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.