Whether you’re planning a virtual or live event, breakout sessions offer attendees the opportunity to:

  • Develop skills or share knowledge
  • Discuss trending issues
  • Brainstorm solutions
  • Explore ideas in an informal format
  • Break up the overall event schedule
  • Connect with other attendees

The Benefits of Breakout Workshops

Though an event doesn’t need breakout workshops, there are benefits to offering them:

  • Improved attendee engagement
  • Time and space for deeper dives into relevant topics
  • Targeted content that’s of interest to a certain category of attendees
  • Content curated according to experience and skill levels (i.e., beginner and advanced)


How to Craft a Great Breakout Session

Breakout sessions should be related to the overall event theme. This will ensure the subject matter is interesting and appealing to attendees. Great breakout sessions require a greater level of engagement than the more passive conference components, such as the keynote and panel discussions. Each breakout session should have skilled facilitators who know how to lead sessions and engage participants.

Event hosts have the freedom to create a breakout session arrangement that meets their event goals and attendees’ interests. Workshops can be designed for groups of all sizes, whether the event is live or virtual. The following tips can help event organizers design the best breakout options for their event:

1. Conduct pre-event surveys to obtain input from attendees.

Ask attendees what experiences they’re interested in, then design the breakout sessions according to attendee expectations. Look for speakers, leaders, and facilitators to oversee the sessions. Use attendee data to craft track-specific, theme-specific, or freestyle breakout sessions. However you choose to design the breakout session, your attendees should feel the sessions added value to the event.


2. Choose breakout format.

First, determine the goals of the breakout session in terms of the overall event goals. Would you like to increase engagement? Drive attendance? An interactive breakout workshop may attract the right people and help drive engagement. Save the case studies, trend reports, and industry statistics for a presentation-style session. If you’d like the breakout session to give attendees the opportunity to unwind, craft participatory sessions that encourage casual conversations in a relaxed environment.

3. Ask guests to pre-register for breakout sessions.

Requiring attendees to pre-register will help hosts plan the necessary materials, space, and staff for the workshops. Polling attendees can also help identify less-popular options that should be adjusted or removed.

Even if you require pre-registration, some attendees may be interested in joining a session on the day of the event. Create a plan for unregistered attendees by preparing extra seats and materials, and providing a day-of registration option to fill empty seats. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Requiring pre-registration for breakout sessions comes with drawbacks. Pre-registered attendees may change their mind and leave empty seats, leading to a smaller audience. Give attendees the opportunity to sign up on a standby list to reduce the risk of empty seats.
  • Drop-in sessions, such as a morning networking cafe or afternoon free-write activity, can help break up an event and give guests a much-needed energy boost. Offer a combination of registration-required and open-door options to give attendees a nice balance.
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