Event Seating Arrangements

No matter the event, its length, or location, attendees will want chairs. Chairs that fold, bar stools in place of chairs or those non-folding seats that we all mistakenly assume are more comfortable than other options.

While most events don’t require hours and hours of sitting, proper seating options go a long ways in making attendees comfortable. Unless you’re sitting all day at an event like TED—they have stationary, padded, theater chairs—anything with a seat, legs and back will do. But how will you arrange your seating?

That depends on the type of event you’re throwing, and the level of interaction presenters would like from your guests. Below we describe three popular seating arrangements.

Photo courtesy cdsessums

Classroom
With the proliferation of laptop and tablet computers, any event that’s workshop-based absolutely must have chairs set up, behind tables, in a classroom style. Not itty-bitty desks like most of had to use in high school, but full desks with plenty of room for cords.

We’ve found that most people are willing to crowd around a table to be able to use their laptop on it, so if space is a concern, add chairs and subtract tables. People will adjust.

We’ve also seen success with thinner, lunch-counter or bar-style tables with outlets available underneath for easy power access. It’s ludicrous to expect everyone to crowd around limited outlets in room corners, and it’s too much to expect everyone to come with their computers charged with enough battery power to last through most of the day.

Thin tables, folding chairs and power outlets will make you a savior to frustrated laptop and tablet users.

Theater-style, tiered seating has worked for quite a while. Photo courtesy ell brown.

Theater
Tiered seating is awesome. If you have access to a theater with tiered seating, book now. However, your event isn’t likely to fit into a theater, so you’re going to need to raise the stage instead of the seats, adjust the seating to form a semi circle rather than a bunch of straight lines and if you’re really on top of things, stagger chairs so everyone has a clear view.

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard attendees complain about sore necks triggered by holding their heads to the side to see around a taller person. Unless the stage is 10+ feet above the ground, people are still going to have to look forward to see it, and until we start seating people by height, we’ll have issues with sight lines.

We alleviate some of this with aforementioned curved and staggered seating arrangements. While this does cut down on the amount of chairs we can fit in the space, it’s more efficient. People tend to sit slightly closer to the stage in this scenario, prompting (hopefully) greater audience interaction. Typical, straight layouts leave people toward the aisles, back and door.

We’ve also noticed that attendees are less likely to leave during the speech if the chairs are in a semi circle. Perhaps because they feel more a part of the speech, or they are confused by the arrangement, but we hope it’s the former.

Round tables bring focus back to where it should be: the attendees. Photo courtesy mikecogh.

Rounds
If you want your attendees to interact, get stuff done and be able to really branch out, try setting up chairs with round tables. While this setup is typically used for dining, it can also be extremely useful in getting gadget-happy attendees looking up from the laptop and table screens to interact with each other.

Assigning seats works well at events that draw a lot of the same people. While it takes some work up front, and there’s always that guy who will ignore the suggestion, it’s a great way to get people outside of their comfort zones and interacting with new contacts. We all like to think that humans are social by nature, but it sometimes take a kick to get them going.

We’ve also seen successful, small conferences set up chairs in the middle theater-style, and line the sides with rounds. This arrangement allows people who really want to listen to the speaker the best viewing arrangement, while giving those of us connected to our mobile devices the ability to stretch out, swap stories and multitask.

How do you set up your seating? What do you use to determine seating style?