by Cathy Clifton, CMP, CMM | June 01, 2011

Meeting room setups are a crucial yet often overlooked part of the planning process. Ideally, meeting space and setup design should support the meeting’s purpose, take into account attendees’ comfort, promote learning and minimize distractions.

First StepsDetermine objectives. Do attendees need to take notes during the session, or do they need to brainstorm with each other? Do they need to move around the room during the session? These issues can affect the room setup you choose.

A key question to address early on is whether the venue levies any additional fees for special room sets or room set changes. This is important information, as it can play a role in how you schedule sessions.

If the property does typically charge for room setup changes, be sure you add a line item in the budget to cover these. Also, it doesn’t hurt to try to negotiate those fees down or attempt to have them eliminated.

Next, get feedback from speakers on how they would like their rooms set. Some presenters add rider clauses in their contracts that stipulate specific sets. Note whether such requirements will add to your meeting costs.

Setup Options The next step is to select room sets that will best accommodate the group and foster the objective of the session. Following is a primer of traditional room setups, based on guidelines established by the Convention Industry Council.

Auditorium or theater. This type of setup works well for large groups and when the main purpose of the session is listening to a speaker and/or viewing a presentation.

Auditorium and theater-style rooms typically are arranged is the following manner:

• Chairs are lined up in rows.

• An elevated platform, riser or podium serves as the focal point of the room.

Schoolroom or classroom. These setups are best for meetings where attendees are likely to take notes and refer to other material (e.g., printed material, laptops). This setup discourages conversation among attendees.

Standard features of the schoolroom set:

• Straight tables are placed in a row.

• Rows face the speaker or the focal point in the room.

Conference. This setup includes a single table with attendees seated on all four sides. The conference style is suited to committees or small discussion groups, as the design encourages group discussion.

Hollow square. This arrangement promotes interaction among attendees and is best suited for meetings without presentations.

Rooms should be organized in the following manner:

• Rectangular tables are arranged in a square or rectangle, with chairs placed on the outer perimeter.

U-shape. This shape is arranged as a hollow square, with one side removed. The open side allows for presentations as well as discussion.

Half-moon. This setup is  ideal for sessions where the audience needs to face a speaker and follow up with discussions.

Features of a half-moon room plan:

• Round tables with chairs set on two-thirds of the rounds, facing the speaker or screen.