Best seat in the house – How does your seating arrangement impact delegate experience?
There are lots of things to take into consideration when thinking about where and how to get your delegates comfortable. What is the purpose of the event? Do they already know each other, or are you trying to help people connect? Do people need space to make notes during the speakers sessions? Different seating arrangements can majorly influence the learning experience and have the power to alter or enhance the whole atmosphere (your speaker can be the most interesting person in the world, but if you’re sitting behind a pole with a numb bum it won’t be that engaging).
So how can you make the most of your seating options to meet modern audience requirements?
Classic theatre set-up
Close your eyes and imagine a traditional conference speaker set-up, and this is probably what you see. Theatre style is made up of rows of chairs facing the stage and is great for an event where the main focus is on one, or a range of speakers with a large audience, something like an annual company presentation, product launch, or awards show where you want your delegates attention centered on the stage. If you’re going with theatre-style seating, remember that it is not particularly well suited to taking notes or audience participation. Sitting for long periods can cause people’s attention to wander, so reassure them that stretching their legs, grabbing a drink between speakers, or using the loo is permitted by arranging the seating accordingly. Rather than long rows, create smaller sections of chairs so attendees can move around the space without awkwardly weaving along rows or disturbing others. Modern venues like The Glasshouse International Centre for Music (venue formerly known as Sage Gateshead) have tiered seating so no one is looking at the back of someone’s head rather than the stage.
Life is a Cabaret
Cabaret or café style seats delegates in small groups around a circular or overall table, with the chairs in a semi-circle so everyone is facing the stage (no awkward turning or craning necks here). This option is perfect for fostering conversation and for more interactive meetings where you want your attendees to do activities, workshop ideas, or discuss key themes throughout the day. This style lends itself well to taking notes or doodling, something that can be helpful for visual and kinetic learners. Small groups like this can be really helpful to get to know more people rather than only being able to speak to the people sitting on either side of you, but this can cause distractions or side conversations during presentations. Circular seating patterns like this also eliminate the problem of finding the best seat – all vantage points offer the same view and experience!
Just like school, each delegate gets their own table with plenty of space to make notes and spread out – all facing the front of the space. This setup is great for taking detailed notes, using laptops or tablets, or even enjoying a drink and a snack while listening to the speaker without any balancing on your knees. Consider this option if for a training session, where there might be lots of information to refer back to. Classroom style is great for sharing ideas with the group as a whole or interacting with the speaker, but it can be restrictive when it comes to group work, so carefully consider how you want people to interact with each other during the session. Interactivity can be accomplished in this setting with live polls, Q&As via mobile polling platforms such as Slido.
Flexible seating arrangements allow for the best of all worlds, allowing you to customise your setup depending on the purpose of each session during the event. Use chairs and tables that are easy to move or adapt and reconfigure the room in between each period to accommodate different types of activities, learning, or idea sharing. This type of arrangement is particularly handy for events with multiple sessions, breakout groups, or opportunities to engage and keeps your delegates interested and meeting new people, rather than sticking to the core group on their table or in their row.
Mix it up
Seating doesn’t have to be boring! Showcase your creative side by incorporating some unique or quirky pieces into your event chill-out spaces, or split up your spaces to include multiple ways for people to relax. Think beanbag chairs, comfy sofas, swing sets, or even deckchairs in an outside space so your delegates can enjoy the fresh air between sessions. Not only are they comfy, but they will make a great photo op too.
Quiet seating areas
The hustle and bustle of a conference or event can be overwhelming for some people, and sitting in a crowded room with strangers doesn’t make everyone feel comfortable. Create a quiet seating space where people can go to relax and escape the busy atmosphere. Signage can make it clear to other delegates that this space is not for taking calls or meetings, it is a sanctuary away from the main event space. Make sure there is lots of space to spread out, use low or dim lighting, and limit noise and distractions.
Power to the people
Note-taking apps, emails, project planning tools; having access to our devices for a full day without the power running low is an important part of the conference experience. Many attendees will expect sustainable event materials like itineraries, notes, or venue information to be provided digitally, which means they will be using their devices more than ever before, so when you’re planning your seating arrangements, make sure that there is adequate access to power, without having to crouch by a wall socket. You could even invest in portable charging stations or wireless charging pads to keep your delegates connected and engaged.
To speak to the team at BeaconHouse Events about the best way to bring your next event to life, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on September 13, 2023