The Nuts and Bolts of “Room” Setup
How you set up a room for any event is key to the functionality and comfort of that space
for presenters and attendees alike. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll use the
terms speakers or presenters to denote anyone who will be the center of attention, this
includes but is not limited to: the bride and groom, guest panel, performers and musicians.
The terms attendees, audience and guests will refer to all the participants who are there
to focus on whoever the presenters are. Before setting up a room or outdoor space
for any event, go through a checklist of considerations that are vital to the success of your room
design: * Purpose of the event
* Number of participants * Number and type of presenters
* Type of space (indoor, outdoor, flat, sloped, terraced, hard vs. soft floor, etc.)
* Services to the room (catering, floor instruction, etc.)
* A/V requirements Also make sure you are aware of and responsive
to safety and access requirements and regulations. These include room capacity restrictions;
fire codes relating to chair and table spacing, capacity of egress points, type and source
of lighting, signage, heights of stairs, ramps, risers and handrails, ventilation and fire
protection devices; and ADA regulation compliance. Once you have this information compiled for
each area used you will be using, you can begin to diagram your setups. Start with a
blueprint of each space that shows entrances and exits, any existing structures like pillars
or built-ins, ceiling height, windows—pay close attention to the direction they face
and time of day to prevent harsh sunlight and projection screen problems—and traffic
flow as it relates to how people will access and egress from the space. Even take into
account the materials the space is made of; if the room is made of tented fabric, you’ll
need to provide space for climate control devices like heaters and fans, and your sound
amplification equipment might be more sizeable. If the room has air walls, pay close attention
to what will happen on each side of them so you don’t inadvertently make one room larger
to accommodate a setup while making the one next to it too small for a setup you’ve
already dedicated to it. Marble floors and walls may require sound buffering draping
which will require designated space. The functionality of each space is paramount,
but the convenience and comfort of your guests cannot be stressed too much. Use these rules
of thumb for room setups to ensure your guests have room to do whatever they are there to
do, with ample personal space for each individual: For a stand-up cocktail reception you need
8 square feet of space per person in the room; if there are food stations you need 12-15
square feet. For a seated dinner, you need 20 square feet
of space per person in the room layout; remember to factor in the server and buffet stations
before estimating space. If there is a dance floor, add an additional
3 square feet of space per person to the space allotments above.
Allow a minimum of 4 feet between the chair backs at round tables; more than 5 feet is
desirable. Note: although full-length table linens look great, they are difficult to sit
under and lead to table-clearing accidents; half length are preferred if people are getting
up and down frequently. When seating people at round tables put no
more than 6 people at a 4-footer, 10 people at a 5-footer and 12 people at a 6-footer;
whenever possible, reduce these numbers by two for each.
If the round table is used as a work space or for a full formal china seating, reduce
the number per table by at least two people or more. Leave each person 30 linear inches
of work or dining space on the table. Leave ample room for servers at tables, either
12-plus inches of space between chairs or use a crescent setup so one quarter or more
of the table is chair-less and allows the server access.
Do not put more than 15 seats in any row, with an isle on each side; your attendees
shouldn’t have to displace very many people to get to their seat or feel claustrophobic
in an endless row. For ideal comfort and accessibility, allow
24 inches (or more) between the back of one seat and the front of the table or seat behind
it; although fire regulations allow for just 12, human beings are getting bigger, and anything
less than 24 inches is just plain uncomfortable. Unless your chairs are super-wide, allow at
least 3 inches between each one; people need to be able to move their arms without hitting
the person next to them. If you have a stage, it should be 8-16 inches
high for groups of 100 or less, 16-24 inches high for groups of 100-300, 24-32 for 300-500
and 36-48 inches high for more than 500 attendees. Now that you have all the room requirements
other than presenter and attendee setup addressed and penciled into your blueprint and you’ve
marked a ruler with all the rules of thumb measurement equivalents you are ready to choose
and draw in your setup. Note: there are a number of meeting and conference planning
software applications available that facilitate this process as well, so if you prefer to
do your diagramming digitally you have that option. Here are the standard room setups
and guidelines for their use: Auditorium: Also sometimes referred to as
theater-style, auditorium seating is typically rows of seats in blocks separated by vertical
and horizontal aisles (from the crow’s perspective). Although theater-style seating may have tables
or desks, auditorium seating typically does not. This style is ideal for event where you
need to accommodate a lot of people who will focus on a stage where activity takes place
for entertainment purposes, ceremonies or presentations that do not require the audience
to do any more than listen and watch. Banquet: Banquet-style setups are table and
chair setups; the tables are almost always round, but squares and oblongs can be used
(see spacing rules of thumb and reduce seating numbers by two). Banquet style is not ideal
for presentation, although it is very frequently used for them, because some of the attendees
have to turn their chairs around or look over their shoulders; the solution for this is
to set the tables as crescents. Banquet setups are ideal for social events of all types when
food and beverage are being served; if there is a head table, stage or dance floor at the
event, place the tables in an arc around it, this allows easy access to the dance floor
and the minimum of view obstruction for the table guests.
Boardroom: Boardroom style is a large table with people sitting around it. It is not ideal
for groups over about 25 because hearing from one end of the table to the other can be difficult.
However, it is perfect for small gatherings of people who need to work together (give
them 30 inches of work space). It is also a very nice setup for formal or informal small-group
dinner parties; just keep the table decorations low so everyone can see and hear each other.
