Ways To Use Zoom Breakout Rooms To Increase Meeting Engagement | Beth's Blog

Ways To Use Zoom Breakout Rooms To Increase Meeting Engagement

Digital Wellness, Facilitation, Online Meetings, Virtual Facilitation

We are only about one month into the world’s largest work from home experiment.  This means spending a big part of our day sitting in front of a screen that looks like the Brady Brunch. It has surfaced a new technology affliction:  Zoom Overload. 

There are number of reasons we feel exhausted from zoom meetings as Jeremy Bailenson, Virtual Human Interaction Lab points out. It isn’t just the huge uptick in back-to-back virtual meetings we are hosting or attending, many times without breaks in between.

How can you avoid Zoom Overload?  A few tips include: use the phone instead, switch to asynchronous modes of working, or use a few camera tricks.  You can also make your meetings shorter and fewer or leave space between meetings for breaks.  Or make the meetings less tedious and more engaging.  This can be accomplished with creative use of the Zoom Breakout Rooms for activities to support the meeting objectives. 

The Mechanics of Zoom Breakout Rooms 

Breakout Rooms are a feature on Zoom meetings (it has to be turned on in your zoom profile/account) that allows the meeting host to put people into small groups for more intimate discussions or activities. 

The participants see the same familiar zoom interface, but instead of the whole group participating it is a smaller subset of participants. You can customize how many participants per room. The maximum number of breakout rooms is 50. As with face-to-face training, how many participants per breakout room depends on the task they will do together, how much time is needed to complete the task, and time for a full group report out. (See the small group exercises timing charts in this document)

Participants can be placed into the rooms automatically (randomly) or you can manually assign people to different groups.  Which one you select depends on the activity and group dynamics. Sometimes you want to do some “social engineering” and put people together with similar experience or characteristics. For other activities, random or automatic assignments work best.

The Breakout Rooms feature also allow the meeting host to visit each room to check-in on the activity.  This is can disruptive, so be sure to let folks know you will check-in before you send them off to the Breakout Rooms. Another feature available for the meeting host, is “broadcast messages” that you can send to each room.  There is a limited number of characters, so this is best used to keep time for participants or share brief prompts.  

If participants are working through an exercise or set of discussion questions, create a google document with your prompts and include space for taking notes.  You’ll need to make sure you drop the google document link into the chat before you put people into small groups. As the facilitator or meeting host, you can also judge whether you have allowed for enough time by watching the note-taking process in the google document.

This video will walk you through the steps of putting people in and out of breakout rooms.  It is a good idea to get a few people together on a call to practice doing it before you host your first meeting with zoom Breakout Rooms.

Designing Zoom Breakout Room Activities 

Icebreakers & Check-Ins

If you have more than 10 people in a meeting, having everyone introduce themselves verbally and answer an icebreaker question can take up a lot of time and can be tedious.  A more fun way to do a meeting icebreaker or check-in, is to use breakout rooms. A simple technique is to put 2 or 3 people in a room and have share name, organization, and an icebreaker question. (Here’s some ideas for different questions for virtual icebreakers for nonprofits)

Speed Dating: One of my favorite icebreakers is “speed dating,” a fun networking activity that allows participants to meet and chat with many other participants.  When you are in the same room, you can have people line up, facing each other. Participants have a few minutes to introduce themselves and answer a question  and when a bell goes off, they find a different partner.  

This can be set up using Zoom Breakout Rooms with two people per breakout room and have several rotations of pairs. 

Networking Bingo:  When you do this icebreaker in a face-to-face meeting, each person gets a bingo card. But instead of numbers, each cell has an activity that someone could have done.  The goal is to find meet people and figure out if they done that activity. To adapt this icebreaker on zoom, you’d need to send the bingo card in advance and ask them to print it out or have it available.  Then you’d do several rotations of putting people together in breakout rooms. For fun, here’s a pandemic bingo card.

Show & Tell:  I learn this one from Andy Robinson, Train Your Board. You put 2-4 people into each breakout room.   Each person in each group has to find something on their desk or in the room to share with the group – it could be anything – a paperweight or your pet.   You could give the instructions ahead time and ask people to bring an objective meeting they want to share that represents their connection to your nonprofit (a good exercise for board members). 

