Setup Guidelines for Meetings and Events Guide [2020]

Setup Guidelines Meetings Events Guide

Details – Details – Details

Finalizing 30-Days in Advance

Detailing your set-up instructions is one of the most important documents that you will prepare as a meeting and event planner.  Your organizational skills and attention to detail will be most critical here and will set you apart from the norm if you are really good at it.

Contracts for meeting room and function space should already be finalized and signed, securing the space you need for your meeting or event, and vendors and service providers confirmed in writing.  When you reach the 30-day mark prior to the event, it is time to pull together and document every detail for distribution and to finalize tentative agreements already confirmed with vendors and service providers.

Your target date for completion should be no later than 21 days in advance to give your vendors and service providers enough time to place their orders for products and equipment and to schedule, the personnel needed to meet your needs.   If you are coordinating a last-minute meeting, the communication needs will still be the same but the time frame will have to be condensed and will probably result in extra charges for rush orders.

Function Specifications

The most effective way to communicate to all parties is by distributing a final set of detailed set-up specifications with diagrams for every meeting room and function space you will be using throughout the duration of your program.  Vendors with highly specialized services such as audiovisual will require a separate set of specifications dedicated to their services only, although a profile of the entire program will still be important for them to receive as a cover sheet.

Vendor and Service Provider Documents

Vendors and service providers will use your set-up specs as a guideline when creating their own internal documents for distribution to their staff for placing orders and scheduling personnel.  You will receive a copy from them for a signature of approval, which may be in the form of an invoice or purchase order or a banquet event order (BEO).  READ THESE DOCUMENTS CAREFULLY.  They are considered an addendum to a contract once you have signed your approval.  Follow-up all verbal corrections or changes in writing and ask for a revised invoice or BEO if time allows.  Last minute changes that are emailed or faxed should be initialled and returned verifying receipt by both parties.

How to estimate space needed for meeting and function setups

Space recommendations per person –

For a general idea of the amount of space needed to accommodate the size of group, you expect for a function, meeting or event, the following rule-of-thumb for various set-up styles will help you.  But remember, this will only give you an IDEA of space requirements and is not exact.  It is meant to help you grasp quickly whether those who attend will be too crowded in the room you are considering or if the attendees will feel lost if the function space is too big.  There should be a maximum capacity posted in each function room.  Take it seriously since it was approved by the fire marshal of the city or county and anything overcapacity can be a safety hazard.  Requirements established by the American with Disabilities Act can also affect the amount of space you will need.

Space requirements for equipment, food stations

In addition to the space required for seating or for a good flow for standing receptions, etc., you must also calculate the space that will be required for the set-up of food stations, audiovisual equipment, staging, and so on.  These additional set-up requirements can be extremely space intensive and will increase the size of room or function space you need significantly. There may also be built-in features and doors that can affect seating or equipment placement and reduce the amount of usable space available to you.

Function room capacities –

Keep in mind that the function space capacity that is included in meeting planning brochures from hotels and other venues will give square footage for each room or space and the maximum number of people that can be accommodated in them.  It will not include the additional space you will need for AV equipment, food and beverage stations, stand-up banners, etc.

Set-Up Type Estimated Space Requirement Recommendations
 Reception9 to 10 square feet per personFor good flow.
 Theater12 to 13 square feet per personSet chairs 24-in. from the back of one row to the front of the next with seats 2-in. apart when possible. Emergency codes may require chairs to be connected.  Allow additional space for any row that is to accommodate wheelchairs.
 Classroom17 to 22 square feet per person6 ft. or 8 ft. x 18-inch tables.  Allow 2 ft. of table space per person minimum, but 2.5 – 3 ft. much preferred.  Leave 24-in from the back of each chair to the table behind.  Allow additional space for any table that is to accommodate wheelchairs.
 Meeting Pods17 to 22 square feet per personIdeal for interactive meetings where flexibility in seating and collaboration is required.  Set clusters of 2 tables either 6 ‘ x 30″ or 6″ x 18″ side-by-side then cluster 6 chairs, preferably on rollers, around it.  Participants can move about the room, pull the tables apart and use them as singles or whatever is conducive to creative and productive thinking.
Hollow Square
Same as the classroom for actual seating but extra space in the center makes this set-up much more space intensiveU-shape is the same as hollow square except that one end is left open for access to the inside of the U by the presenter.  To avoid uncomfortable crowding, do not seat anyone closer than 1 foot to a shared corner.
 Banquet  Rounds13.5 to 14 square feet per person60″ tables seat 8 people, 72″ tables seat 10. Allow 5 feet between tables for seating and aisles.  Allow wider aisles and less seating per table if wheelchairs are to be accommodated.
 Staging  Risers4′ x 8′ sections standard. Available in 6′ x 8′ sections.Heights can be 6, 12, 16, 24 or 32 inches. Order handrails for steps and along the back of riser if not flush against a wall … for safety!  The first row of seats should be 6 ft. away or twice the height of a screen, whichever is further.
 Audiovisual VariesSpace requirement depends on the type and number of presentations and the size of a production.  It can be extremely space intensive and should be a major consideration before booking function space.  Space for audiovisual should not be limited if the quality of the presentation or production is to meet expectations.
See links below for sample diagram and a more complete table of seating types.
Resources: Convention Industry Council Manual 7th Edition, Professional Meeting Management Fifth Edition

You may need more or less space, depending on the food and beverage, audiovisual and other equipment set-ups you need to support your program.  The dimensions of the room, obstructions along the walls, and the placement of doors and windows may also affect how the room can be set.

