Breakout Sessions: The Ultimate 2022 Guide

immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated November 17 2021
Breakout Sessions
immanuel vinikas headshot
Immanuel Vinikas
Updated November 17 2021

Remote meetings and collaboration are part of many people’s daily reality. Several surveys have shown that productivity, employee happiness, and other business performance metrics have increased in remote or hybrid business models. So, there is little to no reason to believe that remote collaboration will disappear anytime soon. Pandemic or no pandemic. But how can we make a successful formula even better? How can we increase the productivity, attendee participation, and effectiveness of a meeting? Especially in the case of larger meetings? Enter breakout sessions. Learn all about them and how to use them to great effect, in this latest Kaltura blog post.



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What Is a Breakout Session?

A breakout session is a group collaboration method where a large group of people who have gathered around a common topic temporarily “break out” into several smaller groups to enable more intimate or specialized collaboration and greater participation on a sub-topic. These smaller groups can then discuss questions, brainstorm solutions, share and learn new information or skills, and explore ideas more organically.


The breakout sessions may then return to the larger group to present and discuss their individual work to the advancement of the main topic.


breakout session


Why You Should Leverage Breakout Sessions [Benefits]?

Breakout sessions solve several issues that come with larger meetings with many participants. The biggest advantage of breakout sessions is that they allow all attendees to participate more actively in the discussion. This means that breakout sessions can also be used as a strategy to increase attendee engagement. The sessions will provide participants with an active break from passively attending the main meeting, keynote, or another type of presentation.


You could divide your participants at random into breakout sessions, or you could create focus groups, based on expertise or other similarities among participants. These focus groups can then address specific topics from their shared interest expertise that will benefit the larger group. Breakout sessions can also be used to divide your participants according to experience skill level (e.g., beginner to advanced) or any other parameter that makes sense within your main theme or within your wider group of participants.


Another reason to include breakout sessions in your meeting or event is to provide targeted content that is only relevant to a portion of your attendees.


Breakout session - collaboration and engagement


How Do Breakout Sessions Work?

Breakout sessions can be used to elevate your online meetings, virtual classrooms, or virtual events. That’s also why the better online meeting and collaboration platforms (including Kaltura Meetings, Kaltura Virtual Classrooms, and Kaltura Virtual Events) offer breakout sessions as an integrated feature.


With Kaltura, launching a breakout session is as simple as selecting the ‘Breakout’ feature from your tools. You can then click ‘Auto-Assign’ to randomly distribute your participants across various breakout rooms, or you can conveniently drag and drop your participants in the breakout room of your choice. You can also add or remove rooms and specify a time limit. Hitting the ‘Breakout’ button then starts the breakout session. The participants are automatically redirected from the general meeting session to their breakout room, a separate virtual meeting space.


In the breakout rooms, the participants dispose of collaboration tools such as digital whiteboards and shared note-taking, screen sharing, file upload, and access YouTube videos. The meeting host has several management tools at his disposal. He or she can record the breakout sessions, join breakout rooms, reassign participants to other breakout rooms, broadcast messages or files to the breakout rooms, or end the breakout session before the time limit expires.




How To Plan the Perfect Breakout Session?

The flip side to breakout sessions is that they can be a total waste of time if not done right. So here are a few best practices to help you avoid unnecessary breakouts with pointless discussions and participants wondering why they got stuck in this meeting room. You can use these best practices as a template for your own breakout sessions.


Determine and communicate a clear objective for the breakout session.

This is the first and most important step. Stipulate what you want the participants to achieve by the end of the session. Depending on your case, you could also communicate the ‘why’ and ‘how’. When all participants enter the breakout room knowing exactly what to do, they’ll feel more comfortable and empowered to collaborate and reach the session goals.


Set the time.

Breakout sessions are usually short, say 30 minutes. But it depends on your case. So, assess how much time your participants will need to reach the objectives of the session. Make sure you won’t use necessary time of your main meeting and you don’t overlap with other sessions. Don’t forget to communicate the time limit to the participants.


Assign Participants to breakout rooms in advance.

If you use Kaltura and your participants can be assigned randomly, then you’re in luck. All it takes is a quick click on the Auto-Assign button and the software evenly distributes the participants among the number of rooms you opened.


If you plan on working with focus groups (according to shared characteristics, interests, or expertise), you’ll have to manually assign participants to breakout rooms. With Kaltura solutions you can do this ahead of your event or meeting, so you won’t waste precious meeting time.


