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It’s good to remember what it’s like to be a participant in a breakout room.

There’s a journey that starts the moment a facilitator says, you’re going into breakouts soon. At that point, I enter a liminal, anxious space. Who will I be with? How will we get along? Will the task be too challenging for us? Should I back out now? How will it look if I back out now?

I join the room and meet the rest of the group. Some of us have cameras and are using mics. Others have neither and type in the chat. The rest of us have to be very intentional to include them in the conversation, looking out for their messages. It would be easy for their voice to get lost or receive less attention. Gradually, we unpack the task and make it our own. My anxiety is left behind. We are in a new place now. It’s comfortable, friendly and ours.

A facilitator drops in to visit and leaves again. I wonder what they make of that snippet of conversation. I don’t think it was the most interesting part.

Our time is running out, but we have made some progress with our task. More than that, we have got to know each other a little. I feel sad to say goodbye.

Back in the plenary, we struggle to relay our feedback, conscious that our experiences were individual, unique and precious. Something is lost.