Imagine the last time you had a great conversation with someone.
What was the atmosphere in the room? How were you chatting (standing, sitting, facing each other, facing away)? What did you have in front of you (coffee, tea, water, a notebook, a beer)?
Now, imagine the last time you listened to an awesome presentation.
Same questions: could you see the presenter full on? Could you hear them? Did you have to turn around or crane your neck? Did you have to stand?
When it comes to having a great experience, room set up is often last on the list of things to consider when you're planning an event, but can often make or break an attendees experience.
Below I've done somewhat of a hack job to show you different room layouts that I love using and (more importantly) HOW you should use them at your event.
WHAT IT IS: For events with a stage or designated speaking area in the front, participants sit at half of a 60" tables, with 4 chairs each.
WHAT IT'S BEST FOR: Programs that require both listening to a presentation, as well as small group work or individual working time. The half-moon format makes sure that groups aren't too big and that people don't have to talk across a whole table, and it also makes sure no one's back is to the presenter.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS: This is not particularly space friendly, so you may run into cramming more tables into the space than you'd like. However, if you're looking to fill the space so your room doesn't look empty, then this is a great way to make the room look fuller.
WHAT IT IS: For events with a stage or designated speaking area in the front, participants sit in row-style seating with a small, long table in front of them.
WHAT IT'S BEST FOR: Programs that require note-taking and listening to a speaker, but don't involve group work or working with a neighbor. This style is best for workshops that require computers because people can be watching the presenter/lecturer and also have their computers open facing the main screen.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS: This is a great way to cram a lot of people into a room if you're short on space. It's not a great way to foster connections and networking, so I wouldn't recommend this layout for any meals or evens that are strictly social.
WHAT IT IS: Long tables (or round tables, but I prefer long) that are organized so the end of the table is facing the presenter/speaker.
WHAT IT'S BEST FOR: Workshops or hands-on events that require basic instruction, but give participants space to work on a project. This is great for craft/art workshops because people will have to slightly crane their necks to the side to watch instruction, but then can engage with their table mates while they're working on their project.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS: This is my favorite layout because it offers such good engagement, but unfortunately most hotels or event spaces don't have access to lots of rectangular tables. However, if you have budget to rent them, I highly recommend it.
WHAT IT IS: A stage (rounded or square) in the center of rows of chairs that are laid out 360 degrees around the stage.
WHAT IT'S BEST FOR: A more intimate take on presentations, doing a presentation "in-the-round" can create a more intimate experience between speakers and attendees.
SOME CONSIDERATIONS: This is not a good style for a presenter with multimedia, or a presenter who isn't comfortable using the space and moving around to face different directions. The more traditional counterpart to this style is called Theater Style which is exactly what it sounds like, and the benefits of an in-the-round style presentation are mostly related to intimacy with the speaker and to feel in community with other participants.