Balancing Conferences with General and Breakout Sessions
May 15, 2015

Balancing Conferences with General and Breakout Sessions

Sometimes the simplest concepts can get lost in the fray of process.
You’re planning your next company sales meeting or user’s conference and there is so much to do that you lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Is Your Conference a Single Tree or a Lush Forest?

Imagine if you stood on the edge of a vast redwood forest, looked at the first tree, then bolted to your car and went home.

You might leave that experience thinking the mighty redwoods consist of a single tree and a parking lot. Does that sound memorable?

The General Session

Now imagine that you are an attendee at your next conference. You register for the event and soon after find yourself in the general session ballroom completely immersed in the theme, the message, and all the branding the creative team worked so hard to develop.

The stage is gorgeous, the opening video is engaging, and the general session speakers are knocking it out of the park. Then what happens?

The Breakout Sessions

It’s time now for the breakout sessions. Some call them ‘track sessions’ or ‘training modules,’ and often, they are far disconnected from the experience you just enjoyed in the general session. Why?

Here’s one reason: All the efforts were put into the general session to create an engaging experience, and that part is over now. Time to learn some stuff.

Let’s get cracking on some PowerPoint torture because learning shouldn’t be engaging, or fun, or interesting. It’s time to take off the straw hats and pick up the brass tacks.

The Space Between

Well, when all that is said and done, you may have killed the most important part of your event: your breakout content.

Everyone will remember that cool experience in the ballroom where they felt the energy and passion of the general session (if you’ve done it right), but yet that energy and excitement is just a distant memory here in the breakouts.

Essentially, you saw the first tree in the forest and then you were suddenly in your Pontiac and the experience was over.

Don’t shove your audiences into their Pontiacs so quickly.

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Why Closing the Gap Matters So Much

Adult learning is a more precarious process than teaching children long division. Our attention spans rival that of goldfish and this is even more true in a large conference setting where distractions are around every corner.

When we are engaged, we are connected to our objective…period. We are receptive to content. We are thirsty for the Koolaid, all day long. You opened the minds of your audience in the general session, now don’t let that door slam shut.

Keep the experience going and you’ll find that the critical parts, arguably the core reason you’re having this event, will be better received by your audience. Let the trees planted in your general session grow into an immersive experience—a forest that includes your breakout sessions

How to Close the Session Gap

Connect the Experience With Sensory Cues

The solutions can be quite simple: music, lighting, table arrangements and small signage that echo the vibe and decor of the general session or overall conference theme.

Customize Session Introductions

Give those track sessions clever names that link back to the general session theme or customize a short extraction from the opening video and play it before the training begins.

Team Up With Breakout Presenters

Another great way to connect the breakouts to the general session is to work with the breakout presenters. Help them connect back to the conference theme by reflecting on the message of the general session and finding ways to fit their points within those ideas.

Have Conversations About Theming

Share the theme rationale with them and help them  implement some fun and lasting metaphors and analogies. Your speakers will feel more supported by your creative team and your audience will enjoy the lasting engagement.

So this time, come away from your general session with gusto. Spread the love all the way through your breakout sessions and watch your content take on a life of its own.

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