Thursday, December 15, 2011

A final farewell…

After 23 years of providing comprehensive meeting planning services to clients across the US, RDL enterprises is closing its doors and our staff will be moving on to new projects and adventures.

Thank you for reading RDL Talks! In the past two and a half years, I have received some wonderful feedback on the blog and hope you have found the information useful and, maybe, a little entertaining as well.

Although there will be no further posts on this blog, previous posts will continue to be available. Click on an author’s name in the Authors List to the left to see their contributions to this blog.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • RDL Talks! Editor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is Reception Seating?

[This post is the fifth and final post in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. To finish out the series, we’ll take a look at Reception Seating...]

Reception has its own seating style? Really? Yes, really. In the hospitality industry, receptions have their own seating style. Why? Basically because people take up space even if no chairs or tables are provided. Therefore, in order to know how many people can safely fit into a room for a reception, you need to know how much space a single person needs.

Seven to eight square feet per person is the basic space requirement – and that figure presumes no chairs, no tables, no audio-visual equipment, and no other items (such as decorations) that might take up any space. I typically assume ten square feet per person for receptions so that I have a little space built in to provide some seating, a few highboys (chest high tables to put food and drinks on), and food and beverage tables. My estimate also allows space for minor AV.

So, now that we know the basic space requirement, we can come up with an estimate for how many people can safely be in the room at the same time. However, the more space you use for other things, the less space you will have for people. I know this sounds pretty obvious, but I have seen people try to take a room that holds 100 people maximum, then try to add in a dance floor, a buffet, a DJ, and lots of floor decorations – and still want to get 100 people in there at once. That rarely works. Remember: for every item that takes up floor space, you need to reduce the maximum attendance accordingly.

Ultimately, though, Reception “Seating” is the most flexible of any of the seating styles. You don’t have to provide seats for everyone since you anticipate people mingling (tables and chairs discourage that). You can maximize the use of oddly shaped spaces because you are not fixed into any particular placement for tables. Buffet tables can fit into spaces where you would never be able to fit tables and chairs for a meeting and what few tables and chairs you do provide can go almost anywhere. Unlike other sets, your creativity is limited only by the amount of space available.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is Conference Seating?

[This post is the fourth in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. Last week, we covered Theater, Classroom, and Rounds. Today, we examine Conference Seating...]

Most people outside the meetings industry consider "Conference" Seating to be the same as Theater, or they might equate it with Classroom seating. This is because they don’t attach any special meaning to the word “conference”. However, those in the industry do have a particular meaning for the word, especially when used to describe a seating style.

Basically, Conference Seating is a style in which all participants are seated around the same table. Conference seating is very useful for small gatherings that need to be face-to-face to conduct their business. Picture a boardroom table: you have perhaps ten to twelve people all seated around a rectangular or oval table. They can easily interact with each other and there is typically a “head” where the most important person usually sits. This style also works well with small work groups. They can easily move around and the table provides ample workspace.

The major drawback of the style is that it requires quite a bit more space than any of the other seating arrangements – I usually estimate 40 square feet per person for this one – and can quickly become unworkable if you have too many people around the table. I have done this set with as many as 50 people seated around the same “table” and they needed microphones to amplify their voices just so they could be heard across the room. As it was, the size made genuine personal interaction difficult to do, if not impossible, for anyone more than one or two seats away from you.

I can just see you sitting there trying to figure out how you make a table that big. The answer is – you don’t. Once you reach a certain number of participants (about 20 or so) that need to sit around the same table, you have to abandon the concept of an unbroken surface all the way across the table and switch to a variant called Hollow Square. With Hollow Square, you use the same tables that are used for Classroom seating to create a square with the center open (or hollow). This allows you to have more people around the same "table".

U-Shape Seating is essentially the same, but with one side of the square removed (making it look like a "U" from above). You lose a quarter of your seating, but gain the ability to use the center space that would otherwise be inaccessible.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What are Rounds?

[This post is the third in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. Earlier this week, we covered Theater and Classroom Seating. In this post, we’ll look at Rounds...]

Rounds (RND). What is that exactly? Well, in the case of the meetings industry, it is a style of seating where people sit around a table, one that is nearly always round or oval in shape (hence the name). The easiest way for most people to visualize this is to think of a banquet or a wedding reception. Eight to ten people sit around a table and there might be 20-30 tables set in rows to accommodate all of the guests.