Prepare Breakout session materials in advance.

Another thing you can do ahead of the meeting is to add session materials, such as media playlists, files, and digital whiteboards, to the breakout rooms. It saves time and keeps participants engaged when they enter their breakout room and everything they need to reach their goals is already present in the room.


video conferencing at home and working from home


Breakout Session Examples and Ideas

Breakout sessions in meetings, events, or virtual classrooms can take on many forms. Here are a few ideas and examples to help you set up engaging, productive, and fun breakout sessions.


… when your objective is to collaborate

This is where breakout sessions shine. You can set up think tank or mind map sessions to facilitate solutions-focused discussions. Create clear instructions based on questions that need to be answered or goals that need to be met. The participants can deliver the output in the form of a digital whiteboard, shared notes, or a slide deck.


Example: Mount Holyoke College launched several breakout sessions during its 2021 BOOM Conference, one of which was called Tuesday Crafternoon: Zines. In this breakout, participants were tasked with creating a zine within the main theme of diversity.


… when your objective is to learn something

Consider lightning talks, short presentations of just a few minutes long. These talks touch on topics related to the main theme of the event but can also be about something unrelated that the host is passionate about. Lightning talks can be accompanied and timed by a deck of slides (also known as pechakucha). You can also build your breakout around Q&A or AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions. Another idea is to host one-on-one mentoring sessions in breakout rooms.


Example: The Society for American Archaeology set up Teaching Slam breakout sessions, challenging presenters to teach one archaeological concept in under three minutes using one slide and one prop.


… when your objective is to have fun

Breakout sessions can be a great tool to take a break from all the seriousness and inject a bit of fun into your event. Prepare the breakout rooms in advance to host virtual games. Many games translate perfectly to an online environment, such as bingo, Pictionary, taboo, charades, trivia quizzes (with a host), or even full-blown virtual escape rooms.


… when your objective is to take a breather

Fun can take other forms than games. You can mix things up a little with an open-mic session for storytelling or other hidden talents among your participants. You can host workshops that are unrelated to the main theme of the event, like a yoga session, a painting or writing workshop, or even a cooking class.


Example: During the 2020 edition of their annual virtual event MarTechFest Dial Up, MarTech Alliance hosted workout and meditation sessions to help attendees keep a fresh head. As the event took place during a time of heavy lockdown restrictions, these breakout sessions yielded tremendous success. Out-of-the-box thinking and sensitivity to participants’ needs can help you come up with great breakout session ideas.


… when your objective is to network

How about a round of speed networking. Open enough rooms to allow for one-on-one breakouts and have participants sit and talk to another participant for a set amount of time, before moving on. Make it clear that it’s about building professional connections and that the participants only have a limited amount of time.


Breakout Sessions done right… with Kaltura!

At Kaltura, we understand the value of breakout sessions. They enable you to better engage your participants, keep things fresh, create focus groups or workshops, and increase collaboration in larger groups of attendants. That’s why we have breakout functionality integrated into our solutions, Kaltura Meetings, Kaltura Virtual Events, and Kaltura Virtual Classrooms.


The Kaltura breakout rooms are conveniently activated with a single click during your meeting or event, and you can prepare and brand them ahead of time to ensure a smooth flowing event with minimal interruptions.


Our virtual breakout rooms come equipped with:

  • camera-based face-to-face interaction
  • screen sharing
  • text-based chat
  • digital whiteboards
  • shared note taking
  • multimedia playlists (PDFs, videos, PowerPoint, …)


Dividing your attendees into breakout rooms is easy. You can arrange them randomly with the click of a single button in the breakout rooms manager window. For a more thought-out arrangement, you can simply drag and drop your attendees into the desired breakout room. You can do this during the event, or you can arrange it ahead of time. You can also add as many rooms as you need.


As a host, you also have plenty of moderation features. You can set a time limit, or you can automatically call back all attendees simultaneously to the general space with the click of a button. You can broadcast messages, files, or media in each room. You can drop in and out of rooms as you please or you can go where you are needed with the “Call Host” function for participants.


Kaltura’s robust breakout session feature is built to host any type of breakout session you can think of. Watch the video above to see it in action or try the breakout feature for yourself with a free trial for Kaltura Virtual Classroom or Kaltura Meetings.