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How to create and manage breakout rooms in Zoom

By Luke Strauss · July 27, 2023
App tips Zoom

So, you've found yourself in a Zoom breakout room with colleagues you've never spoken with, a clueless host, and no direction on how to proceed. Par for the course.

In theory, Zoom breakout rooms allow you to facilitate small group discussions and collaboration within meetings, improving engagement—but only if they're done correctly.

Here, I'll walk you through how to create and manage breakout rooms in Zoom and provide some pro tips to keep participants from pretending their Wi-Fi went down mid-meeting.

Creating breakout rooms in Zoom

You can create breakout rooms in Zoom both before and during a meeting, but I recommend doing so beforehand to avoid mid-meeting mishaps.

Before moving forward, make sure you have Zoom updated to the minimum version required or higher.

Step 1: Enable breakout rooms

You first have to enable the breakout room feature, if it isn't enabled already. Here's how:

  1. Log in to your Zoom account via the online web portal.

  2. Click Settings on the left-hand menu, and scroll down to the In Meeting (Advanced) section.

  3. Look for the Breakout Room – Meetings option, and toggle it on.

Screenshot of the settings page in Zoom where you can toggle on the breakout rooms option

Step 2: Pre-assign participants (recommended) 

While this step is technically optional, to me it's essential to avoid wasting everyone's time. Nobody wants to sit and watch their Zoom host silently struggle to organize breakout rooms for five minutes in the middle of a meeting.

Here's how to pre-assign participants to specific breakout rooms:

  1. In the same In Meeting (Advanced) section of Zoom's settings, select Assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling, then click Save.

    Screenshot of the settings page in Zoom showing where you can check a box to assign participants to rooms when scheduling a meeting

  2. Go to Meetings in the left-side menu, and click Schedule a Meeting. 

    Screenshot of a Zoom page highlighting "Meetings" on the left-hand side and the "Schedule a Meeting" button in the top right corner

  3. Modify your meeting preferences, then scroll down and click Show next to Options.

  4. Choose Breakout Room pre-assign, then click + Create Rooms.

    Screenshot of the options window in Zoom with an arrow pointing to a box you can check that says "breakout room pre-assign" and a link to "create rooms" right under it

  5. A menu will appear where you can add or remove rooms and assign participants to them. Adjust as desired, then click Save.

    Screenshot of a window in Zoom where you can add or remove the number of breakout rooms and assign participants to them

Step 3: Create your breakout room

If you scheduled the meeting in advance and pre-assigned participants to specific breakout rooms (AKA the right way), you don't need to add participants during the meeting—just start your scheduled session and everyone will be added automatically.

Still, you can create, access, and manage breakout rooms once the meeting begins. Here's how to do it:

  1. As the host, start the meeting and wait for all participants to join.

  2. Click the Breakout Rooms button on the bottom menu. A breakout room panel will appear.

  3. Select the number of rooms you want.

  4. Choose whether you want to assign automatically, manually (more on this below), or let participants choose a room. That last option can open the door to some chaos—you've been warned.

Screenshot of a Zoom screen during a meeting, with an arrow pointing to the "breakout rooms" button and a window that allows you to manually create breakout rooms during a meeting

Adding participants to breakout rooms manually

Forgot to pre-assign participants? Follow these steps to add people manually during the meeting:

  1. In the same breakout room panel shown above, choose Assign manually. All your rooms will appear.

  2. Hover over the room you want to assign a specific participant, click Assign, then mark the checkbox next to the participant's name.

    Screenshot of the same window in Zoom where you can assign participants to a breakout room during a meeting

3. Once you complete the changes, click Open All Rooms to start your meeting.

Managing your Zoom breakout rooms

You've created your breakout room—now it's time to configure it. Here are some key features and how to use them.

Move, rename, delete, or re-assign participants

Zoom allows you to easily move participants between breakout rooms, rename the rooms to reflect their purpose, delete empty rooms, or re-assign participants from one room to another. This ensures that your breakout sessions align with your meeting's purpose.

  • To move participants between breakout rooms, click the Move to option next to the participant's name and select the desired room from the list.

Screenshot of the same window in Zoom showing where you can move participants between breakout rooms
  • To rename breakout rooms, hover over the room name, and click on the Rename option. Enter the new name, and click Yes to save.

