April 20, 2018
By Mansi Soni

Breakouts are one of the most powerful vehicles for engaging participants at business meetings and conferences. A common pitfall is turning them into mini-keynotes and missing out on the opportunity to provide targeted and truly interactive content for your audience.

In this blog, we’ll explore strategies for designing effective and interactive breakouts.

Two popular formats for breakouts are:

  • Breakout sessions: This format is generally used for conferences or sales rallies and offers participants an opportunity to delve deep and explore a topic of interest.
  • Breakout groups: Pairs, trios or small groups of 4-12 participants work together to brainstorm, complete a business exercise or analyse a specific business issue. Breakout groups are also used for skill practice during training and development programmes as well as projects during team building sessions.


Follow these tips if you want to plan better breakouts at your next meeting or conference:

1. Crowdsource the content. 
Experts have different opinions about whether crowdsourcing is best before or at the start of meetings, conferences, or breakout sessions. It makes sense to crowdsource ahead of time as content can then be adequately researched and prepared. On the other hand, Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work prefers on-the-spot crowdsourcing as it ensures that the content reflects issues that are most relevant to delegates on the day of the meeting or conference.
In the end, it is advisable to use the approach that best fits the audience and meeting.

2. Kick off with a session starter. 
Give participants an opportunity to identify specific questions, issues and challenges. Session starters will ensure that you begin on time and immediately reassure participants that the content will be relevant and targeted.

3. Begin with a briefing to set the context, communicate data and convey information that is relevant to the topic.
You can take the default route with mini-keynotes or presentations, but don’t forget the variety of presentation formats out there to explore. Try interactive panels, game show formats, board games and mini-simulations. Take participants outdoors if appropriate. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

4. Provide clear instructions for breakout group exercises or activities.
For meetings, assign specific topics or cases to each group and allow enough time to generate solutions. To keep breakout groups on track:

> Appoint a group leader to guide the group through the task or exercise and keep the discussion on a topic, with a timekeeper and a spokesperson to report back with results.

> Give the groups time to review instructions and group leaders an opportunity to ask questions to clarify anything that is confusing or unclear.

> Identify the timeframe that has been allocated.

> Ask the timekeepers to give signals to the group at regular intervals to indicate how much time is left. Check in with the facilitator at the 5-minute mark to request more time if required.

> Debrief the experience.

5. Provide an opportunity for questions.

6. Use an upbeat and interactive activity for review or recap. (Optional)

7. Re-group into session starter pairs, trios or groups. Give participants a chance to re-visit the issues identified during the session starter and apply key insights from the breakout session to generate solutions. (Trading identified issues between groups also works effectively.)

8. Summarise highlights and identify next steps.
The most effective approach is to get participants to create the summaries and identify how they intend to apply what they have learned or use the solutions generated when they return to work.


Experiment with a variety of venues, breakout formats and approaches for debriefs. Your content will be more engaging, and participants will benefit from a more interactive experience.

Mansi Soni, Assistant Team Lead, Content Marketing, Cvent

Mansi Soni

Mansi is part of the content marketing team at Cvent. She has 7+ years of experience in developing content for the travel and hospitality industry and leads the content production team for the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions. When not researching new topics for writing, she can be found making glass paintings, trying new ice cream flavours or playing family games.

Subscribe to our newsletter