Transitioning an in-person event into a virtual platform

Tired of fighting the limitations of virtual event platforms? Check out these proven tips for breakout rooms that work.

The Bethesda chapter of Young AFCEA was set to host its Winter IT Luncheon in March 2020. This roundtable event would ordinarily bring more than a hundred people to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But as coronavirus cases rose, so did the concerns of the client and the event managers.

Rather than listen to a panel or keynote speaker, the Young AFCEA luncheon has always been designed to let Federal IT professionals connect with government-sector representatives in a setting where they can ask questions and engage with one another. Two government speakers are seated at each table, where a moderator facilitates the conversation with registered attendees and helps ensure a positive group dynamic. When it became apparent that hosting the luncheon in-person was no longer an option, several important questions had to be addressed: Do we push the date of the event? How do we safely host a roundtable? Could a digital platform accommodate this type of event? How do we retain the momentum surrounding the event?


Maximize Zoom’s breakout room feature

The Winter IT Luncheon was pushed until June and rebranded as the Virtual Summer IT Luncheon. The goal of the virtual event was to foster an intimate networking environment where attendees and speakers could break into groups. The organization needed a platform that would let the virtual luncheon function in the same way as an in-person roundtable.

The event managers wanted attendees to be strategically placed in virtual rooms where they could discuss topics of interest, rather than being randomly dispersed. The best-identified solution was Zoom for Government, utilizing the Breakout Rooms feature.

Attendees pre-registered and selected a discussion topic of interest, such as cybersecurity, AI/ML, cloud and IT modernization, user experience, and workforce development. Rooms were pre-assigned based on the topic selected. Once the event started, event managers could click the breakout button, inviting the attendees to join their assigned rooms. Following the breakouts, attendees were pulled back into the main session for closing remarks.

While Zoom for Government was chosen due to security reasons, the most basic Zoom accounts include the free Breakout Rooms feature which can be easily utilized for events.

5 Tips To Optimize Your Breakout Room

Zoom Breakout Rooms is an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that allows larger in-person events to be recreated virtually in an impactful way. To make your Zoom Breakout Rooms and make your event a success, be sure to:

  1. Ask attendees to turn on their video for the most interactive experience - It encourages participation and avoids users disengaging behind their screens.
  2. Build breakout rooms on the larger side - By starting with more participants, the breakouts will settle into an ideal size as people drop off because of connection issues and/or scheduling conflicts.
  3. Plan the flow of the room - Have a moderator call on participants when it’s their turn to ask a question. There is no quicker way to kill a discussion than asking, “Does anyone have questions?”.
  4. Conduct technical dry runs - Familiarize yourself with the program and the technology you’re going to be using. Practice ahead of time with the speakers and moderators to make sure they can comfortably fulfill their roles.
  5. Decide how you want to break out the rooms - Decide if you want to assign participants to breakout rooms randomly or based on topic interest or other criteria.


An engaging virtual luncheon

The Yes& team was able to successfully transition an event that is traditionally hosted in-person to a new virtual platform without losing any of the interactive aspects that make people so excited to attend. AFCEA Bethesda was able to successfully use Zoom’s breakout room feature to recreate the intimate feeling one experiences while attending networking events.

Transitioning an event into an online format, without losing sponsorships or attendees, is often a challenge. But Young AFCEA was able to raise as much for this year’s virtual event as last year’s in-person event. The event contributed in a significant way towards the chapter’s STEM scholarship commitments.