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Virtual Breakout Room Best Practices

February 22, 2021 4:50 pm

Anyone who has been through our training knows that our number one proactive engagement strategy is sub-grouping. Breaking a larger group into pairs, triads or smaller working groups increases participants sense of safety, comfort speaking up, dials up the quality of conversation and input and ultimately ensures that a greater diversity of voices are heard.

In virtual meetings, we notice a dramatic difference when we use breakout rooms as part of the meeting process. But what do facilitators need to consider when planning or launching breakout rooms? The following is an abbreviated list or Breakout Room Best Practices from our new Zoom For Facilitator’s: Mastering Zoom Breakouts and Polling workshop:

  • Provide Clear Instructions: Provide clear activity instructions prior to launching the breakout rooms to ensure participants have a clear understanding of the exercise/task they are to complete/accomplish. You can provide this in a shared separate document and/or copy it into the chat
  • Create Comfort With Quick Demo: If participants have never experienced (or have very limited experience with) breakout rooms, you may want to have them experience it first in a 1-2 minute ice breaker. Instruct them to do the following to enhance their experience and comfort level, followed by a quick debrief after:
    • Look for the timer in the top right corner
    • Look for the “Ask for Help” button (will be under the Breakout Rooms button if self-select)
    • Have someone try sharing their screen and/or whiteboard
    • Send out a broadcast message
  • Diverse or Homogenous Groups? Unless the breakout outcomes warrant homogenous groups, our preference is to mix participants across skill types, departments, roles, etc – Diversity of opinions tends to lead to higher quality output. Change up the assignments but not too often as participants like the opportunity to get to know their sub-group members.
  • Designate Breakout Roles: Assign roles to participants to help start the conversation and support equitable participation. Possible roles include sub-group facilitator, first-to-speak, note-taker, reporter, timekeeper, equity monitor, or questioner/devil’s advocate.
  • Set a Timer: Allocate a time limit to the breakout rooms to keep your agenda on track and also for the participants to know how much time is remaining as they work through their exercise/task
  • Name the Rooms: Rename breakout rooms for self-select breakout rooms so it’s easier for participants to select which breakout room to select/move to
  • Announcements: Use a broadcast message to inform/remind participants of the “Ask for Help” option to contact you if you are outside their room and assistance is needed
  • Observe: Monitor group discussions by ‘parachuting’ into breakout rooms to ensure they understand the exercise/task and aren’t having any technical issues. In order to minimize distraction to the breakout rooms participants, you may prefer to turn off your microphone and video and simply observe.
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