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The Problem with Neglecting Breakout Rooms

Shane Knaust
on March 31, 2020

When your event has breakout rooms, they tend to be forgotten. The General Session is given all the attention and is usually the flashiest. I get it. It’s the one place where you’ll have your audience all together. And it is probably the room with the most moving pieces. It deserves a lot of attention. However, after working over 500 events, I can tell you that most of the key information is presented in breakout rooms. If you forget to adequately plan for your breakout rooms, things will go wrong.

Recently, I was in Chicago working a conference. I witnessed the transformative impact of breakout room content first hand. Attendees were engaged and taking notes during the sessions. There were people coming out of these rooms crying, saying that they wish they had found out about these things a long time ago. The attendees approached the organizer to thank her. They expressed how helpful the breakout rooms were. Some even said they came to the conference just for the breakout sessions. Breakout rooms are key components of your event and should be taken seriously. If you fail to adequately plan for your breakout rooms, things will go wrong and your attendees won’t get the most out of their experience.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

When planning an event and talking about what you need in your breakout rooms, you need to visualize yourself sitting in the audience as an attendee. Think of the person who will walk into one of your breakout rooms to a hundred people watching a presenter. There are only open seats in the back and the presenter is sharing the most vital information in this breakout session and you can’t hear what the presenter is saying.  This is because the presenter possibly declined to use a mic or there wasn’t one available. The guests are now having a negative experience. One solution to this problem would have been to explain to the presenter that the mic is needed for the guests in the back to hear you. Unfortunately, I have seen this happen a lot. The most vivid memory I have of such an instance was when I was the Production Manager for an event and our client only wanted a projector screen and a computer in each of the rooms. The client wanted the presenter to be able to show some slides and videos for his presentation. They didn’t want any mics in the room for a few reasons. First, they didn’t want to pay for them. Second, they didn’t think they were necessary because the room was so small. Little did they know the room beside them was doing a lot of screaming, yelling and playing music, which was very audible and disruptive to the room.

Needless to say, not having a microphone for the presenter in this room caused major issues for the attendees who were trying to hear what the presenter was saying. After the session was over, the event coordinator stepped into the room to make sure everything went okay with the projector screen and computer, and the presenter literally yelled at her for not having a microphone for him. He received a bad review from the audience because no one could hear him and he blamed that on her and the production company.

Therefore, you should reserve time to strategize how these breakout rooms are going to be used ahead of time. Make sure everyone in the room, no matter where they sit, can hear and see the presenter and the presentation screens. You never know what could be going on next door.

Let us take care of you

Having a breakout room at your conference requires a lot more work on you and your team. I know it can cause a lot of stress. We can take away some of that stress by having an expert technician in each breakout room. So, you don’t have to worry about the production side of things in the room. We will take care of the presenter(s) and make sure there are no issues. We know you have a lot of other things to worry about.

I had a client a few months back that was giving her presentation in a breakout room, but was also in charge of all the other breakout rooms. Afterwards, she told me that she was very thankful we were there and that we had someone in each breakout room. She said it was the first year that her phone hadn’t blown up with text messages or phone calls from people telling her “I can’t get this TV to work” or “ My computer isn’t working, can you come help me.” By simply removing this pain point, we secured her business for the foreseeable future. She didn’t have to worry about all of the breakout rooms, because we were taking care of them. This client would not have had that experience, had we not had an expert technician in each breakout room. By strategically planning and thinking ahead, we knew what to have people in place who knew what they were doing and could take care of any issue that came up. Client(s) and presenter(s) who do not have to focus on the technical details, have more successful shows with happy clients, presenters and attendees.

Taking VIP status seriously 

I walked into a breakout room at one of our corporate events  and noticed that the presenter in that room was a SVP of the company. He was giving his presentation and no one could see him or hear from him because the room was packed. Any person of VIP status is obviously important and putting extra energy into making sure their experience is a smooth one is paramount. We know that if they are speaking in one of our rooms, then everyone is going to want to be in that room to hear what they have to say. Planning ahead and knowing that is key. A known VIP should get one of the biggest breakout room. You need to ensure they can be seen and heard and that their presentation is clear as day to the guests all the way in the back.

I have seen clients plan for the presenter to be a VIP. So, they ensured that the presenter could be heard and that the attendees could see the power point presentation, which is great! However, the attendees could not see the presenter because there was no stage in the room. Two things can be wrong if someone complains about not being able to see the presenter. First, it may be that there wasn’t a stage in the room at all or it just wasn’t high enough. Second, there may not have been a camera in the room on the presenter or the camera shot isn’t going on the projector screen where everyone can see now (i.e. projector screens are placed well for the whole audience). We want to make sure that our VIP presenters have an excellent presentation. You must think strategically when you are planning for the presenter’s and audience’s needs. thinking outside the box when you are trying to plan on how to accommodate not only the presenter’s needs, but also your audience needs as well. A presenter without an audience is a waste of time, right?

I hope that you are now a believer about the importance of strategically planning ahead for your breakout rooms. We want to prevent things from going wrong, before they go wrong. Attendees love their breakout rooms as there is more personal interaction in these smaller rooms. Breakout rooms are more intimate and presenters tend to share a lot more information with a smaller group of people. When you are planning your event, just remember that breakout rooms (though they may be small) need more attention. They also need to be taken more seriously your attendees can get the most out of their experience while they are attending your event.

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