Case Studies , B2G , Virtual Events

Getting the Most from Zoom’s Breakout Room Feature

Jenny Muchnikoff

Tired of fighting the limitations of virtual event platforms? Check out some tips for breakout rooms that work.

The Challenge

The Bethesda chapter of Young AFCEA was set to host its Winter IT Luncheon in March. This roundtable event would ordinarily bring more than a hundred people to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But as Coronavirus cases rose, so did the concerns of the client and the event managers. 

Rather than listen to a panel or keynote speaker, the Young AFCEA luncheon is designed to let Federal IT professionals connect with government-sector representatives in a setting where they can ask questions and engage with one another. Two government speakers are seated at each table, where a moderator facilitates the conversation with registered attendees and helps ensure a positive group dynamic. 

When it became apparent that hosting the luncheon in person was no longer an option, several important questions had to be addressed: Do we push the date of the event? How do we safely host a roundtable? Could a digital platform accommodate this type of event? How do we retain the momentum surrounding the event? 

The Solution

The Winter IT Luncheon was pushed until June and rebranded as the Virtual Summer IT Luncheon. The goal of the virtual event was to foster an intimate networking environment where attendees and speakers could break into groups. The organization needed a platform that would let the virtual luncheon function in the same way as an in-person roundtable.

The event managers wanted attendees to be strategically placed in rooms where they could discuss topics of interest, rather than being randomly dispersed. The best identified solution was Zoom for Government, utilizing the Breakout Rooms feature . 

Attendees pre-registered and selected a discussion topic of interest, such as cybersecurity, AI/ML, cloud and IT modernization, user experience, and workforce development. Rooms were pre-assigned based on the topic selected. Once the event started, event managers could click the breakout button, inviting the attendees to join their assigned rooms. Following the breakouts, attendees were pulled back into the main session for closing remarks. 

While Zoom for Government was chosen due to security reasons, the most basic Zoom accounts include the free Breakout Rooms feature which can be easily utilized for events. 

5 Tips For Your Breakout Room

Zoom Breakout Rooms is an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that allows larger in-person events to be recreated virtually in an impactful way. Use these tips to utilize Zoom Breakout Rooms and make your event a success: 

  • Ask attendees to turn on their video for the most interactive experience - It encourages participation and avoids users disengaging behind their screens.
  • Make breakout rooms on the larger side - By starting with more participants, the breakouts will settle into an ideal size as people drop off because of connection issues and scheduling conflicts. 
  • Plan the flow of the room - Have a moderator call on participants when it’s their turn to ask a question. There is no quicker way to kill a discussion than asking, “Does anyone have questions?” 
  • Conduct technical dry runs - Familiarize yourself with the program and the technology you’re going to be using. Practice ahead of time  with the speakers and moderators to make sure they can comfortably fulfill their roles. 
  • Decide how you want to break out the rooms - Decide if you want to assign participants to breakout rooms randomly or based on topic interest or other criteria. 

Lessons Learned 

While the overall experience was user-friendly for the event managers and attendees, there were a few snags. Attendees were pre-assigned to breakout sessions using the email addresses used to register for the event. This caused problems when some attendees logged into the event using a different email address or a phone number. Event managers had to manually invite them to their assigned breakout rooms. 

A potential solution would be increasing the pre-event messaging to attendees regarding this component, making it clear that they need to log in using the same email that was used in registration. 

Overall, problems were minimal and—once addressed - the event continued seamlessly.

Need more virtual event advice? Download our comprehensive virtual event checklist and our speaker's tips for virtual events.

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Jenny Muchnikoff
Jenny Muchnikoff
Public Relations Account Coordinator