Small Group Activities

Discussion:  After a presentation, report, or proposal is presented during a meeting, you can use the Breakout Rooms features to have them share ideas related to the presentation.   You can put the discussion prompts on a google document or simply drop the discussion question into the chat before sending participants into breakout groups.  

Brainstorm Ideas:  Put up to six people in different breakout rooms and give them a brainstorming question prompt – something like “How might we …?”  There are two ways to do brainstorming. You can have participants quietly write down their ideas on the google document for a few minutes and then discuss the different ideas, clustering similar ones.  Or you could do a verbal brainstorm discussion building on each others ideas and using a google document to take notes. There are many different techniques for brainstorming that can easily be adapted to a virtual meeting.

Round Robin: This works best with a team of six, although you can go up to eight or down to four people.  You need to set up a google document directory with each google document having the same questions:  What is your idea?  Why won’t it work?  Revised Idea.   For the first round, everyone responses to the first question. The next round, each person rotates to the next google document writes in why the idea won’t work.  The third round, each person rotates to another document and revises the idea.  The final ideas are then added to one google document and discussed. Here are some additional creativity techniques.

Peer Assist:  There are many ways to structure a peer assist where participants listen to each other’s challenges and provide advice. One of my favorites is called Troika Consulting from Liberating Structures. You put three people into each breakout room.  Two of the participants are the “consultants” and one person is the “client.”  

The client gets a few minutes to share their challenge while the consultants simply listen.   You can encourage the consultants to turn off  or hide their video screens. Next, the consultants get to ask clarifying questions for a few minutes, followed by offering advice, with the client listening, not talking.  For the final round, the client gets to share what is most valuable.

1-2-4-All:  This facilitation process comes from Liberating Structures. It is typically done after you have made a presentation.  The reflection questions might include: What resonated? What is a challenge? What is an opportunity? The first rotation is a quiet reflection alone. Then you put people into breakout rooms in pairs and have them share.   Then put two pairs or a group of four together in a breakout room and have them share. When people come back together in the full group, you can do a quick “popcorn” of themes or full discussion depending on your time. 

Reflection & Takeaways

Another good use of breakout rooms is to have participants reflect about the presentation or discussion and identify the first action steps they can take to put the ideas into practice.  If you want it to take less time, you can do the reflection as a “Share Pair” by putting two people into the breakout rooms. 

What creative ways have you used breakout rooms on zoom?

32 Responses

  1. […] And Beth Kanter’s Ways To Use Zoom Breakout Rooms To Increase Meeting Engagement. […]

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. I don’t have Zoom but many of friends in Eucador (where I’m living) do not have the capacity to use my Adobe Connect platform. Having break out rooms in Zoom is a real plus for me.

  3. Sherry Marts says:

    Great tips and advice! I do have one request. PLEASE stop calling it “Speed Dating” – it sets the wrong tone for what should be a professional interaction, and, as one of my clients said to me: “It just give the creeps permission to be creepy.”

  4. Beth Kanter says:

    Thanks for your insights. What would you call it? Some folks have used the term “Speed Geek” but is there something else that would be less creepy?

  5. Thank you for the great article and resources Beth. I have not used Zoom breakouts yet, but you offer so many creative ideas for how to use this feature I can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

  6. I’m with Sherry on “speed dating”. I use “speed networking” instead. Or “speed sharing” depending on the context/goal of the exercise. Thanks for the Zoom tips, Beth! Excellent, as usual.

  7. Beth Kanter says:

    Thanks Valerie – going to use that term to describe it!

  8. […] Related: Ways To Use Zoom Meeting Rooms To Increase Meeting Engagement […]

  9. Naomi says:

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for these ideas! I’d like to do a 1-2-4-all activity in Zoom for a high school U.S. history class I’m teaching online, but I’m not sure how to put two breakout rooms of student pairs together into a group of 4 students. Do you know if there’s an easy way to do that in Zoom? The only way I know of is to create rooms of 4 and then to check that the same pairs will be together in each room. Unfortunately I can’t do pre-assigning because I’m never sure who exactly will show up for class. Would love any advice you have! Thanks

  10. Beth Kanter says:

    Here is how I’ve done 1) put them into pairs. 2) bring them back to the full group or reassign them manually so that one pair is with another pair. You could bring them back into the main room (don’t delete the breakout rooms and move pairs into another room with another pair).

