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Five Innovative Breakout Session Formats

Bored with your typical conference agenda? Tired of the usual panel discussions and TED Talks? Having a hard time thinking outside the box for your next event? We are here to help! Let’s mix it up a little bit with five innovative ideas for your breakout sessions. There are no PowerPoint presentations allowed in these ideas.

Fishbowl Sessions

In a fishbowl session, a small group of thought leaders sits in an inner circle while your attendees sit all around the outside of the “fishbowl” and listen to what the leaders are discussing. When an attendee has something to contribute to the discussion, they can get up and replace someone in the fishbowl or sit in an empty chair in the inner circle. This format can inspire a robust and very interactive conversation when all participants are passionate about the topic and willing to participate. It may seem weird to be looking at the back of some of the speakers’ heads but that actually helps many people feel comfortable enough to connect with each other.

World Café Session

This method brings more informal coffeehouse or café setting to meetings. In a World Café Session, attendees sit together in groups of four to six at separate tables to discuss pre-determined topics. Participants can decide to move to different tables if they want to move on to a different topic or they can stay at a table where they find the topic compelling. Each table should have a host, who takes notes of actionable ideas and moves the discussion along if it slows down. If you are worried that participants will be uncomfortable changing tables organically, stage timed sessions in which participants have the opportunity to change if they choose. The hypothesis for these types of sessions is that collective discussion shifts people’s conceptions and encourages collective action.

Birds of a Feather (BOF)

This is a similar format to the World Café Session. BOF brings together groups of people with a common interest or area of expertise to discuss their point of view. These are often hosted over lunch or a coffee break. There is some work to be done before your event in order to make this type of session happen. Ask participants to sign up for a group topic during registration or at event check-in. Or assemble attendees per their job title, job level, location, or industry. Regardless of the pre-planning needed, each session should take place without an agenda. Free-flowing discussion and sharing is encouraged.

Fireside Chats

This is an excellent way to shake up the typical keynote speech, as well as a larger breakout speaker session. Instead of asking your speaker to pace the stage pointing at a presentation on a huge screen, host him or her for a two-way conversation with a skilled moderator to create an informal and engaging experience. With the right two people connecting in a meaningful and personal way, this conversation can uncover brilliant insights and dynamic takeaways for listeners. Create an informal atmosphere for the chat by setting up the stage as a cozy lounge with soft seating, plants, and a rug.

Campfire Sessions

These sessions are all about sharing stories. This is an excellent way to uncover your guests’ knowledge and insights and stimulate learning among them. These sessions should be small, intimate, and short, no more than 30 minutes. A facilitator typically speaks for 10 to 15 minutes about a pre-planned topic, using a storytelling format. The leader then fosters a group discussion and peer-to-peer learning for the rest of the time, again encouraging the use of telling stories to make a point. Make sure the setting is very informal and comfortable. You want your guests to feel like they can share their views and tell their stories. It is a campfire, after all.

Of course, if you are stuck with the typical breakout session format, there are still many things you can do with technology and other tools to make it more engaging. This includes adding live online polls or quizzes to the presentation or giving away promotional items. Find more gamification ideas here.

Interaction and engagement are critical to the success of every conference. Shake up your next event agenda with these new ways to engage attendees at breakout sessions. Make your event experience. They will thank you for it.

Eventzilla Team