20 Top Tips for Revitalising Virtual Meetings – Part 4
5 Top tips for hosting brilliant breakouts

In this final article I share 5 simple yet effective tips for hosting brilliant breakouts, one of the key building blocks to virtual success! 

Tip#1: Plan for distraction! Don’t be surprised if the conversation in the breakout room isn’t the one you think they’re having.

Factor in that people may go off on a sociable tangent and not discuss the topic you’ve set, especially if reconnecting with familiar faces they haven’t seen in a while. If you think this is likely, plan for it. Keep people in the same groups and give them time to reconnect with a warm-up breakout (see next tip). This way they can focus more in subsequent breakouts and build on the discussion you want them to have. Additionally, how often have you been in a breakout where the opening line was “so does anyone remember exactly what the question was?”, leading to several wasted minutes figuring out what the main point was, and then ten having a side discussion! Anticipate this. Pop the breakout topic and any specific questions or actions in the Chat (see tip#4 in Part 1 of this series for more on this), draw attention to it, and remind everyone that they can still see the Chat bar when in breakout rooms.

Tip#2: Create opportunity for connection and reconnection. Build in a warm-up breakout right at the start to give people a chance to connect, or reconnect if they’re likely to be seeing colleagues they haven’t seen in a while.

‘Celebrate/hope/contribute’ is a great little opening breakout exercise that stimulates conversation about the experience to come and works for both introverts and extroverts. Give everyone a minute to write down something they can celebrate from the previous session, day, or week; one thing they hope to gain from this session; and one thing they hope to contribute to it. Then open the breakout rooms for sharing and connection, followed by inviting a few contributions in plenary.

Tip#3: Think trust, balance of power, and diversity. Where possible, plan breakout groups carefully.

If the success of your meeting rests on people getting to know one another through sharing a range of personal and professional information, take the time to build from ‘safe’ topics to more personal, or potentially exposing, topics. Remember that virtual can feel vulnerable (see Part 2 of this article series for more great tips on this). Keep groups small enough to feel intimate and safe – twos or threes are usually best and remember to get the groups agreement on confidentiality and non-attribution at the start. Work with small chunks of biographical information and make sure the group has enough time for everyone to get a fair share of the airtime in order to have a decent conversation. Typically, the extroverts will jump in first, take more time than they realise, and leave minimal airtime for the introverts! Its uncomfortable to begin sharing something personal only to have the room abruptly time out. Especially for an introvert. If you can, pay attention to the balance of power in pairing people up. Depending on the topic or organisation culture, you may want to pair people with peers rather than senior colleagues. Consider also whether the topic would benefit from a diversity of views (e.g. a mix of functional perspectives) or depth of knowledge.

Tip#4: Let the breakouts breathe. Avoid flooding breakouts with messages prompting next steps or countdown reminders.

I’ve learned from experience that no matter how well-intentioned this is it only creates a sense of being rushed, heightening anxiety, and dampening what should be an enjoyable and meaningful discussion. Rather post the instructions in Chat and then let the conversation flow as it will.

Tip#5: Get your breakouts working. Breakouts offer real opportunities for collaboration on live issues.

There are lots of virtual ways for groups to do real work together. You can start by using Google docs to enable live work on a topic in breakout rooms followed by feedback, idea sharing, and discussion in plenary. Or after an initial breakout discussion, transfer everyone over to Mural or another visual canvas, where groups work live on a board, posting ideas, collating into themes, and identifying top actions. I’ve mentioned TROIKA before in a previous post – a simple Liberating Structure that is brilliant for live-sourcing ideas and know-how on real opportunities or challenges. Work doesn’t have to be completed for it to be valuable – it can be an enjoyable and time-effective way to kickstart collaboration on workstreams that can be developed further post session.

What other proven ideas do you have for hosting brilliant breakouts? Share your best tips with others in the Comments.

I hope the 20 Top Tips I’ve shared with you in this 4-part series have given you practical guidance, fresh ideas, and useful tools for hosting focused, engaging, and effective virtual meetings. Here’s to making the most of the time, intelligence, and creativity of the brilliant people you bring together in 2021!

And if you’d like to talk to us about facilitating a virtual event for you, do get in touch. We would be delighted to talk with you!

Download your complementary Checklist – ‘21 Ways to Revitalise Your Virtual Meetings’.

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