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Zoom Breakout Rooms: Important Updates and Changes

Zoom’s breakout room feature allows you to split your Zoom meeting into separate sessions (up to 50). It’s a terrific feature in Zoom, but there are some recent feature changes for Zoom breakout rooms that are important to point out. As a Director of Technology for my employer, I have had to spend significant time working with the platform which originally led me to write about Zoom breakout rooms tips and lessons learned.

Here are some important updates to Zoom related to breakout rooms.

New Zoom Feature: Let Participants Choose their Breakout Room

  • When creating breakout rooms in a live Zoom meeting, you can choose between Assign Automatically, Assign Manually or Let Participants Choose Room. The old option called “assign automatically” is easy and works best for large groups, while “assign manually” works best for very small groups. If you attempt to use “assign manually” for larger Zoom meetings (e.g., over 40 or 50 people), it can be a real burden on the host to assign each person in a timely manner. While I have personally done this in a Zoom meeting with nearly 90 users, it took me roughly 15 minutes to do so.
  • New with client version 5.3 (September 25, 2020), it is now possible to define breakout rooms that users can self-select (yay!). An important caveat is that the meeting host and participants need to be on Client 5.3.0 or later to self-select Breakout Rooms.
  • If you want to update and/or check your current Zoom version, one way is to click on the little avatar/profile pic icon in the top-right corner of your Zoom app. From there, you’ll see a menu choice for “Check for Updates”. Zoom also has a helpful little video on this. Unfortunately, if users need to update their Zoom version while on an active Zoom meeting, they will be disconnected when Zoom updates itself.
  • Letting participants choose their breakout rooms can be particularly helpful when you want to create topic-based breakout rooms. For example, maybe you’ll be creating three breakout rooms for smaller discussion groups like this.

  • When you are creating breakout rooms, you can easily name them by hovering your mouse over each one and clicking on ‘Rename’. Just keep in mind that the maximum length of the room name is 32 characters.
  •  If you use the new Let participants choose option, you might have users who don’t actively choose a room when you open the rooms. You can still manually assign (move) those users into a breakout room, if needed.
  • Using this type of breakout room can be especially helpful when you want to repeat those same breakout room topics during the call. For example, maybe you’ll let users choose their breakout room for a 15 minute discussion; then close the rooms so that everyone returns to the main room; then give an announcement for people to pick a different topic and re-open the rooms. Users will be given the opportunity to choose a different room on the next go-around!

Zoom Update for Pre-Assigning People to Breakout Rooms

While it’s pretty easy to manually assign a small number of people to breakout rooms during an active Zoom call, it can be time consuming and difficult to try and assign a lot of people into specific rooms. I previously wrote about using this feature here. There’s an important update (more like a fix) to this feature.

You can pre-assign people to specific breakout rooms by importing a CSV file via the Zoom website. However, keep in mind that 200 is the maximum number of people that can be in your CSV file. Zoom will ignore any rows in your CSV file beyond the first 200.

Originally, there was an issue you could experience when you would click on the Breakout Rooms button in that people who you had pre-assigned to the rooms didn’t always show as being assigned! I personally panicked when this happened. The glitch involves the users who arrive late to the Zoom call.

Here’s the scenario: You followed the directions for creating a CSV file to pre-assign people to different breakout rooms. During your active Zoom meeting, you are near the time when you want to open the breakout rooms so you click the button for Breakout Rooms. As you review the screen, you start noticing there are people who aren’t under a room assignment! One reason for this can be you had late stragglers to the Zoom meeting! They showed up late. The original workaround was to use the button to “Recreate All Rooms” which re-examines who has actively joined the Zoom call and assigns them to the rooms as denoted in your CSV file.

When I first used the CSV import option, I had assumed that as people joined the call, their names would automatically fall into the assigned rooms. But prior to Zoom version 5.4, that process stops when the host clicks the button for Breakout Rooms.

OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE! A new version of the Zoom application fixed this issue. When the host has Zoom client version 5.4 (or higher), participants will automatically get placed under their pre-assigned rooms as they join the Zoom call. Yay! Please note that only the Zoom host has to be on the newer Zoom version for this to work.

Another Reason Why Pre-Assigning People to Breakout Rooms Might Fail

Several people have written to me that they attempted to use the feature for pre-assigning participants to breakout rooms but it was a total failure. And they asked me why. Here are a few reasons.

  • Per my recommendation in my original article, you set up your Zoom meeting to require registration. However, while you should have then emailed the special “Zoom meeting registration URL” to all of your users, instead you registered yourself for the meeting and then sent everyone your “Join Zoom Meeting” link! The end result? Everyone who joins the Zoom call has your name!
  • The most common reason for failure is that you chose to NOT use Zoom meeting registration, and instead, you set up a standard Zoom meeting and sent everyone the generic Join Zoom Meeting URL. So why is that a problem? When users click to join the meeting, Zoom doesn’t require that they authenticate or sign-in to Zoom. So when they get connected, Zoom doesn’t know what their email address is and thus the pre-assignment functon fails to work. You might notice that some people get correctly assigned, but not others. Why? If the user has an actual Zoom account (free or paid), and IF their Zoom app is signed in with their email address, then they will be correctly assigned to their breakout room.
  • If you find it impractical to use Zoom meeting registration and instead, you insist on using a generic “Join Zoom” link, the other option you could consider when setting up your Zoom meeting is the “Require authentication to join” option (see below). If you use that, then your CSV file for pre-assigning people should work. The caveat? You have to tell everyone to make sure they have either a free account, or a paid account with Zoom. It only takes a few minutes for users to create a free Zoom account, but they must have an email address to sign up.


Zoom Update: Co-hosts can now help manage breakout rooms

New with Zoom client release 5.4.6 (December 8, 2020), co-hosts now have access to the breakout rooms feature. In the past, only the main host had access to this feature during a live meeting. Co-hosts can now start or end breakout rooms, and they can also assign participants, etc. Also new with 5.4.6, hosts and co-hosts can assign (move) participants back to the main session rather than having to end all breakout sessions.


I hope these tips and lessons learned is helpful to you. If you have any feedback or suggestions for improving this article, please let me know in the comments below or email me at


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