Every organiser knows engagement and participation are the key when it comes to meetings, training sessions or conferences – and room arrangement plays a major role in making these goals happen.
The set-up of the room can influence the way attendees respond to the content of the meeting and how they interact with each other. It’s a crucial aspect of your event, as the physical space creates the atmosphere, influencing the effectiveness of the speaker and the response of the audience. In turn, this has an impact on meeting productivity and can make all the difference when it comes to completing the business in hand efficiently and on time.
Considerations when booking a meeting room
Apart from choosing a venue in a central location, so delegates can get there easily, the main consideration is the room’s size and layout. A basic requirement, you should ensure there are enough seats for everyone and whether they will all need access to a table.
On a psychological level, there’s a kind of “invisible barrier” between the speaker and their audience. Along with this, there’s a similar barrier between attendees, especially if they don’t know each other very well. Setting up the room in a thoughtful manner can minimise these invisible barriers, encouraging participation.
Different seating arrangements will enable better learning and involvement opportunities, whether you’re meeting in person, video-conferencing, hosting a training session, or holding a workshop event.
A U-shape seating arrangement means setting up the chairs and tables in an open-ended shape, with each delegate facing inwards. This classic boardroom set-up allows attendees to face each other, with the speaker or chairperson at the end.
A popular seating arrangement for training and workshops, delegates can sit with or without tables and still retain the U-shape. Having only chairs means there can be more face-to-face interaction between the speaker or trainer and the individual participants.
Pros include enabling the presenter to closely engage with every delegate for one-on-one training, while attendees can easily interact with one another.
There are few cons to this arrangement – the only disadvantage is that the room’s seating capacity is not maximised, as the floor space isn’t fully utilised. However, it’s such a useful seating arrangement for small to medium-sized meetings that this is seldom an issue.
Boardroom or conference-style
With one large table that fits up to 20 people, there is ample room for equipment, such as delegates’ laptops, video conferencing devices and mobile phones. All delegates face the middle, enabling interaction and discussion in all directions.
The boardroom style can be adjusted to include extra tables to form a hollow rectangle or square, or simply to include more attendees in the set-up. A popular seating layout for traditional meetings, such as board meetings, or for any formal meeting, it’s appropriate for video conferencing, open discussions and brainstorming sessions.
The pros are that it enables direct interaction between delegates, no matter where they’re sitting. Also, having table space for laptops, gadgets, paperwork and refreshments is useful. The cons include finding a way to ensure the people at the far ends of the table don’t feel isolated, although this is easily remedied by using a circular or square conference table.
A classroom-style seating arrangement means the tables and chairs are arranged in rows, all facing the front of the meeting room. Often used for lectures, it benefits interaction between the speaker and the attendees, but not so much between participants. However, when several delegates are sharing one table, it’s possible for them to work on small group exercises together.
The pros of classroom-style seating include having a desk for using devices and writing notes, while maximising the use of space in the room. It’s a useful setup for larger group meetings and conferences.
The cons include making it more challenging to have a group discussion, as eye contact is unlikely. However, when you have a large number of delegates, they tend to focus on the speaker anyway and individual group discussions are less common, so this isn’t a problem in most cases.
Theatre-style seating is a classic shape, where delegates sit on rows of chairs as if they are in a theatre or cinema. This is a shape generally used for larger events, where many attendees listen to content delivered as a lecture or speech.
This kind of arrangement enables everyone to listen to the speaker and watch visual presentations. There’s usually a gap between the seating to allow easy movement around the auditorium. The stage is generally larger to accommodate the speakers and their equipment – so a great option with the current COVID situation.
The pros include having the ability to accommodate a large number of delegates, with the venue filled to capacity without feeling cramped. Every chair faces the stage, putting the focus firmly on the speaker.
The cons include the inability of the audience to easily interact with each other, but with a big crowd, this isn’t normally the purpose of the meeting. The focus is more on visuals and listening to the speakers.
Attendees are seated at a number of round tables, but with empty spaces towards the stage or around the speaker’s podium. Tables are usually strategically placed to maximise engagement and give delegates the clearest line of vision. Ideal for small group exercises and discussions, the focus is well and truly on the speaker, or centrally displayed information.
The pros of this set-up include the creation of a focal point towards the stage, with no hindrance to the line of sight for delegates or the speaker. Attendees don’t have to sit in uncomfortable positions or twist round to see the speaker and stage. The table set-up encourages discussion within the group. Ideal for training sessions that utilise small group exercises and discussions, it’s also great for visual presentations, gala nights and awards ceremonies.
The cons include the fact the floor space isn’t used to its maximum capacity due to the layout of the tables, but other than this, it’s a good seating arrangement for many different types of gathering.
Have meeting room layouts been researched?
Much research has been carried out into the importance of meeting room layouts and what works best for each type of event. Scientific studies have been carried out into what makes the perfect meeting space and how it can be optimised for engagement, productivity and creativity.
Recent studies included asking more than 100 undergraduates to look at computer-generated models of meeting room interiors. They were then asked to rate which they found more inviting and pleasing.
Another study, this time by neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian, of the University of Toronto, looks at the room layouts that attendees preferred. The majority went for curved layouts, rather than rectangular ones, as they believed this promoted familiarity.
When you book through &Meetings, we’re currently offering a free room upgrade to help clients meet social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. When you book your venue online, we’ll organise your automatic upgrade.