Attend one of our virtual learning events, and you'll probably recognize that we're continuously experimenting with what we can do in our meeting platforms of choice*. Last week's Virtual Networking Event was no exception.
The platform of choice for this event was Zoom. Zoom had initially been designed for venture capital pitches, with a priority given for displaying everyone's video. In Zoom, everyone can see everyone's face, as long as their cameras are on.
For most virtual meetings, breakout rooms seem to be the elephant in the cloud. This event, with its planned multiple breakout rooms, was no exception.
We had intended to utilize Zoom's "Pre-Assign Breakout Room" option, which can be quite simple to use. Once your attendees register for the meeting in the Zoom platform, you can create the breakout rooms in advance and assign them to any room you choose.
But ATD-OC uses a separate registration system. Participants register there, and usually only register in the Zoom platform just before the Zoom meeting. What to do?
Fortunately, Zoom has an option to import rooms and participants from a CSV file. We tested that, creating a spreadsheet that listed the email addresses of our registrants and matching them to breakout room names. We imported that CSV file to the Zoom meeting description before the meeting began, and Zoom did the rest.
It's really quite handy.
See that note on the bottom? "You can create up to 50 breakout rooms and assign up to a total of 200 participants?" You definitely don't want to do that manually.
But, the catch: During the meeting, you cannot launch only part of your breakout rooms.
We had three breakout sessions planned, with eight to ten breakout rooms per session. With no way to launch only 1/3 of the breakout rooms at a time, the ability to pre-assign attendees to rooms only solved part of our problem.
Our solution, then, was to pre-assign the last breakout room group, and manually assign the first two breakout sessions. We had planned for some main room discussion as people joined. And then some main room discussion in between breakout room sessions one and two. Which brings us to our lessons learned.
One: The larger the event, the more time you need between breakout sessions to manually assign attendees.
It takes longer to manually assign people to breakout rooms that you may think. This isn’t a big issue if you can get away with randomly assigning attendees to your breakout rooms. We couldn’t.
Two: Don't plan for more than two breakout room sessions in a 90 minute meeting.
While we endeavored to keep our breakout rooms small, in some cases we had just barely gotten through introductions when receiving the prompt to return to the main room. More time in each breakout session would have allowed for deeper connections.
Three: Set a cut-off time for registration.
With a lot of moving parts to the event, last minute registrants challenged us when assigning people to breakout rooms. Since they weren’t on our roster, we weren’t as able to assign them to the best room.
Four: Include a request: if people are unable to attend the event, let us know in advance.
When manually populating the breakout rooms, one of the biggest challenges (after properly sorting the roster) was searching for people on the roster who were not in the meeting. Had they cancelled, and been removed from the roster, assignments would have sped up.
Five: Too much tech is too much.
One of the ways we had proposed attendees connect after the meeting is by sharing their LinkedIn QR Code. Which is a fun way to connect, but it actually became cumbersome for people to share and scan and listen at the same time. Much easier to post a LinkedIn Profile in that old standby, chat.
There were some other, smaller lessons learned. Better sorting of the registration roster. Have facilitators update their name in Zoom to indicate that they are facilitating. End on time (always end on time! But I couldn't let that last breakout room theme go!). I think the five I listed were the biggest.
What would you add to this list? We encourage you to provide your thoughts in the comments below.
* We use two, now. Zoom, and GoToTraining. We're about to try Google Meet**.
** Because it's there, and we're in no position to climb Mount Everest.
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