  11. Julie says:

    hi, i was wondering how you actually set up the “speed networking” activity. my theatre company would like to do that as part of a fundraiser/festival program — we’re hoping for about 20 people per session so breaking people up into groups of two so they don’t keep getting the same person is the goal… would you please share the step to how you did that? thanks very much! julie

  12. Beth Kanter says:

    Don’t click on “recreate” the breakout rooms. You have to start from scratch and assign manually or automatically.

  13. Jeanne Allen says:

    I’ve shared out a case study- give people a few minutes to read and write/reflect on questions. Then I put them into breakout groups to share their responses, and discuss. When we come back together, I have each group in a round robin way, share one of their insights or discussion points. Case study can be 1 paragraph or lengthier. If you want to capture each groups discussion, google docs is the way. One google doc/per group or 1 google doc for whole group (which would require a little bit of management of different groups on same doc)

  14. Beth Kanter says:

    Thanks Jeanne. There is a limit on how many people can edit one google doc and it can frustrate people if they put their cursors in the same place. I make a “breakout room directory” google doc w/ links to the breakout rooms. If I have a large group, then I might have a few breakout groups per document, but structure it as a table and so not too many people are editing in the same place.

  15. Keziah says:

    Hi! I would like to know if the host after putting people in break out rooms has audio on what the different groups are discussing. Can the host listen in without joining the breakout room

  16. Beth Kanter says:

    The breakout room discussions are not recorded and no can hear them unless they are in that breakout room.

  17. Hi, I have been doing Zoom training and I am wondering if you know of a way to keep Zoom Meeting co-hosts out of a breakout room when auto creating rooms.

  18. Beth Kanter says:

    Just tell them not to accept the invitation to join the room.

  19. Joanne says:

    “Speed meet” rhymes.

  20. Beth Kanter says:

    Can you say more about Speed Meet Rhymes?

  21. Mary Waddell says:

    I like the term “speed meet” (you meant it as an alternative to speed date right? 🙂

  22. Beth Kanter says:

    Me too – and thanks for your insights

  23. Tony Reeves says:

    Yes! Thank you so much for sharing these, loads of great ideas here – many of which I’ll be putting straight into. practice!

  24. Thank you so much for sharing these valuable pieces of information! I would like to know if the host after putting people in break out rooms has audio on what the different groups are discussing. Can the host listen in without joining the breakout room? Also, is there a limit on how many people can edit one google doc?

  25. Susan says:

    When auto creating rooms, I’d like to keep a few participants out and then assign them myself. The idea is to have one of my employees in each breakout room, which will have clients. If I instruct them to decline joining the room, can I then manually assign them to a room?

  26. stephanie says:

    Hi, can you share video in a breakout room or perhaps a powerpoint presentation? Thanks

  27. Beth Kanter says:

    Breakout room participants have full audio, video, and screen share capabilities. (As long as you have enabled share desktop for the participant sharing PPT – if not host or cohost.

  28. Beth Kanter says:

    yes, I believe it is 100

  29. Erika Perri says:

    Hi Beth and thank you for this! Do you find that there is a general rule in terms of the minimum time required for an effective breakout session? It seems like they should be at least 5 min to be effective, no? Also, I’ll have two co-hosts – will they stay on the main screen with me or will they be put into breakout rooms that are automatically created? I want them to be able to “float.”
    Thank you!

  30. Beth Kanter says:

    Hi Erika: The answer to the ideal amount of time it depends on the activity and number of people in the breakout room. I’ve done “share pairs” where people introduce themselves to each other and share why they are excited about the topic. That can be done in 5 minutes. For a discussion related to the topic of the training, 3-4 people can introduce themselves and discuss a question or two for about 12-15 minutes. If the activity is more elaborate or more people, you need more like 20 minutes. Allow for time for transitions – to get them into groups and to bring back. If your co-hosts have co-host zoom roles, they can return to the main room and move to a different room.

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