have at live events, and they’re equally useful at virtual events too. By using virtual breakout spaces, you can encourage attendee participation and send engagement levels soaring, increasing the overall success of your event.

Why Your Virtual Event Needs Breakout Spaces

Given that events are all about bringing people together, what’s the point of having breakout spaces for smaller groups?

At live events, breakout spaces are important because they facilitate small-group interactions. Breakout spaces provide room for group discussions and collaboration while minimizing outside distractions. At live events, they can also be spaces where people can eat or relax in a quiet spot away from the main event areas.

Breakout spaces are also important at virtual events, whether attendees are gathering on a 2D platform or in a 3D virtual venue. Virtual breakout spaces are essential for facilitating and encouraging small-group interactions. This is particularly important at virtual events because these interactions help boost engagement.

At virtual events, breakout spaces are important for technical reasons too. Having multiple people talking over each other can cause unpleasant sound issues for other listeners. Some people may also experience audio delays, which may make it difficult to understand what people are saying. These issues are less likely to occur in a virtual breakout space. With fewer people in the group, there’s less chance that multiple people will try to speak at once.

How to Effectively Use Breakout Spaces at Virtual Events

Breakout spaces are typically used somewhat differently at virtual events than at in-person ones. At live events, breakout spaces are used in two different ways. One way is for breakout sessions, which are semi-structured activities that are part of the event agenda. The second is that they can be used as multipurpose spaces for informal and unstructured activities that aren’t part of the agenda.

At virtual events, breakout spaces are almost always used for specific event activities. For virtual events, these spaces are most effective when used for structured activities with defined goals.

It’s also important to be mindful of group sizes when deciding how to use breakout spaces at a virtual event. If the group is too small, it’s harder to get enough input for the session to be useful. If the group is too large, it’s harder to ensure everyone gets a chance to take part.

Ideal group size also depends somewhat on the purpose of the session. Smaller groups of four to six people are best for most virtual breakout sessions. But larger groups are okay if the session doesn’t involve a lot of back-and-forth discussion or collaborative work.

1. Lightning Talks

A virtual event can let you showcase a wide range of industry topics and voices. Lightning talks—which last only 5 or 10 minutes each—are a great way to hear from lots of people. And you can schedule several talks without your event agenda getting overwhelmingly packed. Plus, scheduling lightning talks in breakout spaces lets you run multiple talks at once, and this format works with any group size.

A speaking opportunity can also be an attractive addition to sponsorship packages. Sponsors will appreciate the chance to speak directly to your audience, and you can add extra event content without having to budget for it.

2. Campfire Chat/Roundtable

Both the campfire chat and the roundtable format focus on small group discussions. The roundtable is a more formal and goal-oriented option, while the campfire chat is casual and intimate. Campfire chats can center around either personal or professional subjects. They’re often used as icebreakers or “getting to know you” sessions.

A roundtable discussion is often used as accompaniment to a lecture or conference session. After the initial lecture, the main group splits up into multiple smaller groups. Those groups then head off, and each spends the breakout session discussing one particular aspect of the lecture. This format is especially useful for a virtual breakout space because it’s a highly structured format that encourages participation from every member of the group.

3. Brainstorming/Collaborative Discussion

Breakout spaces are generally the best option when your goal is to facilitate group collaboration that has a specific end goal. This format is similar to the roundtable but is more casual and less structured. However, because it’s unstructured, this kind of group interaction can get chaotic if the group is too large. It’s best to stick with smaller groups to ensure people can work together effectively.

4. Games and Activities

Icebreaker games, networking activities, and team-building exercises are all suitable for a virtual breakout space. All these activities can be modified to accommodate most group sizes. And there’s a wide range of options in all three categories that work well for virtual formats. For best results, go for activities that provide lots of opportunities for interaction.

5. Workshops and Demonstrations

This format is suitable for groups of most sizes, as it’s less about collaboration and more about teaching or instruction. It’s also suitable for a lunch-and-learn type of session. These sessions are perfect for event attendees who prefer a working lunch rather than taking a break. The virtual format lends itself particularly well to this kind of session, since every attendee gets the same unobstructed view of the demonstration material!

virtual breakout space

Virtual Breakout Spaces Are an Effective Engagement Strategy

Keeping engagement high is one of the biggest challenges for a virtual event. Having virtual breakout spaces at an event is an effective way to meet that challenge. The small-group interactions attendees enjoy in a virtual breakout space are perfect to help them stay engaged and keep motivation high throughout the event.

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