With virtual AGM season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about your next event. In this simple five-step guide, we’ll explain how Zoom breakout rooms can help take your larger online events to the next level.
But before we get going, we owe someone an apology. A couple of weeks ago, we published an article on how to avoid Zoom fails. Although we featured virtual backgrounds, we failed to include the potential perils of filters. Days after publishing our post, we gasped, along with the rest of the world, as Texan attorney, Rod Ponton, appeared as a kitten in Judge Roy B. Ferguson’s virtual courtroom. “I am not a cat”, Rod protested.
Sorry, Rod. We should have warned you. Now back to the main event, so to speak.
They allow multiple speakers (you can have up to 50, but please don’t!) to each deliver a presentation, on different topics, simultaneously. For example, at an AGM, a number of investment specialists could each address a different sector or strategy. Each of these presentations is hosted in its own “room”. Not only do Zoom breakout rooms add content to your AGM, but they also allow attendees to engage with the key speakers and chat with fellow delegates, in a more manageable setting.
So, how do you set them up and how do you get them right?
- Make sure you have the right account type
- Schedule the event on Zoom and configure breakout rooms
- Send out invitations with the Zoom meeting link
- Update Zoom with breakout room attendees
- Control and manage each room on the day
Despite the breakout rooms feature within Zoom being free-to-use, to make the best use of them you will need to have a paid account – unless you are happy for your AGM to end abruptly, after 40 minutes. A Pro license starts at around £10, per user, per month and permits the user to have meetings of any duration, include more participants, and to save meetings recordings to the Cloud (starting at 1 GB of storage). Check out Zoom’s pricing plans before you begin.
Before you schedule your Zoom meeting, you need to enable breakout rooms. Sign into the Zoom web portal and navigate to the ‘In Meeting (Advanced)’ settings. Then, select breakout rooms, taking extra care to tick the ‘Allow host to assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling’ box. Within the meeting options, you will now be able to create specific breakout rooms and label them, accordingly. Zoom has built-in options to customise all aspects of the breakout rooms.
From our experience, the most effective way to set up the breakout rooms is to add a ‘custom question’ with the name of each room (e.g., speakers, topics) to the registration page. This provides attendees with the option to select the breakout room they wish to attend, in advance, rather than on the day of the event. This will enable you to export participant choices into an Excel document and simply upload it to pre-assign registrants to their chosen breakout room. The alternative is to allow each attendee to choose a breakout room, on the day. If you do this, prepare for lengthy delays, whilst attendees make up their minds. Be aware that you may also find yourself with a breakout room containing only two participants: the speaker and their bruised ego. It’s better to identify unpopular sessions before the event and remove them from the options.
There are several extra configuration options for breakout rooms available, such as changing whether participants can return to the main session at any time; setting a fixed duration for the breakout rooms; and displaying countdown timers. These can all be found in the options menu within each breakout room. We recommend allowing participants to leave if they wish (but make sure that you have something being presented in the main session, or have a corporate video playing; empty, white voids are a no-no). Setting a fixed duration for the rooms is a good idea if you are running to a tight deadline, but just be sure that all your speakers are aware they risk being cut-off mid-stream if they go beyond their allocated time limit.
Now the set-up is complete, invitations can be sent out, which contain a link directing invitees to a registration page. This registration page will need to be completed by each invitee, where they are required to input certain personal details, as well as the breakout room they wish to attend. When registered, registrants will then be sent a personalised link to join the meeting on the day. Overall, the process from an invitee’s perspective is very simple, and involves very little effort.
As mentioned in step 2, the information provided from the registration process will allow you to pre-assign all registrants to a specific breakout room. Export the registration information as a .csv file (which can be read by Excel), edit it, and then import it back into Zoom, using the ‘Import from CSV’ button, when in the Breakout Room Assignment section of the meeting settings. Got an email from a participant, regretting their selection? Simply move them, manually, to the correct room. This will ensure that when the breakout rooms are created, everyone is automatically assigned to the correct room – making it easy to manage.
On the day, we advise having moderators in each breakout room, to monitor attendance, facilitate communication between the speaker and the room, answer technical questions and record the breakout room session on their local machine, if desired (Zoom’s standard meeting recording does not extend to breakout rooms).
At the start of the event, it is important to remind your attendees of the breakout rooms segment and exactly what will happen, from their perspective, answering any concerns they may have. Reminding attendees that help can be requested at any point through the breakout rooms tab should help to reduce any friction, as well as making them aware of your video and sound policies whilst in these breakout rooms.
Once the breakout rooms segment begins, the Zoom meeting host/co-hosts have various controls available, including the ability to: move attendees between breakout rooms; send messages to all attendees; mute attendees; freely join and leave breakout rooms; and close breakout rooms. The .csv file including the specific details on attendees in each breakout room, is a great monitoring tool. Attendees will be able to move between rooms, however the host/co-hosts can correct any accidental exits by moving people, manually.
When the presentations end, and all questions from the attendees have been answered, the host/co-hosts can close the breakout rooms. This action will send a pop-up notification to all attendees informing them that the breakout rooms will close in 60 seconds and they will be moved back into the main room. This will lead to a seamless transition to the next part of your event.
Particularly before your first breakout room event, we strongly encourage running a technical rehearsal for the entire event, to help identify any issues or points where special attention will need to be paid.