If a room is too large for the size of the group, the perception may be that the meeting or event is not well attended.  When attendance is not what you expect, whether more or less, you can make space feel larger or smaller in some cases by changing the set-up style.  For example –

    • If attendance was expected to be 100 and only 50 registers, change the seating from theater style to a classroom so the room still looks full and well-attended.
    • Or change the set-up from a standard classroom set-up in straight rows to herringbone (v-shape) so the angle of the tables fills more space.
    • If the venue you are using has potted plants scattered in foyers, ask if they can be placed inside your meeting room to fill empty space, etc.
    • If more register than expected and the room is too small and for the classroom set-up you planned, change to theater-style.


Verify the time frame allowable in your contract to re-set a meeting or function room without incurring an additional charge – usually a day or two in advance of the event!  Re-setting on the day of the event can be costly and may not even be possible based on equipment inventory and staff availability.

The no-show factor –

One of the most difficult things for a meeting planner to conquer is the fear that a room will be too small to accommodate the number of people that show up or that there will not be enough food and beverage to serve everyone.  It is always a touch-and-go situation because of the variables that can determine how many will actually show up.  Rarely, however, will the group materialize at the maximum number you expect so a “no-show” factor should be considered and the number reduced by a certain percentage.  Keeping good records from similar programs that the group held in the past is the surest way to determine what that percentage should be, but if it is a first-time event you may want to consider a 10-20% decrease in attendance is voluntary rather than required.

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

Set-up typeBest UseAdvantagesDisadvantages
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 the table opens so no one has their back facing the 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. A 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. The greatest flexibility of any other type of set-up.An 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. A 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 a group is 20 or less but can still work with a larger number.The sense of equality and connectedness (unity) within the group. Promotes a 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 the 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. The 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 a time limit. Creative thinking – no time to evaluate the pros and cons of speaking. A 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. A 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 the 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 information sessions for brainstorming or in-depth small group discussions.Conducive to interaction around the table. Used for meal functions and/or seating with workspace 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.The presenter has close access to participants from inside the U. Good for group interaction. Good sight lines for all if the group is less than 24.  Excellent for computer training. No sense of VIP seating a plus.Optimal learning occurs if the 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 the 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 the 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-circularDiscourages interaction of participants with the presenter and each other. Sightlines 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 on 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.


Planning for placement of signage and banners

A vital component of your set-up instructions is the placement of directional signs to help your attendees find their way and identification signs so they know they have arrived at the right place. Other types of signage needed might be for sponsorship recognition or to draw attention to an item or to give instructions. Before you decide on the type of signs to use and the design, check with your service contract at the venue or facility you will be using to see what restrictions exist. You may find that external or front lobby signage will not be allowed at all, and the type of signs and other display locations may be tightly controlled throughout the building and even in an open outdoor space. If one type of sign is prohibited, be prepared to consider options that could work as well or better and would meet the building’s criteria for display. Example, if you are not allowed to attach banners to walls or posts, consider feather banners that are lightweight and stand by themselves, or an audio-visual graphics or slide that can be displayed in almost any size on a wall.

Think QR codes when designing your signs

It is recommended that the use of QR codes be incorporated into almost all signage that you design. A QR (Quick Response) code is “a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) that is readable with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application that can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the telephone’s browser.” QR codes are easy to create at little or no cost, and they are the wave of the future for unlimited purposes. Signage and promotional materials can be greatly enhanced by using them. Most sign companies will create them for you. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, more on how to create QR codes, make them pretty, and size them properly is available for you in the link below.

UP directional at the entrance on lower level

The sample of good graphics to attract attention to a directional sign

Directional Signs –

Keep text to a bare minimum and as large as possible on all signage so it can be seen and comprehended at a glance.

An effective method for entrances to a building or from a garage is a simple poster size sign with an enlargement of your logo that people will recognize from a distance, the title of the meeting in smaller letters, and a huge arrow pointing to the right direction. If meetings or functions are being held in multiple rooms, similar signs with the name of the meeting room or function space added to it will suffice when placed in areas where attendees have to make a choice of direction.

Recognition Signs –

Signage that recognizes sponsors or other VIP organizations might be more elaborate and colorful if your budget allows. Banners can be large and prominently placed, but they can also be very expensive. If show cards are used, try to place them on either side of the stage or on it. A PowerPoint projection of a sponsor’s logo on the screen set up for a later presentation or gobos that rotate the logo over the walls inside the room before a program begins can be very effective and fairly inexpensive.

Identification Signs –

Place smaller signs at eye level on easels at the entrance to each meeting or function room identifying the action to be held there. Attendees will be looking for either the name of the topic or event or the presenter’s name, so include both. If the title of the topic is long, abbreviate it! Keep the text big. Include the start time and end time if the room is going to be used for more than one program during the day. Stack the signs for the different programs behind each other on the same easel so they can be rotated easily. Another example of using this type of identification sign can be good at registration to separate waiting for lines into alphabetical sections.

Instructional Signs –

More text will be required on this type of sign, but attendees will expect it in areas near the on-site office where they might find a large show card displaying the layout of the function space with a “you are here” arrow, or a marquee located at a pickup point for shuttle buses you have scheduled with the hours of operation and a diagram of the route.

Signage Placement –

If your program or event requires use of multiple meeting rooms, function space, and an exhibit hall, it will be necessary to develop a strategic, wayfinding plan that identifies every sign that will be needed, the time it needs to be in place and removed, and a map that illustrates where it is to be placed. Depending on the size of your conference, this can be a sizable document and an absolutely critical guideline to follow. The responsibility would ideally be placed in the hands of one of your most reliable staff or volunteers to spearhead and carry through. If your program is relatively simple but still heavy on signage, a simple spreadsheet may be all you need.

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