by Bob Walters | August 01, 2005

We’ve all managed or attended sessions that had less-than-ideal seating arrangements. Fortunately, a number of companies have created systems that allow planners to design their own meeting room layouts, or enable them to download the actual room plans of hundreds of properties to create specific seating configurations.
    These event-design packages have come a long way from the initial programs that only let planners manipulate tables and chairs in rectangular room settings. Systems on the market today are much more flexible and intuitive. Following is a rundown of the best on the market.

Shopping Basket
Stalwarts such as Delphi Diagrams for Meeting Planners (formerly Optimum Settings;, MeetingMatrix ( and Room Viewer ( now are joined by an innovative three-dimensional product called Vivien ( from Cast Software.
    All of these systems now provide interactive drawing capabilities, and most have links to databases of actual rooms and facilities. Prices range from free (MeetingMatrix and Delphi Diagrams) to $1,600 for a downloadable version of Vivien.
    MeetingMatrix’s ActiveMatrix is targeted to properties that want to provide planners with a tool that works with their database of rooms and layout options. Planners can use the system online, or they can download a copy that lets them work off-line with the specific property’s rooms.
    Delphi Diagrams for Meeting Planners is provided to planners by the 1,000-plus hotels and venues already in Delphi’s system.
    Room Viewer has Shape Packages, a system that includes add-on modules with predefined shapes for A/V, catering and banquets. A new feature on its website, called Facility Schematics, allows planners to download templates of meeting spaces in hotels and convention centers to use in conjunction with Room Viewer.
    Vivien’s playful, three-dimensional aspect lets planners place figures that represent attendees and speakers in a variety of actions: seated at a table, walking across a stage or giving a presentation. Planners can view the stage or a table-seating pattern from many different angles and see what the attendees would see.
    In addition, through meetings industry initiatives, many properties’ meeting facilities have been laser-sighted to determine actual dimensions and, in some cases, to provide real line-of-sight calculations. Planners have the options of accessing these dimensions via the property’s website or downloading the room layout and appropriate software to their own PCs. Typically, these capabilities are free to members of the sponsoring associations, including Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives and the Professional Convention Management Association.

Scheduling Options
Planners now also have various booking/scheduling tools at their disposal. Most are integrated with Microsoft Outlook, so planners can reserve in-house meeting rooms, invite attendees and add meetings to attendees’ Outlook calendars.
    Meeting Room Manager (  from NetSimplicity is designed to manage the in-house meetings of corporations and organizations such as hospitals or universities. It is a shared tool; by opening a window, users can view all of the meeting or conference rooms, as well as what has been scheduled. With a couple of clicks, users can reserve a room and a time slot, invite participants and indicate meeting room setup, food and A/V requirements.