Well…that depends on the meeting. There really is no one style that is best in all situations. The “best” style of room set is dependent on how much space you have to work with, how many people will attend, and the purpose of the meeting. Take the time to look at your meeting in detail, and the answer will often present itself – especially if you are familiar with the basic room sets and when to use them.
In this post, I examined five “standard” room set categories that are used for most meetings and conferences. Today, I’d like to take another look at them and consider when and why you might use each one.
For a typical meeting, Classroom (or Schoolroom) seating or Theater seating are the most commonly used. These sets work best when the meeting is presentation-centered, meaning that the focus of the meeting is on the presentations. Of the two, I prefer to use Classroom seating since it offers participants a place to set their drinks and a surface to write on. Theater seating, though, is great for maximizing the number of seats you can get into the room.
If you need the meeting participants to be more actively involved in the meeting, then I would consider using a set that allows everyone to sit around the same table as much as possible. This means using either a variation of Hollow Square or a variation of Rounds (Banquet seating). Rounds can be done as “full” or “crescent” and are good for when you have a mix of lecture-style presentations with some small group work – and you need to do it all in the same room.
Hollow Square, as a general category, covers (in my mind) any room set that creates a rectangular workspace with the meeting participants along the outside. If the number of people is small, then you could do this as a Boardroom Table or as “Conference” seating. As the number of people who need to sit at the table increases, you eventually reach a point where the middle of the table “disappears” and you have a Hollow Square. A U-Shape seating arrangement simply removes one side of the square, which then becomes the front of the room. Hollow Square and its variations are good for meetings in which the participants need to engage each other on a regular basis throughout the day and any presentations are there to support their work. Board meetings, planning group meetings, and strategy meetings are all examples of meetings that would use this type of seating. A word of warning, though, about this style of room set… If you get above about 40 or 50 people, it no longer becomes practical for everyone to sit at the table. The set takes up an enormous amount of space and it becomes increasingly difficult for participants to see or hear people on the opposite side of the table. Technology (microphones, video monitors, etc.) can mitigate this somewhat, but you still reach a point at which that fails as well.
For those rare occasions in which you do not need (or want) seating for the meeting, you can use Reception seating. This style allows you to provide small tables, called “highboys” for people to use as writing surfaces. It also encourages shorter meetings since people are less inclined to take a long time if they have to stand through the entire meeting. I have often seen this approach suggested as a way to shorten staff meetings for that very reason.
So, which is best? None of them. As I mentioned at the start, many factors go into making that determination for each meeting. Is this a lecture-type of meeting, with a series of speakers presenting from the front of the room? Will the attendees need to interact with each other to do group exercises? Do you even need seats?
And, how much space does each of these sets take? Check out this post for a discussion about seating capacities, or you can download this one-page cheat sheet showing how many people can fit into a room for each style of seating.
~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises