Here is our list of the best conference breakout session ideas.
Conference breakout session ideas are topics and activities that create a fun and interactive conference environment. For example, hosting lightning talks, playing the spectrogram game, or running a group meditation. The purpose of these activities is to encourage discussion and learning among attendees.
This list includes:
- leadership breakout session ideas
- breakout session examples
- women’s conference breakout session ideas
- fun activities for breakout sessions
- conference breakout session topics
Let’s get to it!
List of conference breakout session ideas
Original conference breakout session ideas can be difficult to imagine. Conferences are a longstanding event in the corporate world. Many employees and leaders flock to these developmental meetings at least once a year and are likely familiar and perhaps weary with the normal routine and common session topics. Here are some unexpected and fun activities for breakout sessions and creative ideas to make your next conference a hit.
1. Host Lightning Talks
If you are looking for a way to change up the pace of a conference, then lightning talks are a great tool. These short, interesting presentations can be on a variety of topics. Generally, lightning talks are not directly related to the conference topic. Instead, you can invite attendees to host a discussion or give a short presentation about a subject of choice. These topics should be an area of expertise and passion and do not need to be directly-work related. Be sure to give the audience the chance to get involved.
- How to Best Utilize Vacation Days
- Preparing Healthy Meals on a Budget
- How to Ask for a Raise
- Work-Life Balance Tips
These interactive and informative sessions are among the best leadership breakout session ideas. These sessions nurture essential soft skills in presenters.
2. Organize a “Three Minute Thesis” Event
Any PhDs on staff have likely participated in one of these events. The goal of the “Three Minute Thesis” is to present the presenter’s research in an engaging way the general public can understand. However, presenters only have three minutes. You can think of this exercise as a more academic version of an elevator pitch.
Incorporating this event in a breakout session is simple. You can have participants sign-up before the conference and then practice and perfect their three-minute presentation. Or, offer a sign-up on the first day of the event. Be sure to consider how much time you have to accommodate speakers. During the session, attendees will dynamically learn new facts and concepts.
A “Three Minute Thesis” event is a great way to present various topics concisely.
3. Plan a Trivia Event
Trivia is one of the best conference breakout session ideas because it encourages participants to interact with new acquaintances. This activity also develops essential skills like communication and reasoning. There are many ways to host a trivia breakout session. You can allow attendees to pick their teams, which will result in coworkers and friends being together. Or, to encourage new relationships, assign teams randomly. Example topics include movie facts, sports trivia, or all about food, however, you can concoct more creative categories like accidental inventions, strange laws, or celebrity side hustles. You can award points for correct answers. You can have prizes for the winners to earn, as well.
Trivia is a great way to encourage discussion while attendees have fun with each other.
4. Set Up a “Meet the…” Event
If there is a well-known publication in your field, then hosting a “Meet the Publisher/Writers/Editors” event is a fantastic way for participants to learn more about the minds behind the magazine. It is a good idea to focus this event on the younger attendees at the conference since the activity encourages up-in-comers to ask questions about skills needed in their future. Keeping this event smaller is essential to encouraging discussion. Allowing time for experts in the field to interact and speak with the future of the field is also beneficial for the industry.
You can run this activity in a panel format or make it more like a casual cocktail hour where folks can mingle and chat organically.
5. Host a “Snowball Fight”
No, we are not telling you to trek outside in the cold and have attendees throw snowballs at each other. In this fun and interactive session, participants will be able to share a thought or feeling that might be hard for them to say out loud. You can encourage those in attendance to think about something they are normally hesitant to share. For example, a struggle, fear, or complaint. Each participant should write down their confession on a piece of white paper. Then, writers should crumble up their slips and throw them at the front of the room. Finally, each attendee should pick up one piece of paper and read it aloud.
Hosting a “snowball fight” is an excellent way for participants to see that other people struggle with similar issues and teach empathy.
