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Find The Right Room Setup For An Engaging and Successful Event

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Engagement and Participation, two big words that every facilitator, event organizer and meeting professional keeps in mind and set as a goal when organizing meetings, training sessions or conferences.

Room arrangement plays a big role in making this goal happen. Room setup is the seating arrangement of participants or the placement by which they receive the content the event conveys and interact with one another. It is a critical aspect in every event because the atmosphere the physical space creates will impact the both the impact of a speaker and also the interaction of the audience members.

At first glance, there’s always an invisible barrier between speaker and their audience in a room. Next to these – especially when having people who don’t know each other – there is also a psychological barrier between the audience members.

Thoughtful conference room design can minimize this to encourage engagement and participation. Different arrangements enable variety both in learning and involvement whether the purpose is for meetings, video conferences, training and presentations, workshops and interactive learning events, or conferences.

In this article, we will discuss the different room setups, their efficacy and drawbacks to help you choose which is the right one to apply for any of your meeting, workshop or conference:

An In Depth Look into Room Arrangements and Styles

Each room arrangement addresses the different purposes, content and potential size of an event. Here are 10 most popular room setups for different types of events:

What are the most common conference and meeting room setups?

Auditorium or Theater Style

Auditorium style room arrangement is a classic one: participants are seated in rows of chairs, much like in a theatre or cinema to watch and listen to a speaker or several speakers as well as visual and auditory aids. There’s generally a gap in the middle to allow easy access for central seats. This is typically for large number of attendees, needs a large staging area to accommodate speakers, as well as visuals and auditory aids with a lecture type of content delivery.

Auditorium (or Theater) Style seating arrangement
Auditorium (or Theater) Style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Theater type allows for bigger volume of participants.
  • Maximum seating capacity of the venue can be achieved
  • Since every chair is facing the stage, the focus is on the speaker.

Cons:

  • Since the focus of the audience is directed on the speaker and not on each other; participants are hindered from interacting with one another.
  • There are no provisioned spaces for participants to take notes, bring out their devices and record notes.
  • Audience tends to be too close to each other for comfort and there’s a tendency for pushing past other people to enter or exit from seats.
  • Spaces for aisles are needed to ensure access to seats.

This type of seating arrangement is best for conferences, annual board meetings, product launches, lectures and performances. These events call for less interaction and focus more on visuals and listening to speakers and presenters.

U-Shape

U-shape seating arrangement is just what the name describes, a letter U set up of tables and chairs arranged in an open-ended shape with the participants facing inwards. It is a classic boardroom setup that enables members both to face each other and face the speaker.

If you remove the tables and only have chairs in a U-shape, then it is often seen at soft skills development training sessions and workshops as it allows for open interaction between the trainers and participants.

U-Shaped seating arrangement
U-Shaped seating arrangement

Pros:

  • It enables the presenter to come close and engage with each member of the audience.
  • Participants can interact with one another, sideways and right upfront.
  • The open area can be set up as a presentation area or as focal point.

Cons:

  • The seating capacity of the room is not maximized with floor space not fully utilized
  • A majority of the participants view the front – speaker and visual aids – in a sideway position. This can become uncomfortable as the session progress.

As described earlier, this type of seating arrangement is ideal for boardroom meetings, and video conferences with limited number of participants, but also for training sessions or interactive workshops if you remove the tables.

If you keep the tables, then this setup allows for taking notes, bringing out laptops and other digital devices to aid in writing and learning.

Banquet Style

The Banquet style room arrangement is a round table setup with the participants facing each other like at round shaped dinner table. This encourages full interaction between people sitting at one table. It is often used for interactive workshops with group discussions and exercises.

Banquet style seating arrangement
Banquet style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Full potential for interaction between participants as they face each other.
  • Allows for more members to get to know each other, useful for networking purposes.
  • It also maximizes the space of the room.

Cons:

  • Although it’s easy to interact with other members at the table but not easy to mingle with other participants at other tables.
  • It has the tendency to isolate groups and form cliques instead of being more interactive with other members in other tables.

The Banquet style of room setup is good for informal to formal gatherings such as weddings, gala, sit-down dinners, musical and entertainment – parties where there’s no need to constantly focus their attention to the stage/central platform.

It can also be suitable for large group workshops where teams are expected to work together over the course of the event.

Boardroom or Conference Style

Conference or boardroom style has one large table that fits around 7 to 20 people with room for their various equipment such as laptops, mobile devices and video conferencing devices. All participants face the middle to enable discussion and interaction from all direction. Boardroom or conference style table can also be adjusted to a hollow square.

Boardroom style seating arrangement
Boardroom style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Allows for direct interaction between participants from any direction.
  • Table space allows the use of laptops and other gadgets, paperwork and consumption of food and drinks.

Cons:

  • There are spots from where some participants may not be able to view slides or other visual presentations clearly.
  • Because members of the audience are able to use their laptops and other devices, they can easily shift their attention away from the meeting.
  • The people at the far end of the table may feel isolated. Using circular or even square type conference table can diminish this isolation.