• Size: 60” and 72” diameters are the standard options.
• Seating: 8 to 10 people per table
• Space Requirements: 15 square feet per person

Why is this style common? Primarily for one reason that I’ve already mentioned: banquets. Seating in Rounds is a good way to feed people and allows for social interaction during the meal – something which most people, at some level, enjoy most of the time. But, how well does it work for meetings?

Well, it depends on what your goals for the meeting are. Rounds are good for workshops or trainings where participants will need to work together in teams. This style lends itself quite well to creating pre-set teams without any real effort on the part of the speaker or the organizers. It is also good for sessions where participants need a lot of table space to work on projects. Regardless of whether each person is working with others or on their own, Rounds provide ample space for shared supplies and materials while leaving enough workspace open for them to do any projects.

Rounds do not do so well with traditional, presentation-focused sessions. No matter where you are in the room or how you orient the table, at least one third will have to place their backs to the presentation or give up a surface to write upon. Perhaps another third will be sitting with the table to one side or the other, which can create just as many problems for note taking if the table is not on your writing hand side. This means that only one third (or a little over that) of your audience will have a good view of the presentation and an effective surface to write on. However, let’s not write this style off completely just yet…

The variant of Rounds that does work fairly well for meetings is called Crescent Rounds. With this approach, you remove the roughly one third of the seats with their backs to the speaker, leaving six or seven chairs remaining (out of ten originally). Furthermore, you don’t redistribute the chairs around the table to “space them out”. Instead, you keep them in their original spots. That means one section of the table will have nobody sitting in it – but it also means that more people can have both a writing surface and a good view of the presentation.

So, why would you use Crescent Rounds instead of Classroom, for example? Well, use of Crescent Rounds allows you to harness the advantages of Rounds (such as for small group work) while still allowing effective participation in lecture-style presentations. The downside of Crescent Rounds is that, since you have fewer people sitting at each table, you will need more tables and, hence, more space to accommodate the same number of people. The space factor is one reason I think we don’t see this frequently as a room set, though it is still used often enough to be one of the basic sets that all planners should know.

Another alternative, if you have enough space available, is to use a double set. (Check out this post for more information about double sets.) This would allow you to have a presentation in one half of a room and small group activities or meals in the other half. Such a set reduces transition time (no needing to find your way around the hotel if you are just going to another spot in the same room) and can help moderators keep track of participants a little easier.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Classroom Seating?

[This post is the second in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. On Monday, we looked at Theater Seating. Today: Classroom Seating.]

Also called Schoolroom Seating, Classroom Seating (CR or SR) is one of the most common types of room sets used for meetings and conferences. So, what are the characteristics of this type of seating?

• Length: 6’ or 8’ per table
• Table Height: 30”
• Table Depth (width): 18”, 24”, or 30”
• Seating: 2 – 4 people per table

Why is it used so frequently? Well, one of the reasons classroom seating is popular is because it gives attendees a surface on which to write (as well as a place to put snacks and drinks). This makes it an ideal choice for all-day training sessions and workshops in which attendees need to take notes, work on projects, or just need to do a lot of writing.

Generally, the tables are set up in rows facing the front of the room. Since most meeting rooms are essentially rectangular in shape, this basic setup fits quite well into them. For oddly shaped rooms, though, this may not be an efficient style. And, in any case, this is not the seating style that allows the maximum number of seats in the room (that prize goes to theater seating). Since it does not provide the maximum possible seating for a room, you may need to do a double set or a different set entirely for larger groups.

Sometimes, especially in larger rooms, those who sit at the far edges of the room may have trouble viewing the screen (or the speaker) simply due to their angle relative to the screen. There is a way to address this while still using Classroom Seating, though. The planner will angle the rows slightly to create a variant called Chevron Seating. Using this variant requires a bit more space than the basic classroom style to accommodate the same number of people. However, the benefits of having everyone with a direct view of the speaker usually outweigh the loss of a few seats or the extra space needed.

“Basic” Classroom and Chevron Seating can be mixed as well, which is commonly done in larger rooms and with greater numbers of attendees. The seats directly in front of the stage are set square to the front of the room, while the rows that are off to either side are angled. The goal here is to ensure that everyone in the audience is able to have a good view of the presentation.

Classroom Seating, regardless of the variant used, does have one other drawback: it is generally not conducive to interaction among the participants. The focus of this seating style is typically the front of the room. That positioning highlights the speaker and subtly emphasizes the didactic (lecture) nature of most presentations.

