Much more consideration goes into seating plans
than how many people will fit in a room. Comfort is top priority
and, of course, the setup should facilitate communication.
Psychological and physical barriers need to be eliminated, exchange
encouraged, sound and vision maximized, and appropriate hierarchies
(or the elimination of) all should be strategically tied to the
The Power Seat
The first item on your list: where to place VIPs, depending on the
Rounds. When using round tables, seat VIPs
closest to the center of the room and facing the stage or perceived
front of the room.
Head table. If a one-sided head table is set
up during a banquet, seat VIPs by hierarchy from the center
Boardroom. The leader of the meeting should be
placed at the end of the table facing the exit/entrance, so she can
see people coming and going.
Square or U-shaped. The leader should be in
the center of the U or in the center of one side of the square,
facing the exit.
Theater seating. Put honored guests in the
front row ideally seated stage right, unless the lectern is set up
stage left. This will give them the best view of the speaker.
Multiple VIPs. If two or more VIPs of the same
rank are attending, seat them by seniority. If they are of the same
age and rank, give the seat of honor to the visiting VIP, if
For an out-of-the-ordinary setup, seat all the honored guests, or
everyone, at one or more exaggerated banquet tables where several
rectangular tables are pushed together to form one very long table,
sometimes the length of a room (similar to how Harry Potter dines
at Hogwarts). Oblong or rectangular tables can be set for the rest
of the room. Add family-style or Russian service for even more of
an all-for-one ambience.
At less formal functions, consider intermingling the CEO and
the management team with the junior employees to foster an
invaluable and atypical exchange.
Personal space varies from culture to culture. Americans
tend to require the most space between themselves and others (about
two feet from row to row), whereas some cultures require only
inches. (Meeting in Russia or the United Arab Emirates? Prepare to
get cozy.) Consider the event location and the nationalities of
delegates, and plan accordingly. For advice, consult a local
destination management company or professional congress
Some other considerations to ensure the comfort of all
" Armrests and ergonomically designed chairs are always
appreciated and worth the investment.
" Classroom seating is not necessarily more comfortable than
theater-style if you must seat more than two people at a six-foot
Centerpieces. With large rounds for 10 to 12
people or larger do not be timid about having a tall centerpiece.
Attendees generally will not engage in conversations directly
across a table so large especially with amplified music or
keynotes. A disproportionately sized centerpiece could be more of a
If you are still married to the “no big centerpieces” rule, use
a tall thin or clear riser to place the floral drama well above the
heads of your seated guests. Most importantly, ensure unobstructed
views of the entertainment or speakers and exits.
Assigned seats. Facilitating the goals and
objectives of many events can only be accomplished if you engineer
the seating, making sure specific groups intermingle.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is senior vice president of event
marketing for The Wilkinson Group in Burlingame, Calif.