When a well-known speaker makes a dismayed sound upon entering a meeting space, you recognize quickly that rows are not enough! On first glance, the room set up seemed standard and acceptable. A presentation screen was located at the front, tables and chairs facing. Perhaps not exciting, but considered the usual default setting. Because I heard her gasp, I quickly noticed that the screen was actually off-center and slanted toward the room, which is not an issue on its own, but all the tables and chairs were facing the front of the room, not the screen. At best, attendees were in an awkward position for optimal screen and speaker viewing, but also made to feel uncomfortable and therefore somewhat unfocused throughout the seminar because of the adjustments they had to make.
Because retention, appreciation of the speaker, and content take-away are the goals of the programs you select, then flexible design and keeping an eye on the details is where focus should be. Most meeting rooms end up optimizing space to hold the highest number of attendees, whereas most meeting rooms are not filled to capacity when the program actually takes place. Instead of wasting space, use it more creatively to ensure your attendees receive what you promised.
Industry expert, Jeff Hurt, often speaks on the subject of room design. For his programs, multiple options are usually available in the same room, allowing attendees to pick their spot, the one best designed for their comfort level. Some prefer traditional theater seating with all chairs and rows facing front, others prefer classroom setting with a narrow table. Other attendees might prefer an alternate option such as lounge seating, high and low cocktail rounds or small tables for 3 or 4 people each. If breaks for interaction are part of the session, pod seating, as shown in the image to the right, allows easy connection to other attendees seated at your pod, as well as good views of the speaker and screen.
As mindful eating is a successful healthy trend, savoring each bite to satisfy rather than filling a stomach, so should mindful room set become our mantra. The collaboration between speaker, meeting professional, and venue only makes for the best experience for the attendee which inevitably is our goal. After all, we are in the business of meeting goals and objectives, not just filling rows.
Appreciation to Jeff Hurt, Executive Vice President, Education & Engagement with Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.