So how much space does this style use? You’re looking at approximately 15 square feet per person if the tables are 18” wide and 20 square feet per person if they are 30”. In the rare cases where I have come across 24” wide tables, I use the 20 square foot number to be on the safe side. Here’s a handy-dandy seating chart to help you figure out how much space you’ll need based on your expected attendance (up to 1,000 people).

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Monday, December 5, 2011

What is Theater Seating?

[This post is the first in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. This week: Theater Seating.]

Theater seating is probably the most common seating style in use today – especially for large events. Needing just ten square feet per person (eight if no AV), it allows you to fit the greatest number of people into any meeting space (while not violating fire codes). However, that is not the only reason it is popular. It is also flexible and quick to set up or strike, making room changes easier than with many other room sets.

The standard configuration for Theater Seating is to place the chairs in long, straight rows. The area in front of the stage is set with the chairs directly facing it. All of the rest of the rows in the room are set in line with and parallel to those. However, there is much more that can be done with this style and the possible configurations are not limited to just this one method.

For instance, you can change the angle of the rows, or even the chairs themselves, to provide better viewing angles. Better yet, set the chairs in an arc around the front of the stage, giving everyone a “head-on” view of the speaker. You can even place the chairs in a circle to promote sharing and interaction. Placing chairs in concentric rings creates a “stage” in the center, which creates a more intimate space in the room.

If your attendance soars (a great problem to have usually), you may find yourself running out of seats. With Theater Seating, it is easy to bring in more seats (assuming you’re not already at capacity for the room). With many conferences I work on, I will recommend planning to use another seating style first if possible, one that uses more square footage per person, and shift to Theater Seating when the numbers increase beyond the capacity for the original style.

Fortunately, the math for this style is pretty easy to do in your head. Simply multiply the number of expected attendees by ten and you have the approximate total square footage you need (including space for AV, aisles, etc.). If you know the total amount of usable space in a room, you can figure out how many people should fit by dividing the total square footage by ten. And, if you don’t want to do the math, here’s a room capacity chart I whipped up to help you with the numbers.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Friday, December 2, 2011

Signage for the Budget Minded

We all have clients who are very careful about how money is spent on their signage. We have done everything from large banners and foam core signs to an inexpensive slip-in sign holder. In many cases we have done a combinations of all these options for one client.

If you are looking for an inexpensive way to produce signs for your client try using slip-in sign holders. We use commercially produced sign holders from PC Nametag. These holders are 16X20 inches with a vinyl pocket that holds 8 ½ x 11 inch paper. In addition to having the signs in multiple colors, they also have one that is a large red arrow with the vinyl pocket. The signs are inexpensive and we used our first set almost 10 years. Although we have lost some to shipping, the wind, and even once to a lawn mower, these signs still fill many of our signage needs. We now have a large portfolio case that we use to ship the sign holders to our events and that has increased their survival rate.

The key to making these sign holders look like they belong to the event is the consistency of the message on the insert. The logo and name of the conference needs to be large enough to be recognizable from a distance. Once attendees key into the signs being a part of their event, they know to look for them and the information they convey, either in terms of what is happening in a meeting room, or directions to difficult to find rooms. The vinyl pocket allows room for multiple pieces of paper so, for each session, the old sign can come out and the next page is ready with the new information.

These portable sign holders can be used either landscape or portrait. Sometimes we have arrived on site with our signage produced portrait style to find that the only way an arrow will work is landscape. We have learned to bring some of each style and/or produce new ones on site. We always have the template for our signs with us in case we need to make changes to the information, such a new speaker or a cancellation.

Another cost savings tool we use focuses on the large foam core signs. We set them up to allow for the customization of information by having generic general signage with space to place a smaller sign, attached with Velcro, that makes the sign specific to an event. Our inserts are usually 2-3 inches in height and the width of the sign, though they can be done at any size you need for your functions. The same sign or series of signs can be used to welcome attendees, direct them to a reception or a luncheon, and they can often be moved to off-site events and customized accordingly. We even have had red arrows made for our signs to convert them to directional signs. For local events, the large signs can be reused each year, providing the basic information and design is generic enough.

We find that using these combinations of signs has represented a significant cost savings for our client. The slip-in signs and the inserts for the foam core signs are inexpensive, representing a significant cost savings over custom signs for our clients’ events.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director and Meeting Planner, RDL enterprises