In large gatherings that will be stable for a few days or more, you can combine the benefits of having a high number of attendees (e.g. more minds at work!) with the supportive feel of a small group by creating "home groups" or "buddy groups".
To foster full participation and enable attendees to support one another
Create random groups of 5-8 people.
Send groups to have a 15-20 minutes discussion around such topics as:
- what would you need to be your best at this event?
- how can we support one another?
- what will our group be like?
Back in plenary, invite some sharing around what emerged, so that groups can learn from one another.
Send participants back to their home groups at various times during the event, e.g. at the end of each day for a reflection.
It's best to create random groups, thereby maximizing chances that new people will meet or meet at a deeper level. Allowing people to choose may result in people working with those they already know, and possibly someone feeling excluded.
Add playful elements to the first "culture creation" session of the buddy groups by asking them to create a group name, flag, cheer, secret handshake or whatnot.
Make sure there is some time at the end of the event for groups to say goodbye to one another and share what they have learnt by working together.
You can assign names to each group and allow them to choose their own breakout after the first time, by creating breakouts that are names after the group. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea for you to know who is in which group!
Create mixed groups of participants joining remotely with others joining online. Invite them to discuss how they can best support one another through the hybrid sessions. Those sharing a room with a facilitator might find it easier to attract your attention, or to speak out.
A buddy system is an excellent solution to ensure the group shares the challenge of making this the best possible experience, and lighten your load as well!