For those planners who think arranging the seating for a presentation is simply a matter of dragging out the chairs and setting them in a tidy series of straight rows, think again. Proper seat placement can maximize sight lines, facilitate networking and strengthen a facility's learning environment, says Paul O. Radde, Ph.D., a Longmont, Colo.-based leader of executive staff retreats who also serves as a professional speaker and practicing psychologist.
Radde has written a comprehensive guide called Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements. Among his advice:
• Drop the straight-rows in favor of curving rows, "like at the Hollywood Bowl," Radde says. "This allows you to fit in more chairs, opens up the entire room, enables attendees to see more of each other and helps foster audience bonding."
• When setting up the curved rows, angle an aisle on each side from the front corners of the podium or stage outward toward the rear, "so there is no center aisle to absorb the energy of the room," says Radde.
• Be sure to discuss seating arrangements in your initial negotiations with a hotel. "Some properties might charge more for certain setups," notes Radde, "and you don't want to wait until the day before your meeting to deal with it."
• If using tables, Radde recommends 3- x 6-foot rectangulars with the narrow end tilted about 10 degrees toward dead center, so everyone has a clear line of sight. Adds Radde, "Rectangles foster more tablewide conversation than do rounds, where people tend to break up into smaller units."
Study seat arrangements wherever you go to see what works. "You can learn a lot just from watching the Oscars," notes Radde.