Screenshot of the same window in Zoom showing where you can rename a breakout room
  • To delete empty rooms, hover over the room name, and click Delete Room.

Screenshot of the same window in Zoom showing where you can delete a breakout room

Adjust options

Zoom provides additional options to enhance your breakout room experience. 

  • Set a time limit. To limit breakout room session duration, click the gear symbol on the bottom-left of the panel. Check the box for Auto close breakout rooms after [provided field] minutes, then enter the desired duration.

Screenshot of a settings window in Zoom showing where you can set a time limit for breakout rooms to auto close
  • Allow participants to return to the main session. By default, participants can leave the breakout rooms and return to the main session whenever they want. To deactivate this feature, uncheck Allow participants to return to the main session at any time in the same settings panel.

Screenshot of a window in Zoom highlighting a box you can check to allow participants to return to the main meeting session at any time
  • Show participants a countdown timer. To notify your participants that their rooms are about to close with a countdown timer (rather than yanking them out mid-sentence), check Countdown after closing breakout room in the same settings panel and specify how long you want the countdown to be.

Screenshot of the same settings window in Zoom highlighting a box you can check to enable a countdown timer to close the breakout rooms

Broadcast messages to all rooms 

If you forgot to tell everyone what to chat about before sending them into their breakout rooms, you don't have to awkwardly hop into every room to interrupt the convo and give verbal directions—just broadcast a message.

Click Broadcast Message in the breakout room panel, and enter your message.

Screenshot of a breakout room panel in Zoom showing where you can click to broadcast a message to all breakout rooms

The message appears at the top of the participants' Zoom client.

Screenshot of a broadcast message that says "From Stacy Walden to everyone: Hurry back!" with a smiley face

Monitor meeting participants 

To check if people are doing what they're supposed to be doing, here's what you can do:

  • Open the breakout room panel with the list of rooms and assignees. The list will show each participant's name and status, like "joined" or "waiting."

  • To join any specific breakout room, click Join next to its name.

  • When you're done monitoring a breakout room, return to the main meeting session by clicking the Leave Room button at the bottom-right corner of the Zoom window. Then click Leave Breakout Room.

Screenshot of a button you can click in Zoom that says "Leave breakout room"

Closing rooms

When it's time to end the breakout sessions and bring everyone back to the main meeting, you can close the breakout rooms by following these steps:

  1. Open the breakout room panel.

  2. Click Close All Rooms.

  3. A confirmation will appear. Confirm to close all breakout rooms.

Tips for running breakout rooms in Zoom

Check out these tips to make your breakout sessions less awkward.

  • Plan ahead. Like any other meeting, preparation is key. Tell your participants why they're being put into a breakout session, set clear expectations, and think through all logistics in advance.

  • Diffuse discomfort. Break the ice by asking participants a fun question or prompt to kickstart their discussions. It's a great way to get the conversation flowing, but keep it original—your guests have probably been asked, "What did you do over the weekend?" five times this week already.

  • Communicate expectations. Don't leave participants guessing if their breakout session will last forever. Communicate how long it'll last beforehand to help them manage their time well and avoid confusion.

  • Prepare for technical issues. Technical glitches are bound to happen. Prepare a backup plan and give participants clear instructions on what to do if they encounter a (hopefully not made-up) issue.

Zoom breakout room FAQ

Here are some answers to common Zoom breakout room questions. 

Can you make breakout rooms in Zoom's free version?

Yes! You can create and use breakout rooms during meetings without a paid Zoom subscription.

Can you add breakout rooms in Zoom during a meeting?

Yes. While your meeting will probably (definitely) run smoother if you create your breakout rooms beforehand, there are occasions when adding participants during the meeting is necessary, like when someone who had declined the meeting messages you last-minute that they want to join. Assuming you have breakout rooms enabled and your meeting has already started, invite this person and click Assign manually to add them to the desired room.

How many breakout rooms can you create at once?

It depends on which Zoom version you have available. The free plan allows up to 50 breakout rooms in a single meeting. The Pro, Business, Education, and Enterprise plans allow for 200 breakout rooms in a single meeting.

Who can see breakout room chats?

This depends on the participant's role and the meeting host's settings. As the host, you can see the chats happening in all breakout rooms. Participants assigned to the same breakout room can see and participate in the chat for their own room, but not other rooms.

Now that you're equipped to launch breakout rooms in Zoom, automate Zoom to make your meetings run even smoother. 

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