This type of seating setup is ideal for business meetings, video conferencing, brainstorming and open discussions.

Classroom Setup

It is a classic classroom style of room arrangement where tables and chairs are arranged in parallel rows, facing forward – to the front of the room. It is common for lectures and primarily supports interaction between the speaker and the audience, but less between participants. Although participants sitting at one table have an easy opportunity to do small group exercises or sharing their work with one another.

Classroom style seating arrangement
Classroom style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Tables or desks are provisioned for taking notes and use of devices.
  • Maximizing the space and seating plan with tables/desks.

Cons:

  • Line of vision for participants seated near the front corners or back corners is compromised.
  • Because of the angle of seats and tables, several participants may have to twist or turn to have a good view of the speaker or visual aid.
  • Interaction or eye contact is unlikely in this set up, group or overall discussions are not possible.

Classroom style seating arrangement is ideal for instructive type of training sessions and workshops where the members need to write notes or use laptops and the flow of discussion is mostly from trainer/speaker to the audience. However, choosing this room setup requires a thoughtful agenda design in order to get participants properly engaged with the content, since the room setup itself does not itself support interactive learning experiences.

Crescent (Rounds) or Cabaret Style

As the name suggests, members of the audience are seated in a round table but leaving empty space towards the stage or the location of the speaker. Tables are either scattered or strategically placed to maximize engagement as well as line of vision. The setup is conducive to small group exercises or discussions while keeping a focus on centrally displayed information or a speaker.

Cabaret style seating arrangement
Cabaret style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Half crescent creates focal point towards the stage to instruct and brief group work.
  • Because there’s no hindrance to line of sight of the speaker and visuals, participants do not have to move to uncomfortable positions or twist around to see the front.

Cons:

  • Table setup encourages chatter within the group that’s irrelevant to the content or event objectives.
  • It is not as compact compared to the Banquet style arrangement. More tables are used without maximizing seating.

Cabaret arrangement is useful for training sessions that aim on having small group discussions and exercises combined with visual presentations. It is also popularly used for awards and gala nights.

Reception Style

A Reception style room arrangement similar to a banquet one but with extra cocktail tables in between group tables. The cocktail or high tables with no chairs are for mingling or networking. It is also good for breakout discussions and collaboration between members of the audience belonging to different groups.

Reception style seating arrangement
Reception style seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Allows for focused group exercises between groups at the main tables, while the cocktail tables provide quick opportunity to breakout conversation or engaging with other group/table members.
  • A more dynamic setup to encourage participation and prevent boredom.

Cons:

  • Room space may not be fully utilized compared to more traditional training set ups.
  • Not all members of the audience might appreciate a dynamic setup.

It is best applied for dynamic and creative training sessions with collaborative exercises. Reception is also great for team building events.

Chevron (or V-Shaped)

The Chevron or V-shaped type of setup is actually still close to classroom arrangement but tables and chair are angled for better line of vision, involvement or engagement among participants as well as with the speaker.

Chevron shaped seating arrangement
Chevron shaped seating arrangement

Pros:

  • It basically mimics the classroom setup but with improved view from outer ends to give participants better line of vision.
  • Tables give members the space to take notes and user their devices.
  • It can maximize seating capacity and good for large volume groups.
  • It allows group exercises in small groups for people sitting at one table.

Cons:

  • Staring at people’s back is not encouraging for active listening, and can still hinder line of vision.

Similarly to the classroom setup, the chevron shape is suitable for training sessions and workshops where instructions and individual work dominates.

Fishbowl

The Fishbowl setup is used for dialog type events: Four to five chairs are arranged in an inner circle – the fishbowl – while the remaining chairs are arranged in concentric circles around the middle area.

Speakers take the inner seats, and start discussing the topic introduced by the moderator. In an open fishbowl, one seat is left free, and anyone from the outer circles can join the conversation. In the same time, one present member from the fishbowl must give up his place the from the inner circle

It is often used for forums or large group discussions where participants can openly discuss the topics covered in the event with the speakers or experts. It enables the whole group or all members to actively participate and be involved in the content, i.e. ask questions, make suggestions or give their own conclusion.

Fishbowl seating arrangement
Fishbowl seating arrangement

Pros:

  • Encourages participation of a larger group.
  • Speakers/trainers are put at a position of equal distinction with participants.

Cons:

  • It maybe a problem for shy and introverted members of the audience who are afraid to participate. It may be harder to get their opinions or know what they think.
  • It is hard to divide the large group into smaller set for more intimate discussion of the topics.
  • No tables or room for taking notes or using laptops.

Fishbowl is best for forums, conferences and large group meetings with high expectancy of participation from audience members.

Team Tables

Team tables or clusters is an informal setup compared to banquet style. There’s also a choice between cocktail style or high top tables and seating. The tables and chairs depend on the volume of people in the event. Sit-down table setup is for training in groups with a lot of group discussions and exercises such a in team building yet still with an informal vibe and tendency to mingle or change places.

