Vesa Nopanen – My Metaverse Day

How to create and manage Breakout Rooms in Teams meetings

New Breakout Rooms to Microsoft Teams were published and rolled out on 9th of December 2020. Check out my How to Definite Guide for new Breakout Rooms here.

This is a older article you may want to use this do Breakout Rooms in a manual way if Breakout Rooms don’t apply to your scenario.

If and when you need some breakout functionality before that feature rolls out you can do that with some manual effort.

1. Start by creating meetings in advance.

Create Teams meetings in advance and set up all meetings settings & agendas.

2. Create a information source everyone can access

Use for example OneNote book that is created in a location that you can share to all participants. Include room information OneNote pages. The format is of course up to your preferences but overall it should be easy to find out what are all the URLs in the event.

Put information to these pages

The main purpose is that people can find out easily always what are the URLs to different rooms. Usually Keynote & Closing are the same “room” that also is used as general support meeting during breakouts.

It is a good idea to create all this information in the meeting invite or event page. Include link to the first meeting and also to shared OneNote or information page.

3. Consider shortlinks

If you are doing a external event (with guests) consider using shortlinks. It will make it much easier for you to change the URLs if needed (in case you need to recreate a meeting) but especially these links are easier to use. You can of course implement meeting join links with label text if you don’t have an easy way to create shortlinks or there is little need for that.

4. Assigning attendees to rooms

In case you want to distribute attendees more or less evenly to different rooms you can use, for example , OneNote page with table (or shared Excel which works really well in this as well ) where attendees can write their name (I’ll be going to this room) and then clicking the meeting link to join to that room.

In case you don’t need to know who was in which rooms then you can skip recording names and just instruct people to click the links to the room they prefer.

It is good to have a title page that has all the URLs in one place. It will make it easy to copy-paste that information to Teams meeting chat.

5. Facilitate the event

As facilitator you need to be active in the meeting to let people know how the event is structured. People know how to join the first meeting and in that meeting you need to explain them what is expected of them and how they will join breakout rooms, what is the schedule and where/when they get back.

It helps to have prepared the messages you share to the chat: schedule, (short)links to different rooms and what are those room’s topics. And when they will get back to the main room.

  1. Create meeting invitations. The event start meeting can be “as is Teams meeting” so people can join into the meeting easily. However create closing meeting differently so you don’t have a new room url there accidentally. It is a good idea to create Breakout rooms and other invitations separately into your calendar and then create the invitations to attendees without adding a Teams meeting – with the exception of the Event start meeting.
  2. Instruct people not to end the event meeting. Instead they should join the breakout room and Teams will put the event meeting automatically to hold. When they end the breakout meeting they return to the main event meeting.
  3. Go ahead and activate the chat for all those meetings. Instruct people to get in touch with you in meeting chat if they have issues.
  4. Visit different rooms when starting the breakout part so you can help people who have issues. And as a active facilitator you may want to make visits during the breakout as well.
  5. Meetings organizer (who created those meetings) can use “End meeting” functionality when breakouts are done.
  6. Use chat actively during the event to let people know again and again (yes, you need to do this a few times to catch attention – especially with a larger audience) and share “what’s next and in which room URLs”.
  7. Let people know that the event main event chat is used for the support so they can rejoin it if they have issues.

The simple way

While the above may look a bit complex, it isn’t so. It is about preparation to keep attendees up to date what is happening. However, for those in a hurry can do this in a very simple way

  1. Create rooms to get urls
  2. Prepare a message you will paste to Teams along with instructions (schedule, room urls and topics) and explain the walkthrough of the event during the event start. If you have time create shorturls since they look a lot better in Teams messages (or use links with labels again).
  3. Keep on pasting the information to room chats
  4. Join in to those rooms in advance. You can join 4 Teams meetings at the same time (3 of those will be on hold) which allows you to quickly switch between 4 rooms. If you have more than 4 rooms -> have people to assist you with this.
  5. End meetings when breakout rooms are out of sessions to let people know.

What about using teams and channels for the event?

You can create breakout rooms to teams quite easily with private channels and using Channel meetings (Meet now). Then you could have this kind of structure

In the example the team General-channel serves as the scheduled meeting home and the channel conversation also provides the chat part. Then you have have different breakout rooms that can be either standard channels (everyone can join) or private channels (private channel owners invite people in). It is good to note that private channel meeting can not be scheduled nor recorded.

Using team and channels has it’s pros:
1. Materials are easy to share – all team members have access to materials, even if they are guests
2. You don’t need to share meeting URLs – people can join in directly via channel
3. Chat is always available for everyone

Of course if you plan to have this event with externals who are not already in your tenant: you need to plan how to add them as guests to your environment and then to your team. This can have some issues depending on guests’s organization or if they don’t have Teams already in use. So using a team and channels for event is not the silver bullet. However, for the situations where attendees are already in the tenant this can make this structure easier. And you don’t need to create a new team: you can use existing team and add needed channels for that. This allows the use of persistent breakout rooms thus it will be easy to set up a meeting and join breakout rooms.

TIP: If attendees tenant switch to your organization (to the team) before joining the meeting they are considered the members of your organization when looking at Teams meeting lobby and who can present settings. This way you can use lobby “who can bypass it / who can present” set to “only to people in my organization” to allow your guests to get straight into the meetings. If you want to restrict them from entering: use only you/specific people who can bypass it/present.

Final words

As you have noticed this is not too difficult technically, but it does have a bit of manual work. It is mostly about planning ahead and facilitating the event (share event information via chat, jump in between meetings to listen if everything is ok, provide support). Practice first once or twice so you know what method works for you and “feels your own” the best. And of course: try to get extra pair of hands or few to help with larger events.

I hope this helps you to organize events with breakout rooms until the actual feature rolls out!

You may want to read the addendum post I wrote to this article from here. It is a collection of tips and tricks and practices I got after writing this one. Not all suit everyone, but there should be something for all.