Event breakout sessions create a dynamic experience that provides small attendee groups with the opportunity to discuss specific issues, network and connect with session speakers and industry experts. Breakouts can also include gaming and entertainment to bond attendees or provide light relief in a busy agenda.
While on-site breakout sessions generally take place in-person and in designated spaces, what happens during a virtual event? The purpose and structure may be similar to an in-person event but how do you ensure the same levels of engagement and interaction online?
Start with the Speaker
A brilliant in-person event speaker won’t necessarily be a successful virtual event speaker.
Your online breakout session speaker needs to have confidence on-screen to maintain enthusiasm, without relying on the attendee energy that provides validation (or otherwise) at an on-site session. No one wants to experience that ‘tough crowd’ feeling!
Don’t worry, this isn’t too difficult to achieve! Speakers just need to modify their expectations around audience interaction. Rather than a whole audience response, speakers are more likely to engage with individual attendees one at a time.
They need to be able to elicit succinct responses to questions and move on reasonably quickly so the conversation doesn’t get stuck on one person or topic. Speakers will also need to be proficient at handling situations where multiple people try and ask a question or make a point. In short, confidence with on-screen moderation is almost as important as their expertise.
Let’s Talk Tech
Virtual event breakouts are not as simple as turning up on stage and speaking into a microphone.
While speakers don’t need a degree in event tech to stage a successful session, they will need to spend a little time getting to know their way around the virtual platform. Live polling, Q&A and chat functions may be familiar to them but screen sharing, pop-up screens and video integration may require a few practice runs before the session.
A Different Dynamic
An on-site event will have lots of opportunities to change energy flows and brain demands.
Organisers of a virtual event with 100% screen time viewing have to be aware of screen fatigue and waning attention spans. Absorbing huge amounts of visual information is exhausting for our brains, which is why attendees can feel drained after a relatively short period of online event content.
Virtual event breakouts are perfect for switching things up and keeping attendees engaged and refreshed, however, keep sessions short and utilise mixed media (graphics, audio, etc.) to reduce the risk of attendees tuning out.
Talking of Mixed Media…
Turning attendees into participants rather than passive viewers is the key to keeping energy levels high during virtual event breakout sessions.
Live polling is a great way to check in with attendees and get responses to key discussion points or timely topics. Platforms with real-time functionality provide immediate polling results that can spark further ideas and contributions.
Q& A is also perfect for engaging attendees in on-point discussions. Attendees can up-vote their favourite questions so the hottest topics get the speaker’s attention.
Oh, and who doesn’t love a funny cat video?! Encourage speakers to share their favourites. It goes without saying that audience-appropriate content is critical here but an amusing Tik Tok clip can provide light relief in an information-heavy session.
Ask the Audience!
Although virtual event technology has developed at a rapid rate, we’re still learning about the optimal ways to engage attendees and keep their attention online.
Post-event surveys are just as important, if not more so, for virtual event breakout sessions. GIven people are connected to the platform for the entirety of the event, survey response rates tend to be higher than for in-person events, so make the most of the increased engagement to obtain meaningful data.
While it’s great to ask standard questions such as, ‘How interesting was the breakout session content?’ or ‘Was the breakout session speaker engaging?’ think about digging into the psychological and physiological responses of attendees to check for fatigue and attention span. ‘Were you engaged for the entirety of the breakout session?’ or ‘How did you physically feel after the session ended?’
Breakout sessions are critical to keeping attendees engaged at most events, however, virtual event breakouts will require a different approach to their in-person counterparts.
Understanding the online attendee experience and how screen time affects engagement will help event organisers plan for breakout sessions that will leave their online attendees energised, enthusiastic and inspired.
Just to let you know, if you’re working with us for your next event, as part of our ‘we’ve got your back’ support, we run training sessions for your speakers, enabling them to feel confident when delivering their presentations.