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.
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
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
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.
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: www.certain.com; www.rsvp-seating.com; www.perfecttableplan.com and www.smartdraw.com
(which is a free download).
Louise M. Felsher, CMP,
CMM,is a marketing event consultant based in
California’s Silicon Valley.