With You All the Way

by Sharron Campbell,

Certified Meeting Professional, 30 years experience

Pros and cons of different types of meeting and function space set-ups

Set-up type Best Use Advantages Disadvantages
Most engaging set-up types - (growing trends)
Meeting Pods
Several sets of (2) 6' x 30" tables placed side-by-side with up to 5 rolling chairs at each table. One end of table open so no one has their back facing front of the room.  Best if pods are limited to 5 or 6 tables but can still be effective for larger groups.
Interactive brainstorming, strategic planning, imagineering. Facilitator leads and encourages creative collaboration by asking questions rather than giving direction. Allows easy movement of participants among tables to expand and optimize ideas. No sense of hierarchy encourages teamwork. Tables can be split apart and relocated for different purposes during the session. Greatest flexibility of any other type of set-up.   Informal and unstructured environment may be unsettling at first to those not used to it.  Easy, cost-effective set-up.

Interactive Circle
(20-35 max) chairs set in a circle. Facilitator can be seated with the participants in the circle or can step to the center. No lectern.
Intimate sessions that require risk taking or sharing of personal experiences. Best if group is 20 or less but can still work with a larger number. Sense of equality and connectedness (unity) within the group. Promotes feeling of safety for participants that encourages openness. No writing surface for participants. Limited to smaller groups for best results.  A square room recommended for best use of space.  Fast and easy set-up, but space intensive so cost can be higher if group gets larger than 20.
Individuals stand randomly within a small room or area.
Great for keeping small meetings short, on point and engaged. Ideal for briefings and succinct input. Purpose is to communicate rather than solve. Time limit enforced. Physical barriers, long-winded confabs and zoning out by participants are minimized or eliminated. Resistance to attending meetings unlikely because of time limit. Creative thinking - no time to evaluate pros and cons before speaking. Meeting can occur almost anywhere. Usually no set-up required unless audiovisual demonstration tools deemed helpful.   Time constraints prohibit the side discussions and networking that some participants like.  Most cost-effective type of meeting. No required set-up.

Somewhat engaging set-up types (traditional)

Board Room
One long table 30" or more in width with seating on all 4 sides. Table can be created by placing two or more tables together vertically or horizontally to make a solid surface.
Good for groups of 16-18 or less for Board of Directors meetings, small group discussions, committee meetings, training sessions, client presentations.  Encourages dialogue between participants, This set-up will fit in most small meeting rooms.  Not unusual for organizations and venues to have private, permanently set conference rooms on-site to accommodate small meetings.  If conference table is set for too many participants may be unable to see who is speaking.  Cost effective if set for a small group.
Rounds of 8 at 60" tables

Rounds of 10 at 72" tables

Half rounds of 5
or 6 on one side
Banquet seating for large or small groups or informal sessions for brainstorming or in-depth small group discussions. Conducive to interaction around the table. Used for meal functions and/or seating with work space for a meeting with 4 or 5 seats placed on one side of the table with all participants facing the presenter.  Easy to reset in a short period of time from a meeting to a meal function and vice versa. Some participants seated at a full table for 8 or 10 will have to turn their seats to view a presentation. Cost of room rental can be offset if enough revenue generated by planned meal function.
6' or 8' long tables either 18" or 30" wide set in a horseshoe shape with chairs around the outside for best results.
Group problem solving, information sharing, decision making, training. Optimal learning if group limited to 20-24. Presenter has close access to participants from inside the U. Good for group interaction. Good sight lines for all if group is less than 24.  Excellent for computer training. No sense of VIP seating a plus. Optimal learning occurs if group is limited to 24 or less.   Comfort and results will be compromised if seating placed inside the U. Space intensive which can increase cost.    
Hollow square
(2) or more 6' or 8' tables per side set to create a square that leaves an open but  inaccessible space in the center. 

Good for small meetings or a Board too large for a conference set-up. Max of 30 best. Ample workspace. Good communication and visual lines for each participant.  No sense of VIP seating a plus. Inaccessible/unusable space in the center.  Not good for audiovisual presentations.  Space intensive which can increase cost.
Usually set with 4 or more at the top of the T and 6 or less on either side of the stem of the T.
Good for small banquets of 16 or less where defined leadership is desired. Dignitaries would be seated at the top of the T. Allows interaction among those seated n the stem of the T. Good visibility for all if audiovisuals are placed at end of the stem of the T. Poor interaction among dignitaries seated at the top of the T.  Cost effective set-up if group remains small.

Least engaging set-up types (traditional)

Chairs are lined up in rows facing the presenter or focal point. Chairs that stack are typically used.  
Good for lectures, staged performances or elaborate audiovisuals when attendees are viewed as an audience rather than participants. Maximizes seating capacity. Can be used in any type of space.  Most efficient use of space.  Variations of set-up can be used to create better visibility such as herringbone, chevron or semi-circular  Discourages interaction of participants with the presenter and each other. Sight lines obstructed if seating i not inclined. No freedom of movement or writing surface for participants.  Best use of space so less costly than other set-ups.
6' or 8' x 18" tables placed in rows facing the presenter or focal point.
Training sessions for groups of 40 to 50. Also good for larger groups sessions where workspace is required. Ideal for attendees who must work at computers. Comfortable set-up for long sessions if 2 people per 6' table, 3 people for 8' table.  Limited collaboration can be achieved if participants in one row turn to face participants in the row behind them. Tables create a barrier between participants and presenter.  Sight lines can be obstructed if set for a large group. Not ideal for stimulating discussion among participants. Participants feel crowded if 3 per 6" table, 4 per 8' table.  Space and labor intensive which can increase cost.
99U - Midcourse Connections - PCMA Professional Meeting Management - 5th Edition – Wall Street Journal
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