Ceremony Seating: Ceremony seating can be very precise or quite creative. Traditional
ceremony seating is in rows, whether straight, angled or curved, but depending on venue,
you can have blankets on the grass with throw pillows, stand on stairs with the ceremony
taking place on the landing, use rows of backless cushioned benches, have a center dais with
stools spiraling around it, and even ask the guests to stand wherever they wish. Whatever
style you choose (or invent yourself) remember the rules of personal space; give each person
at least 30 inches side-t-side and 24 inches in front.
Cabaret: Cabaret-style seating is essentially a modification of banquet or crescent round
setups. The focus of the room is always a stage or raised dais, but the space may be
irregular, terraced or have a series of levels and balconies. Cabaret-style seating is used
when there is a performance during or before which food and beverage are served. Be very
mindful of traffic flow, server access, and accessibility to exits when implementing this
style, and make sure every individual has the maximum amount of personal space as established
in the rules of thumb. Classroom: Classroom style allows each member
of the audience 30 linear inches of workspace on a table or desk. It is ideal for any event
in which the attendees will want to take notes about the presentation, or manipulate objects
in a workshop environment that doesn’t require special equipment. Remember to follow the
rules of thumb and be as generous with space as possible for the comfort of your attendees.
Rows may be straight, curved or angled in a chevron. Also make sure to use video monitors
and a sound system if you have more than five rows so everyone can see and hear. Side note:
one of our pet peeves about classroom style setups is how uncomfortable the chairs used
by most venues are; if you want to do a great service to your attendees, give each one a
seat pillow as a welcoming gift. Cluster: The cluster setup typically uses
three oblong tables, two parallel to each other and one across the end of the two, to
create a large work space surrounded by chairs with one empty end facing the presenter. This
configuration is ideal for collaboration and hands-on applications during training, team
building, negotiation, brainstorming and workshops; it also gives each participant ample room
for laptop computers and other devices. Conference: Conference seating is a general
term used for seating setups, but in its truest form is a much expanded version of boardroom
seating. It is comprised of one very large table, typically made up of many oblong tables,
and surrounded by chairs. Conference tables could conceivably be infinitely large, but
great care must always be taken, regardless of the size, to make sure everyone at the
table has full audio and visual connection with everyone else; this technology can be
cost prohibitive and usually outweighs the benefit. One time that the conference setup
is very appropriate and doesn’t require a/v support is at an affair like a reenactment
of royally themed gala where guests dine in historic style and don’t worry about socializing
with anyone but those within hearing range. Crescent Rounds: This modification of banquet
style allows ease of service access to tables and unobstructed line of site to where the
action is. It is great for weddings, any type of presentation that uses round rather than
oblong tables or desks and faces a stage or dais.
E-Shape: The e-shape is great when a panel of presenters is speaking to a relatively
small group, say 36 people. In this configuration, the panelists are seated along a row of tables
and the audience is seated on both sides of three legs of tables. This configuration works
comfortable if each person has plenty of room in all directions; 30-plus inches.
Free-form: Use your imagination on this one. You could build half pyramids of staggered
blocks for people to sit on, or arrange an eclectic assortment of furniture to support
an event theme, even create a living room or lounge space. The sky is the limit; just
use all the rules of thumb that apply so your guest are, above all, comfortable!
Head Table: You can put a head table in any room setup. It is most commonly used for ceremonial
festivities like wedding receptions, and roasts, toasts and recognition events. It’s a very
good idea to raise the head table for large audience using the staging rules of thumb,
less a foot or so. Although it could be argued that 30 inches is enough linear space for
each person at the head table, we advocate doubling it in most cases; this allows for
full skirts, surprise awards hidden under it, and the ability to rotate seating to face
the podium or bride and groom. Hollow Square: As a rule, don’t seat more
that 24 people at any hollow square setup. This setup is typically eight oblong tables
set two-by-two with all the chairs on the outside of the square facing in. It gives
the guests the ability to easily exchange dialogue and visuals and is ideal for events
like an art class where the model is posed in the center and each person has ample work
space. Octagon and geometrics: The octagon and other
geometrics are modifications of the hollow square and servesthe same functions.
Reception: Traditional reception setups do not provide seating. They may have a number
of standup-height round or square tables, under 4 feet. These tables allow people to
set down their food an beverage to greet each other, exchange business cards, etc. In this
setup, make sure there are tables along the wall where people can deposit their empty
glasses and plates and have someone bussing the standup tables regularly; nothing is less
attractive at a cocktail reception than unattended dirty dishes.
Theater or Lecture: These styles are the same, and may be on a flat surface or stair-stepped.
The seating is always at an angle facing the stage and has aisles accessing rows of chairs.
Use the rules of thumb for setting up this style and when you have more than five rows
uses sound amplification and video monitors as needed. This seating style works equally
well for ceremonies, entertainment and presentations where the audience can just sit and enjoy.
T-Shape: This configuration serves the same purpose as the e-shape configuration, but
is ideal for smaller groups or focus groups working hands-on at workshops.
U-shaped: Give each attendee 30 linear inches of work space on the table and skirt the inside
of the table not the outside where guests will be seated. This arrangement is not suitable
for more than 25 people because those at the ends will have trouble hearing and participating.
You are now armed with all the information essential to configuring each space you use
at each event you plan. Just remember to factor everything you need into a space before you
choose and configure the setup and your presenters and attendees will always be pleased with
the functionality and comfort of their experience.