Classroom, theatre-style, u-shape or bean-bags? Meeting room set-up can channel creativity in an effective way or bury it for good. In this edition we question four experts on what works best and for what audience.

COMPILED BY LAUREN ARENA 

Lara Birchby
Director
The Meeting People

  1. Getting a good brief: Client communication is vital. A good brief will determine the best set-up for a room and also help in selecting the most appropriate venue. The ratio of space to the number of people is essential to create a fantastic atmosphere without overcrowding or, conversely, drowning people in a vast and unfriendly space.
  2. Site visits are important: A site visit will undeniably be the best thing you can do to work out the format of the room, find where built-in equipment is located, the types of chairs and tables available, and the general flow of movement between rooms.
  3. Screen size and screen height: Get it right. Obviously it depends on the ceiling height, but without effective vision sight lines the information from the presenter will be lost on the audience.
  4. Audio-visual supplier: Develop a good relationship with AV suppliers to help you achieve the best outcome and let them keep you up-to-date with what is happening across a range of events as they are working in the coal-face every day.
  5. Work your networks: Networking with colleagues, researching online and attending functions is a great gauge in helping you think outside the square. Never stop the learning process and look beyond your industry for inspiration.

Deborah Vaughan
Managing director
Corporate & Leisure Events

  1. Know your event: This will dictate the set-up as well as audience comfort and participation. There are various set-ups types that suit different events. An open cabaret set-up is ideal for meals and encouraging socialisation, while classroom style is best for presentations and Q&A sessions.
  2. Know your audience: A large plenary session is usually set-up in theatre-style, while a small executive strategy meeting would be better suited to a u-shape with a breakout area. Ensure the room is large enough for a last-minute increase in numbers but not too big for the numbers attending.
  3. Know your location: The perfect location is often determined by the events program, so be sure to take a look and always ask if the event is of a confidential nature and needs to be presented within the confines of four walls. If multiple breakout areas are required, ensure these are easily accessible and clearly sign-posted so you don’t lose the audience.
  4. Let there be light: Ensure there is ample light so all feel warm when entering the room. You don’t want your audience to have difficulty reading the screen or feel the need to drift off. A brightly-lit breakout area also adds a refreshing atmosphere.
  5. Know your audio-visual capabilities: If a technical session is taking place, it is likely there will be a need for a data projector or internet access. If general discussion is scheduled, consider an outdoor location with a flip chart instead.

Max Turpin
Director
Conference Focus

  1. Classroom & Theatre-Style: These are both traditional styles of seating primarily designed for large audiences. If you simply want your audiences to just sit and listen passively, without any interaction, then use either format. Both work equally well – they allow for the transfer of information from the speaker’s mouth to the attendees’ ears.
  2. Cabaret-Style: This style of seating came into vogue about 15 years ago. It can be used for small, medium or relatively large audiences. It allows for more engagement simply because, unlike theatre and classroom style, your delegates aren’t staring into the backs of those sitting in front of them.
  3. U-Shape: Another classic style, but one suitable only for smaller groups – I’d recommend no more than 30 pax. A u-shape set-up allows for engagement and interaction. Your delegates start seeing faces, gain eye contact and have meaningful discussions, both one-to-one and within the group.
  4. Bean-Bags and Lounges: Are soft and comfy. And as you’d imagine, they are good for informal discussions. However, they are not good for reflective thought or brainstorming. Research suggests that uncomfortable furniture is best for generating constructive thoughts. The other thing to consider with this type of furniture is cost – venues provide chairs for free, but not bean-bags, lounges or love seats.
  5. Fishbowl, Camp Fire, Eyebrow Pattern, Café-style, Pods: This is the future of meetings. The set-up and seating of your meeting should have everything to do with optimising the learning experience of your audiences and research shows people learn and retain so much more through discussion and interaction. And Gen Y, the younger crowd starting to fill your meeting rooms, would agree. They don’t like lecture-style presentations and instead want discussion, interaction and the opportunity to voice their opinion. Wait a minute – that sounds a lot like social media… Well fancy that!

David Pointon
Managing director
Fast Meetings

  1. An element of surprise: People have subconscious associations between a room set-up and what’s going to happen. With a little imagination you can create a surprise element to get people curious from the start. Try breaking a theatre-style set-up into clusters of six chairs or use two set-ups in one room, like a large circle of chairs at one end, and small cafe tables at the other.
  2. Breakout: Breakout rooms mimic solo thinking so use a large ballroom instead and keep break out groups within the same space. This allows people and ideas to cross-pollinate from one workshop to another, while maintaining a great energy across the whole space. Mobile partitions and panels are great to provide porous, open boundaries between groups.
  3. Dinner party dynamics: When people meet at cafes or dinner parties there is a natural tendency for us to participate, rather than be passive. Support this with smaller, more intimate conversation opportunities. Keep discussion groups to six people and use cafe tables for groups of four, this way everyone can have their say. Try stand up groups with bar stool tables to enable people to come closer together.
  4. Keep it moving: Mobile furniture enables you to easily change the space during a meeting to suit the varying stages. Tables, chairs and flip charts on castor wheels allow easy transitions – from breakout brainstorming, to a whole group discussion, to a short presentation on screen. Look up ‘flip top tables with castors’ on Google. These are great for training and conference rooms.
  5. Innovative comfort: I’m not a big fan of bean bags in ‘funky’ spaces. They are just downright difficult to get in and out of for most people. Avoid going overboard with innovation. Ottomans, couches and bar stools are all good options. Standing-only spaces are great for about 20 minutes, but any longer and people are ready to sit. So keep comfort in mind when getting creative with the set-up of space.

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