Seating options that will sit well with your attendees.
Give people room to shift comfortably without disturbing others.
Consider factors like: aisle widths; distance between rows of chairs; location of seating in relation to room exits.
Ensure good sight lines for entire audience.
Avoid the “bowling alley” effect of many rows extending back into the distance. With any group larger than 100, stage the speaker or head table on the long side of the room, rather than the narrow end; attendees will be closest to the presenter.
Consider the objective of the session. Is it okay to just sit and listen? Ask questions? Take notes? Engage in dialogue with the presenter? With other participants? Does the presenter need room to roam?
Provide hotel staff with good detail on how you want each room arranged. Then arrive very early, and be prepared to get into rearrangements yourself, if the set-up hasn’t been carried out according to your instructions. Last-minute moving of chairs, tables and AV equipment is usually the sign of a professional meeting organizer, not an amateur.
CLASSROOM STYLE. Often called schoolroom style, because it’s the normal set-up when participants take notes. As with theatre-style set-ups, classroom-style is arranged with straight rows facing the front, on either side of a centre aisle. In most cases, however, it is far better to create a V-shaped configuration by angling the tables towards the front/centre and, especially for large groups, to have two aisles for a friendlier, more intimate atmosphere. Elbow-room is vital; an eight-foot table will accommodate four chairs, but three is better if people are working with a large amount of paper.
BOARDROOM STYLE. Good for participatory meetings of 22 people maximum. Eye-to-eye contact disappears if there are more, and it’s not terrific with even 16.
E-SHAPE is a variation of the U-shape to accommodate more people. Leave ample space in the centre for people to move. You need a surprisingly large room to accommodate this layout. It often results in much neck-stretching (although people at the centre tables can angle themselves towards the front of the room).
BANQUETS. We’ve all been squished in at “rounds of ten” and know eight is better and six is great.
HOLLOW SQUARE is a configuration often used when participants must be treated as equals (with no predominant “head table”).
It requires a large room even for relatively small numbers.
HEXAGON SHAPE is a desirable variation of the hollow square configuration because it dramatically improves eye-to-eye contact for
small groups where interaction is a factor.
U-SHAPE is good for relatively small groups where attendees are expected to participate. The speaker or leader usually works from the open end of the U, though a chairman or “committee” is best at the closed end. Chairs can also be placed inside the horseshoe.
RECEPTIONS for large groups of people should be organized with several bars and food stations. For a large reception where three or four bars may be set up, indicate bar locations with signs, or else people crowd the one nearest the door, leaving others virtually unused. A food station is best in the centre of the room, not in the corners (especially if that’s where the bars are).
T-SHAPE is an arrangement for small discussion groups where a chairman or moderator sits at the head. The centre row can be double tables if more space is required for notetaking.
THEATRE STYLE is the usual set-up for large sessions where attendees listen more than participate. Avoid straight rows of chairs. Insist on arched or semi-circle arrangements to give attendees better visibility. Above all, give attendees room to shift in the chair without nuzzling the ear of the person beside them. For any group larger than 100, you need an aisle, plus side access. For big convention sessions, it’s best to have at least two wide aisles. Generally try to avoid a centre aisle which causes the speaker to look down a chasm.
CRESCENT ROUND is the usual set-up for large sessions where attendees listen more than participate. Avoid straight rows of chairs. Insist on arched or semi-circle arrangements to give attendees better visibility. Above all, give attendees room to shift in the chair without nuzzling the ear of the person beside them. For any group larger than 100, you need an aisle, plus side access. For big convention sessions, it’s best to have at least two wide aisles. Generally try to avoid a centre aisle which causes the speaker to look down a chasm.