Room arrangement with team tables
Room arrangement with team tables

Pros:

  • An informal setup is always good for building rapport among participating members.
  • People can move around and still be comfortable in the training or event.
  • Tables can be arranged to maximize visual lines.

Cons:

  • Depending on the size of the room or the arrangement of the tables, line of vision can still be hindered.

Clusters are used for training with a lot of group discussions or exercises. It is best for team building and networking events where there’s still room to mingle and move around.

What is the best room setup for your event?

Choosing the room design for your event should be determined by the goals you want to achieve and the number of participants you have. See some examples below:

  • Have a large audience? Consider one of the room arrangement that can be effectively scaled up – even to hundreds of participants. For example: Auditorium, Banquet, Crescent or Reception
  • Want to facilitate networking? Reception or rotating Banquet tables can be a useful room design.
  • Need participants to actively work together during the event? Choose a set up that fosters teamwork: U-Shape, Banquet
  • Want to combine effective content delivery and participants working on their own devices? Classroom or Chevron can be a great fit
  • Do you have a group of 5-10 people that need to make a decision about a project they work on? Choose a setup that supports open communication, such as a U-Shape, Boardroom or Hollow square
  • Are you planning for an interactive soft skills development training session? You may choose a U-shape without tabes that allows you to present information and facilitate group conversation, and then allow the group to break out into smaller circles by rearranging the chairs.

Knowing the answer for these two factors – interactivity and group size – help you to pick from the available room setups:

Characteristics of different room setups
Characteristics of different room setups

If you have a longer, more complex event that spans over multiple days or have different tracks, it is important to have properly designed agenda so you can align the room requirements for each of your agenda segment.

A few further considerations to pick have a supportive room design throughout your event:

  • Will the seating arrangement need to be changed during the session? If yes, avoid using a place where tables are fixed to the ground.
  • Will participants need to use laptops, or have note taking / sketching area? Make sure to provide working space in such cases.
  • What type of visuals do you plan to use. Slides? Flipcharts? Video conferencing? Make sure all participants have an unobstructed sight of the visuals, and that they don’t need to twist and turn too see the visuals.
  • The number of chairs usually should match with the number of participants, allowing a few extra chairs in case you have extra participants
  • Consider where would snacks and meals be served. You might want to dedicate some extra tables for coffee break materials – unless you have a dedicated room for such purpose.
  • Power supply and outlets (only in case you need your participants to use electronic devices): There should be enough to accommodate charging of laptops and other electronic gadgets needed for training and exercises. And these should be accessible or placed strategically to not be hindrance to speakers, trainers and participants. You don’t want people tripping over power lines.
  • Internet access: Do you want / need to have your participants to have internet access? If yes, make sure that the WiFi code is easily visible to everyone upon arriving. And if you need to use internet during the session for any task, make sure that the bandwidth is enough to accommodate everyone.
  • Heating and Cooling: The venue must be heated or cool enough especially for larger groups with the expectation that temperature rising with more people in the room.
  • Additional furniture: Aside from tables and chairs what other furnishing should be added or removed from the room to provide better comfort and utility to both facilitators and participants
  • Lighting – The venue must have enough lighting for speakers and participants to be able to see clearly without being too bright.

How to get your room design properly implemented?

So you have designed a meeting and plan and figured out which room arrangements will get you through your session. You are done with the planning work! Now it is time to communicate and make sure that what you planned will appear as you imagined during your event.

What can you do to ensure that your plan will be properly put into practice? Here are some to follow to have your planned room arrangement set up for you:

  • Communicate in advance with the venue:
    • Most of the times the venue will take care of the complete set up of your desired room arrangements and other related logistics requirements. In order to minimise the chance of miscommunication, it is best if you can show examples of what you mean when you ask for a specific room setup. (For instance, show what does a U-shape seating means for you and clearly specify if you want or don’t want tables in front of the seats).
    • If you ask for different room arrangements over the course of your meeting, make sure to communicate it together with your agenda timing. If you need different room setups, you may want to ask multiple rooms so you can flexibly move from one room to another.
  • Show up early at the venue
    • Even with the best communication from your side and a great venue, the initial setup you will find at the venue might need adjustments. Make sure you have time for that before participants start to arrive.
  • Make sure seats are close enough to you
    • Don’t get participants too far away from the yourself (the speaker / trainer / facilitator)
  • Remove unnecessary seats
  • Check if visuals (presentation screen, flipcharts) can be seen for all participants
  • Consider how your own position can influence participants:
    • If you often move around while you speak, make a check from different seats to determine what is the area where you may move without getting out sight for anyone.
  • Design your visuals with the room constraints in mind:
    • not too small fonts, mind that if you have multiple rows, not everyone might see the bottom of your slides)
  • Lastly, have a checklist of equipment and materials you need, so you don’t forget to bring any of the tools and props you might need during your session.

 

Now over to you…

I hope you found useful tips above how to design the room setup for your next event.

What is your number one tip for getting room arrangement right?

Let us know about your experience in the comment.

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