6. Set Up a Game Room
Playing games can develop communication skills, encourage strategy development, and promote problem-solving skills. As attendees play, they must work with others to complete the game.
To set up a game breakout session, set up a room with several tables. Then, choose games that promote teamwork and communication. For example, Pictionary, Charades, or Werewolf. There are many interactive and board games that would be fantastic to use in a breakout session.
Hosting a game session develops essential skills required in the workplace and is also fun and interactive for attendees.
7. Host a Speed Networking Event
One of the most important takeaways from a conference is participants’ new connections. These new relationships are essential in the business world. Hosting a speed networking event is a great way to allow attendees to make these connections. Speed networking is similar to speed dating. However, instead of a date, the participants create new professional relationships.
To plan this event, set up your room in a way that encourages small group discussions. You can place small two- or three-seater tables throughout the room. Then, set a timer for five to seven minutes to allow introductions and discussion. Then, participants move on to another table. To ensure good conversation, you can provide open-ended conversation starters and topics.
Speed networking develops essential skills among participants. This event also initiates relationships that can benefit both parties moving forward.
Here are more fun ideas for networking events.
8. Set Up an Industry Marketplace
It is often impossible to cover all relevant information and topics in a single conference. To rectify this issue, set up an industry marketplace where all attendees have a chance to set up a display about a topic of expertise. You can use a large room or a hallway to facilitate this event. Then, participants can browse the information throughout the conference. Be sure to encourage interested participants to sign up for a space before the meeting, so planners know how many tables to set up.
An industry marketplace is a fantastic way to cover various topics without dedicating entire breakout sessions to each concept.
9. Go for a Walk
Allowing a chance for attendees to get outside provides many benefits. First, fresh air and exercise are great for physical health. Planning an outside walk is also helpful if space is an issue at the conference venue. This idea is perfect for locations with unique and exciting places within walking distance. For example, consider historical sites or monuments. Taking participants on a walk to expose them to unique facts and beautiful sights is a nice break from typical conference talk.
Here are more outdoor group activities.
10. Host a Survivor-style Panel
Survivor is a reality show where participants vote each other out of the competition each week until only one player remains. Utilizing this concept in a panel setting during a breakout session is a fun and dynamic way to liven up the atmosphere. During the panel, attendees can ask a group of experts questions. Then, the experts must use all the information and skills they have gained through their careers to answer the questions engagingly. Throughout the session, attendees will vote experts off the panel. Ultimately, there will only be one expert left standing.
A Survivor-style panel is a fun twist on the traditional panel Q&A setup.
11. Plan an “Ask Me Anything” Session
Frequently, important topics get left out at conferences because there is not enough time or space to cover everything. To combat this problem, plan a breakout session to include these extra topics. During this event, assemble a panel of experts in the field. Then, have a moderator organize a question and answer time for attendees. This session is a chance for participants to ask highly specific or off-base questions, especially relating to topics not covered in other breakout sessions.
This event is a wonderful opportunity to ensure attendees leave the conference with all the information needed to be successful in the future.
12. Play the Spectrogram Game
A spectrogram is a visual representation of varying degrees of opinions. Using the idea of a spectrogram is a fantastic way for teams to learn more about each other. Mainly, utilize this activity in small to medium-sized groups.
This activity does not require much planning and encourages movement, which can be needed after sitting through conference sessions. To implement this exercise, ask a general question. This question can be about work or personal preferences. For example, “How do you feel about utilizing productivity apps like Slack?” or “How much do you love chocolate ice cream?” Then, all attendees line up based on how strongly they feel about the question. Or, you could ask participants to line up according to birthdays or height.
Using the idea of a spectrogram allows team members to see how they line up against each other and learn more about how others think and feel.
