If you are planning a women’s retreat and want to have small group activities, it’s important to understand the different ways to schedule breakout sessions.
Why Breakout Session Schedules Matter
Scheduling affects the flow of the day which in turn makes the entire retreat experience more meaningful. If you don’t provide enough time for the breakout sessions, the whole agenda will be thrown off.
In addition, scheduling makes a difference when planning materials and resources needed.
For example, if you have two sessions using acrylic paints such as we do with our Paint and Praise session and our Radical Rock Painting session, you can schedule them at different times in order to share materials.
This keeps costs down, and we all need ways to do that when planning retreats, right?!
Different Ways to Schedule Breakout Sessions
There are several different ways to schedule breakout sessions. What you choose will be determined based on the availability of time, space, leaders, and materials.
In addition to the previous factors, you’ll also want to consider your preparation time. Do you have the time or the desire to create forms for the ladies to choose their breakout sessions in advance?
Allowing them to choose in advance would mean they’d need to pick several back-up options in case their first choices were full. Then, you’d need to pre-schedule, ensuring everyone gets a top choice and no sessions are too full or too empty.
If you don’t have the time or don’t want to pre-schedule, there are other options that work just as well. Let’s take a look at other ways to schedule.
How to Schedule Breakout Sessions
Schedule Ahead Sessions
As I mentioned previously, the schedule ahead option allows ladies to choose what they want to learn more about, when they attend a particular session, and who they attend with.
This always sounds like the best idea, but the preparation for it can be overwhelming. Consider the time you’ll need to not only gather their choices but also to do the actual scheduling.
You’ll need to create a form either online (I use Google Forms; it’s free) or on paper for ladies to fill out with their breakout session selections. Then, you’ll need to spend time scheduling.
You’ll need to decide for yourself if providing this option is important enough for you to take the time to set it all up.
Everyone Attends Every Session Together
With smaller retreats where attendance is under 15, retreat planners often choose to have one or two activities that all the ladies participate in together.
Doing this creates strong bonds among the women which is the main goal of a retreat in my opinion.
However, at larger retreats this can be difficult as many venues don’t have a large enough space to fit everyone.
For a one-day retreat held at a church, the Fellowship Hall can be a great place to hold everyone. Just be sure to consider your facilities and resources.
Another disadvantage is choosing sessions that the majority of people will be interested in. I always want to provide exactly what each person wants. I have learned, though, that we can’t always do that. Fortunately, most of the ladies are flexible and willing to participate in every activity.
Drop-in sessions allow everyone to choose their session ‘on the fly’ rather than signing up ahead of time. Ladies simply head to whichever session they want.
This is actually our favorite way to schedule breakout sessions. However, there are several pros and cons. You can read more about drop-in sessions HERE.
Choose When They Get There
The ‘choose when you get there’ method can work well, too. Use poster board sized Post-It notes on a wall, one for each session. Include the session name and then a numbered list of 12 (or however many will fit).
Give the ladies time to look over each session and sign-up under the one(s) they wanted. When the numbers were filled, the session is full.
Most Important Tip for Scheduling Breakout Sessions
No matter which way you choose to schedule breakout sessions, keep in mind this most important tip:
As long as you communicate well with your session leaders and with the attendees and are flexible with any situation that arises, your breakout sessions will be a hit!
Be sure to check out my Advice for Breakout Session Leaders article. It comes with a free letter template you can customize to share with your small group leaders.