Let's start with a horror scene
We were looking forward to our pop-up webinar. About 10 minutes before the start we were packed with 100 participants! We were super enthusiastic and everything went well. After a start a presentation of principles and examples, groups of 8-10 participants started working in breakout rooms. Each group received the same case and a chat space was available for each group. We knew that not everyone had audio connected, so we encouraged them to use the chat. Soon we were called upon to help various groups. The chat was delayed in a group. People thought that the technology did not work. Another group thought it was scary to work with strangers without seeing them. Another group could understand each other, but no one took the lead. We decided to bring the groups back.
This example illustrates that breakout rooms are not the easiest feature for the online facilitator. It helps if you have already mastered the basics of your webconferencing tools and have tested the breakout rooms. I did not share this story to discourage you, but rather to show that you sometimes need the guts to try something new. There are so many possibilities for the breakouts.
The breakout at its bestLast week I organized a brainstorm with a group of 20 persons about the content of an online conference. In an online brainstorming wall I put up 5 groups with different topics, such as start session, partner sessions, fun, etc. Before the coffee I invited people to sign up for 1 topic by adding their name on the wall. During the coffee break I put people into groups. During the breakout they used the same brainstorming wall to add ideas that allowed me to monitor progress without going to the groups myself. We achieved an important result in 30 minutes. This was because everyone could choose their own topic for which they had many ideas, people already knew each other and thus immediately started brainstorming. Last but not least the combination of the breakout and the brainstorm wall worked well.
Having people in a group exchange about a question is perhaps the most obvious application. Just like you would face-to-face. If you want to be more creative, you might consider one of the following learning activities and working methods:
- A short buzz in groups of 2 to get into the subject
- Let participants dive into a topic in subgroups before you explain, so you can activate prior knowledge
- Speed dating to get to know each other. After 3 minutes you put people in the next group
- A brainstorm on a topic in combination with a whiteboard or a brainstorming wall
- Organize a debate in which they first come up with arguments in two groups (for and against)
- A translation of a presentation into practice
- A role play in subgroups where the chat is used in different colors by the different roles
- Make a drawing or collage together on the whiteboard
- A case study
- Discussion of a variety of topics. Participants choose their own topic that they want to work on (with some tools, people can choose which breakout they want to participate in or if that is not possible, you can inventory this)
- Give them a puzzle, a challenge to crack
- Or let participants prepare a (short) presentation themselves ...
Some practical tipsAbove all, the mother of all advice is: don't be afraid to experiment with the breakouts. If necessary, you can invite your participants to experiment and reflect. Think about the context and how much support you need to provide for your participants. It is easier to work with breakouts when people already know each other. Then they will take the lead faster and get to work easily. If you expect that they sometimes hesitate to take the lead, you can appoint someone, eg the top one from the list of participants.
Here are some more practical tips if you want to get started.
- People fall out of the breakout (at least in Adobe this often happens!). Therefore, provide one person who can put these people back in their breakout group.
- Make a slide with the instruction. Even if you explain the assignment orally it helps to be able to read it.
- Plan a breakout after a break, so that it gives you time to prepare something.
- With a number of tools, participants can see the time that is left. If this is not the case, as a facilitator you can, for example, send people a message 3 minutes in advance about the time remaining.
- In most tools you can go to groups in between to listen / watch. This gives you an impression of what is going on.