Key points
  • Breakout rooms allow the Zoom host to split attendees into separate ‘rooms’
  • This is a great way to maximise the presence of guest speakers and enhance audience engagement
  • Breakout rooms are easy to execute during your event- but a bit of preparation never goes astray!

By now, many businesses and schools are seasoned pros at using Zoom. Whether it’s for staff meetings, online interviews with prospective parents, or virtual events, we know that it’s an engaging and interactive platform that has been successful for many schools. Here at Digistorm, we’ve used Zoom for our online webinars and have become familiar with many of its handy features, such as breakout rooms.

Breakout rooms allow you to easily split your Zoom attendees into different “rooms,” separate from the main meeting. It’s a great space to allow for group discussions and virtual activities. In this post, we’ll give you a step-by-step breakdown of how to use breakout rooms for your next virtual event.

Preparing your online school event

Hosting virtual events is a smart way to keep engaging your school community within these current circumstances, but with webinar fatigue on the rise, it’s important to consider creative ways to create a personalised and interactive experience for your attendees.

If you’re unsure what breakout activities would best suit your online event, defining your event audience and the goals you want to achieve is a good place to start. You should pick three to four SMART goals and specify whether your event is for prospective families, students, staff, or your existing community. This will help you to brainstorm activities that would best suit your audience.

A few other things to consider in your session planning: 

  • Event type. Is this a virtual open day or a staff meeting? Do your activities need to be targeted to a student or parent audience? 
  • Session length. Is this a quick 10-minute Zoom session or a longer 45-minute session? How many breakout sessions are you hoping to realistically run in this time? 
  • Attendance numbers. Have you received as many RSVPs as you thought you would? What is your plan to manage no-shows or extra attendees on the day? 
  • Technical help. Have you experienced technical difficulties on Zoom, such as connection or sound issues? Do you have a backup content plan? 

Leverage guest speakers

Breakout sessions are great for virtual open days or information sessions where you may have multiple guest speakers. Once official introductions are made, inform attendees that they’ll be divided into breakout rooms with a guest speaker. We recommend adding a slide to your presentation here that lists all of the different breakout rooms and their correlating numbers.

  • Breakout Room 1: Lila B, student wellbeing for new students
  • Breakout Room 2: Chris D, supporting your child with social development
  • Breakout Room 3: Fiona L, parent engagement in children’s learning

The host can then ask each attendee to nominate which breakout room they would like to be placed into by adding it to their Zoom display name so they can be allocated accordingly. 

The guest speaker in each breakout room can have their own slide deck on the defined topic. One of the fastest ways to disengage a group is to overwhelm them with too many slides of facts and data. Encourage your guest speakers to mix these details with personalised stories and experiences. They can also pitch questions to the group to facilitate discussion. 

Breakout sessions are great for enhancing audience participation because research shows that the smaller the group the more likely people are to participate, a phenomenon known as the diffusion of responsibility.  If there’s a smaller group, attendees feel more responsible to participate and are less likely or able to “hide”.

Implement engaging activities

Another idea for collaborative breakout sessions is to create an activity for each attendee to participate in. This could be an activity sheet, posing a question using the Zoom poll feature, or using an online quiz platform, like Kahoot. At Digistorm’s recent virtual forum, Timely and Targeted, we utilised a software called Miro to facilitate a post-it note question and answer activity. We saw great engagement from this activity with over 80 participants creating a post-it note with an answer. 


Miro board example

Consider using a similar format in a Zoom breakout room, where the host writes a few key questions before the virtual event and then the Miro link can be posted into each breakout room for attendees to work on and discuss together. This is an effective way to encourage collaboration between attendees because when users have guidance with an activity they are more likely to speak up, rather than shying away from answering live questions. 

After the breakout sessions are complete and attendees have been brought back into the main room, you can wrap up the event by reflecting on different answers and group discussions. If you use a school CRM, such as Digistorm Funnel, you can even send a follow-up email to all event attendees with the breakout room slides and activities for them to revisit at a later date. 

Setting up breakout rooms

Now, let’s take a look at how to set up breakout rooms on your Zoom account. Before creating your Zoom meeting, you’ll need to log into your Zoom web portal to enable the breakout room feature for your account. To do this, simply follow the below steps:

  1. Click Account management > Account settings in the navigation menu.
  2. Locate the Breakout Room feature and ensure that the toggle is turned on

While you’re here, you can also click the checkbox that says allow the host to assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling. This provides your meeting host with the ability to assign participants to a breakout session before the event begins. 

If you’re having trouble seeing these options, your Zoom account may not have the account privilege to edit settings. If this is the case you'll need to get the main administrator account in your team to unlock the breakout feature for all account users. 

Pre-assigning breakout rooms

Once you’ve completed the above steps and enabled the breakout rooms feature you can schedule your webinar or event. If you already have a fair idea about how you would like to split up your attendees, you can pre-assign them into breakout rooms. To do this, log into your  Zoom account and click Schedule a Meeting. Then, scroll down to the Breakout room pre-assign and then Create Rooms.

From this pop-up window, you can add multiple rooms by clicking + and then searching for participants from your contact list to add them to each room. Once this is complete hit save. It’s important to keep in mind that there can only be one host that is assigning and managing the breakout rooms – you won’t be able to do this from multiple accounts. 


zoom breakout room example

Managing breakout rooms on event day

If you aren’t sure of your attendee numbers before scheduling your event, you have the option to create breakout rooms during the event too. Once your event has begun, the host will be able to see a Breakout Rooms button and icon at the bottom of their Zoom screen. They can click this button and a pop-up window will ask how many rooms they would like to create and how many participants per room.

Zoom will provide a suggestion to help guide the host. For example, if there are six participants it will suggest three rooms with two participants in each room. Zoom can automatically assign these participants into a room, or you can choose to manually do this. 

Once your host has made their selection, they’ll be able to see a preview of the breakout rooms and participants. From here, you’re able to rename a room, add a room, delete a room, or move participants to different rooms. Once everything looks ready to go, simply click Open All Rooms.

This will send a notification to attendees that they have been invited to join a breakout room. When attendees accept the notification they will be taken to their rooms, where your group activities can be carried out. When it’s time to bring your attendees back to the main meeting room the host can click Close All Rooms, which will send a notification to attendees that all breakout rooms will close in 60 seconds. 

Once the time is up, all attendees will be sent back to the main Zoom session. This can be repeated multiple times throughout the Zoom session and each time you reopen the rooms you can keep the groups the same or mix them up as you desire. You can also set the break out rooms to automatically close after a specific amount of time if you are doing regular 10-minute activities. 

Pro tip! If you’re recording your event locally on your computer, the recording will follow the room that the host goes into. If you’re recording the event on the cloud it will only record the main session and not the breakout rooms. 


As with all things technology, practice makes perfect! Once you’ve had a run-through and become familiar with the steps, breakout rooms are an incredibly easy and effective way to elevate your online events and provide the best possible experience for your audience. For more tips on running school events, check out our handy guide.

Published 29 September 2020