13. Host an Offers and Needs Meeting
Many skills are forgotten about or not considered in the hiring process or on the job. By hosting an offers and needs meeting, you encourage attendees to think about their “soft skills” or things they are good at that often get overlooked. For example, an attendee might be an expert at setting up many social media accounts while another is good at writing internal emails. Meanwhile, participants should also consider a task they need to be completed or a problem to be solved. Attendees should write both offers and needs down and display the papers for all to see. Then, allow the needs to find the offers and let the discussion flow.
An Offers and Needs Meeting is a great way for participants to practice promoting themselves and their skills and learn to ask for help.
14. Plan a Silent Disco
One of the most fun activities for breakout sessions is a silent disco. This unique and interactive event is a much-needed energy boost during a conference. A bonus to this activity is that you do not need a live band. To host a silent disco, each attendee will have a pair of wireless headphones. Then, the listener can choose their channel or type of music to enjoy. Silent discos are enjoyable for everyone involved as each dancer has their rhythm and melody.
A silent disco is a great option to break up the monotony of traditional conferences and give participants a boost of energy.
Here is a list of upbeat songs for conferences that work well for the event.
15. Plan an Escape Room
Escape rooms are a classic event where participants must solve problems and puzzles to win. The catch is that teams have to successfully answer a problem to get to the next step. This process encourages discussion and problem-solving skills for all involved. To set up an escape room session, have participants sign up ahead of time to ensure the correct number of players in each room.
An escape room is a fantastic way to develop essential skills and have fun.
Check out this guide to creating a DIY escape room.
16. Host a Meditative Session
If you are looking for breakout session examples, then consider hosting a meditative session. Sometimes participants get overwhelmed at conferences with the constant shuffling between sessions, extra noise, and increased interaction. Offering a chance for attendees to decompress and relax could be incredibly beneficial and much appreciated by all in attendance. You can set up a room with dimmed lighting, soothing music, and comfortable seating.
Mental health is incredibly important. Giving attendees a chance to focus on themselves and their mental state is a great use of a breakout session.
For more mindfulness activities, check out this list of Mental Health Awareness Month ideas.
17. Plan a Women in Business Seminar
One of the best women’s conference breakout session ideas is planning a “women in business” seminar. In this event, focus on the influential role women have in the workplace. This session does not need to be solely for women. Encouraging both men and women to attend will increase women’s success in advancing in their field. At this session, attendees can learn about the difficulties women face and how to overcome these trials. It would be helpful to hear from women who have successfully navigated a career and home.
Encouraging discussion about women in the workplace can be inspiring for young professional women and eye-opening for men.
Check out this list of leadership books for women.
18. Set Up a Photo Booth
If you are looking for one of the most fun activities for breakout sessions, then consider setting up a photo booth. This feature encourages interaction and creativity among participants. The photo booth setup can be as simple as a background with handheld props allowing participants to use their cameras. Or make the photo booth more dynamic by providing costumes and hiring a professional photographer to capture the memories.
A photo booth allows participants to have a little fun with new friends and take home a special memory from the conference.
List of Conference Breakout Session Topics
The following is a list of sample subjects for conference breakout sessions. You can use these ideas to plan dynamic and interactive breakaway sessions that encourage and develop attendees.
- Combating Mental Fatigue in the Workplace
- How to Plan a Successful Company Picnic
- Encouraging Physical Fitness Among Employees
- How to Focus on Health in the Workplace
- Hosting Virtual Team Building Games
- How to Encourage Women in the Workplace
- How to Develop a Work-Life Balance
- The Importance of Communication
- Team Building Ideas
- How to Develop Leaders
- How to Host a Virtual Escape Room
- How to Talk about Racial Equality
- How to Plan a Mental Health Month
- How to Boost Confidence in New Employees
- How to Successfully Onboard New Clients
These topics are some ideas to get you started, but the possibilities are endless.
Finding appropriate and interactive conference breakout session ideas is essential to creating a dynamic event. Attendees learn at these sessions, and also have fun and grow professionally. Then participants take these new skills back to their workplace. As companies find ways to develop their employees, everyone at the office benefits.