Rob Davidson says it’s time to get creative with the seating arrangements
Classroom, cabaret, boardroom, theatre, U-shape … the seating configuration for conferences may seem like a simple detail. But ask any meeting planner or conference speaker, and they’ll tell you that the decision as to which configuration to use is one that should never be taken lightly. In my experience as a speaker, I know that it can make all the difference between a very successful and a somewhat less successful experience for the attendees – and for me.
Of course a lot depends on the profile of the audience, the number of attendees, the size of the room, the objectives of the event – and whether it’s a venue with fixed or flexible seating.
For small groups, my preference is U-shape or a semi-circular arrangement, because that means I can get up close and personal with every attendee by walking right up to them when they ask a question for example.
For bigger groups, say up to 40 or 50, I like cabaret style using round tables of five or six, because it facilitates the kind of group-working and small group discussions I use when I’m training people such as venue sales managers. And I also enjoy speaking to audiences that are sitting on those mobile chairs with wheels, which means that they can easily form, un-form and re-form working groups during sessions. But seating configurations have been going through an interesting evolution recently.
I find myself speaking at more and more events where the organisers have decided to offer attendees a variety of types of furniture to choose from – a kind of Pick ‘n Sit arrangement. For me, it started at ibtm world in Barcelona last year when, for one of my presentations, attendees could choose from at least three different types of seating: classroom, cabaret and some (literally) freewheeling chairs at the front.
I’ve spoken at other events since then, where the venue has supplied a similar variety of seating arrangements, even throwing a few couches, armchairs and bean-bags into the mix.
I know it sounds like a bit of a mess, but it appears to work. People seem to get excited by selecting a seating style that suits them best. And, naturally it’s very ‘Generation Y’.
Meeting planners and venues, try it out for yourself. Let’s get a little more creative with conference seating arrangements. But go easy on the beanbags. Very nice to sink into, of course. But for people of a certain age, not always easy to get out of, with all of your dignity intact.