“Let’s break into groups and discuss!”
It’s a phrase familiar to anyone who has participated in a corporate team building, brainstorming, or training session. Usually, it signals a welcome change of pace from an all-hands-type meeting presentation and a chance to see if your colleagues are getting as much (or as little) out of the session as you are.
It’s a phrase we won’t be retiring as we step more completely into the digital age, either. Video conferencing breakout rooms are now a common feature among video platforms, and they offer the same more personal alternative to the monolithic form of most online meetings.
In fact, the digital version of breaking a big meeting down into smaller, more interactive groups can be even more productive than the in-room version as it cocoons each group in a world of its own and allows meeting hosts to effortlessly glide from one creative clique to the next.
What Are Video Conferencing Breakout Rooms?
If you haven’t used one yet, breakout rooms are meetings within a meeting. The feature allows a host to divide the members of a video conference into smaller groups and assign them to their own private chat room without having to set up a new video call. In most cases, the host is then able to move between breakout rooms while the video callers themselves are separated from the other groups.
Each vendor has their own video conferencing breakout room quirks.
Breakout rooms–or breakout sessions, as they’re sometimes called–are not headline features that dominate the splash page of a video vendor. Look a little closer at the product features, however, and you’ll be pleased to find they are quite common. The following list is far from exhaustive, but gives you an idea of the range of vendors that offer the service:
- Blackboard Collaborate
- Adobe Connect
Each vendor has their own video conferencing breakout room quirks. Zoom, for instance, allows up to 50 breakout rooms but doesn’t offer cloud video recording in smaller rooms (only in the main room), Adobe allows up to 20 unique rooms while LogMeIn caps it at six, and Blackboard Collaborate’s version makes it easy for the host to move participants from one breakout room to another. The majority of breakout room features let the meeting host decide whether breakout rooms will be created randomly or participants will be manually assigned to specific rooms.
Regardless of the small differences, each vendor is giving you the freedom to make your meetings more dynamic.
What Is the Purpose of a Video Conferencing Breakout Room?
Each breakout room functions the same way as the typical group video call. Once effectively locked away from the main group, the breakout room participants are free to speak, chat, and access features like screen sharing or digital whiteboards just as they would normally.
The meeting host can move from group to group, facilitating conversation and evaluating the group’s understanding of the material.
The goal is to give over a meeting to in-depth, colleague-to-colleague discussion without the entire experience collapsing into the cacophony of several different simultaneous conversations. Each group inhabits its own little Cone of Silence where they’re free to push discussions and ideas further without fear of broader judgment or pose questions they might be reluctant to air in front of a larger audience.
The meeting host can move from group to group as a facilitator, devil’s advocate, or font of information, facilitating conversation and evaluating the group’s understanding of the material. Of course, what you ultimately do with your video conferencing breakout rooms is entirely up to your business needs and your imagination.
How Should I Use a Video Conferencing Breakout Room?
Breakout rooms are ideally suited for corporate training sessions. The feature lets a small group collaboratively work through the finer details of information discussed in the main meeting and test it out for themselves in a collaborative atmosphere.
Video calling breakout rooms could be a point of difference that sways your final vendor selection.
It can, however, be pressed into service for a range of different purposes, including:
Online mediation: The growing use of video conferencing to mediate disputes between remote parties can be greatly enhanced if each side has the chance to chat privately with each other or their counsel. The same principle could be applied to courtrooms, with a judge presiding over the virtual discussions between a lawyer and a remotely located defendant or plaintiff.
Virtual competition: The humble inter-school debate has entered the digital realm with schools separated by miles, borders, and even oceans now competing against one another online. Video conferencing breakout rooms would let each side plan their next move free from the ears of their opposition, while remaining under the gaze of moderators.
Team meetings: Each team within a broad corporate structure has a different part to play. Breaking a general meeting into dedicated groups according to role would let employees discuss the training material in a way that’s specific to their function in the company before bringing their ideas back to the main discussion.
Video conferencing breakout room availability has not quite reached the status of a must-have video platform feature, but it could be a point of difference that sways your final vendor selection. If it’s not something you’d use on a regular basis, we suggest you judge any potential video solution on other grounds, such as price, workflow integration, and reliability. But if you want to shake up the way you conduct your video meetings, then it is becoming common enough for you to insist on its presence.