by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | March 01, 2007

How effective would a meeting be if attendees couldn’t see properly, couldn’t hear or be heard clearly, and couldn’t sit in reasonable comfort during presentations? No matter how dazzling the content or breathtaking the entertainment, if sight, sound or comfort is impaired, attendees will remember only the negatives and fill their evaluation forms with complaints.

With so much of a planner’s focus on strategy, it’s easy for seating considerations to take a back seat. Following are descriptions of traditional meeting room set-ups and tips on how to maximize them.

Compare styles

Theater. Small, armless convention chairs are set up in rows, with center and side aisles. This style is used most often for general sessions or shorter meetings that do not require taking notes or much, if any, interaction with presenters. The advantage of theater seating is that it takes up the least amount of space.

Classroom. Chairs are lined along 6-foot draped tables. Attendees always prefer having a table, particularly when they are writing and/or in all-day sessions. Classroom setups are used most often for lecture-style meetings for large numbers (30 or more) of attendees. If a room isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone classroom-style, you can always do a combination of classroom in the front of the room and theater-style in the back. While flip-top tables often are available with larger, theater-size chairs (common in a fixed-seat auditorium), they can be problematic for larger-size and/or left-handed attendees.

Chevron. This style can be used in conjunction with a classroom or theater setup. Chevron simply means the rows are placed at a 45-degree angle toward the center of the room. While chevron takes up a bit more space, it allows attendees to see past each other more easily, reduces neck strain and helps create clear sight lines around annoying obstructions such as pillars or columns.

U-shape. This style incorporates 6-foot draped ta-bles plus one or more arced, draped tables, perfect for small (ideally 30 or fewer attendees), interactive meetings led by a moderator who stands and moves about the room. This also works well for A/V presentations.

Hollow square. Four or more 6-foot draped tables are arranged in a square shape. This works well for small meetings (30 attendees or fewer) requiring much interaction. It is similar to the U-shape, but with the moderator seated at one end. It’s also suitable for meetings with no moderator and no A/V.

Round or oval table. One oval or round table is used. This is considered the most intimate seating arrangement and usually is reserved for small, intense and long (full- or multiday) board meetings of 12 attendees or fewer.

Go for Comfort

Ask if there is a choice in the types of chairs you can use for meetings; also determine if there are extra charges for the plusher models (such as executive chairs for board rooms). Most run-of-the-mill conference chairs lack lumbar support and are not ergonomically correct for events lasting more than one hour. The longer and more intense the meeting, the more important the chair.

Use Software 

Most venues have seating software and will provide a floor plan based upon your specifications. However, it is always advantageous to be able to prepare your own room set-up, especially if it will be complicated.

Following are several resources for seating and floor-plan software:;; and (which is a free download).

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM,is a marketing event consultant based in California’s Silicon Valley.