Conference Breakout Session Ideas: 4 Ways to Engage Your Attendees

Today’s conference planning isn’t just about booking speakers and organizing educational sessions – it’s about engaging your attendees and creating an experience they’ll never forget. In today’s digital age especially, brainstorming conference breakout session ideas should be at the top of your to-do list.

It’s 2018 after all. People already have enough online exchanges, conference calls, and virtual meetings. And more companies than ever before are offering their employees remote work options. The last thing they want when attending a conference is limited face-to-face interactions.

They want hands-on learning. They want next-level networking opportunities. They want more than just lecturing.

The good news is, we have 30+ years of event planning experience and have learned a thing or two over the years. We’re always on top of trends and we’re constantly on the search for new event industry insights and ideas. And now, we’re here to share that knowledge with you.

Here are four conference breakout session ideas to create an experience, not just organize an event.

1. Strategic Speed Networking:

Put a twist on traditional speed networking events and add an element of strategy with advanced matching software. Rather than having your attendees rotate one to the right, event planners can utilize matching software to create strategic meetings between participants who have shared interests. Que more meaningful connections and better business relationships!

How does it work? It’s easy.

When participants sign up for the session, they’ll be asked to fill out a survey detailing the types of people they want to meet with based on categories put together by you—the event planner.

They can rate each category—which could include things like areas of interest within the industry, job title, geographical location, experience in the field, and more—from strongly interested to not at all interested.

Once registration closes, the matching software uses an advanced algorithm to pair people together based on their unique, individual preferences. The algorithm takes all of the survey responses into account to create the best possible meetings for each attendee.

At the event, each attendee will be given their personalized schedule, which provides contact information, company name, background information, and starter questions to help kick off the conversations.

Not only does this type of strategic speed networking enhance the quality of connections for your event-goers, but it also greatly increases the quantity of connections compared to more traditional networking event formats.

In fact, a traditional 90-minute networking event with 100 participants generates around 300 new connections on average, but a Speed Networking event produces more than 1,000 new connections in the same amount of time. That’s 333% more meetings!

2. Targeted Roundtables:

Roundtables are nothing new in the world of trade shows and events, but targeted roundtables have started to grow in popularity in recent years. As technology continues to improve the ways we can connect attendees, consider targeted roundtables as a conference breakout session idea.

Group settings such as these allow for meaningful discussions, debates, and serve as a way to encourage connection and collaboration among conference-goers. But rather than randomly seating your attendees—or spending hours, if not days, in excel trying to manually create seating arrangements—use technology to create more targeted roundtables.

The best part? More strategic seating assignments are just a click away. Just provide participant data and decide how you want to group your attendees and the technology will take it from there.

And targeted roundtables aren’t just another networking option – they can also be used for luncheons, dinners, team building activities, workshops, and pretty much anything else that focuses on face-to-face interactions.

With targeted roundtables, you can work smarter, not harder.

3. Scavenger Hunts:

Get people moving and grooving with a scavenger hunt! Not only are scavenger hunts fun, but they can also be completely wrapped up in your conference theme and organizational culture.

WildGoose, for example, uses their scavenger know-how combined with an award-winning technology to put together customizable scavenger hunts designed specifically for large conferences and tradeshows. Whether you want to keep your attendees within the walls of your convention center or encourage them to explore the city streets, their app is designed to increase engagement and interaction.

Points can be given for a wide range of things including visits to exhibition booths, photo-ops, etc. As an added incentive, offer a prize to the winning team. This could be anything from tech and tools relating to your industry or something that’s just for fun.

4. Human Bingo:

Help your attendees get to know one another in a laid-back setting with a game of human bingo. Prepare a standard 5×5 bingo matrix for each attendee and fill in the boxes with a mix of personal and professional statements to help attendees learn more about the people around them.

Some examples include:

  • Has attended this conference before
  • Has the same job title as you
  • Has been at the same company for 10+ years
  • Doesn’t know anyone else at the conference
  • Works for a company with 1-10 people
  • Works for a company with 100-500 people
  • Works for a company with 1,000+ people
  • Has taken a vacation within the last 6 months
  • Has climbed a mountain
  • Has met a famous person

Whatever you chose, try to think of things that are specific to your industry. What interests your attendees and what will really get the conversations flowing?

At the session, hand out the cards to attendees and have them interview their fellow participants with the goal of getting B-I-N-G-O.

We advise offering a prize or swag item to every participant that gets a bingo rather than making it a contest to see who can get it first. This way, you can encourage more socializing and conversations rather than just quick questions.

After enough time is given, consider letting your attendees continue the conversations with a mix and mingle cocktail event. This way, they can circle back to those they met with and continue building upon those connections.

At the end of the day, considering conference breakout session ideas all comes down to creating a more personal experience that is engaging, interactive, and informative. These sessions should be different from the other activities you’re offering and should focus on smaller groups within the conference, hence the word “breakout”.

And we can’t stress enough how important adding in an element of face-to-face interactions is in today’s digital world. In fact, according to the Center for Association Leadership (ASAE), 96% of people said face-to-face interactions are the most important part of developing and maintaining strong relationships.

Whatever you decide, be sure to collect conference feedback so you can continue improving your event year-after-year. And if you have any other conference breakout session ideas, be sure to drop them in the comments below.

Here’s to creating an experience, not just organizing an event.