Is the purpose agenda clear to those running and those attending the meeting? Is the meeting simply to impart information or to teach? Is it to enable a discussion? Is it to focus on one lead person who operates facing the audience?
Even if there is a main speaker, it usually pays to have a confident chairman sitting close by to oversee things, including taking questions, gathering consensus and ensuring that information/instruction is clearly understood by all.
The authority figure, usually standing, facing trainees or attendees is an effective approach. Mini desks are useful if people have to take notes. Everyone should be able to see the speaker and any screens. Rows of seats/desks allow the speaker to move around for variety.
The disadvantage of this approach can be felt, when delegates instinctively behave like teenagers feeling they’re back at school!
The Hollow Square
A square or rectangle of tables with chairs round the outer edges all face inwards, allowing participants to sit and see others on three sides. This is best suited for ‘round-table’ discussions. The chairperson has a place on one side, like any other, but can relatively easily keep control.
The disadvantage is at least one side of the square will always have backs to any screen so it’s not ideal for many sorts of visual aid.
The Theatre Style
This may be a building used for public performance already, where seats are raked and in rows with corridors to enter/exit. Or a room can be set out as if it is an auditorium. Often suitable for large groups, this is particularly effective if they are to watch live or recorded presentations from the front.
The disadvantage is that it doesn’t suit audience discussion as hearing is often a problem if any contributor is behind others.
The Board Room
For formal occasions and round table discussions equally the board room layout is a large central table (rectangular or oval) or a collection of tables. The chair, managing director or lead instructor sits either at the head of the table, or the narrow end, or half way down the long side and can see everyone. The Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street contains this style of oval table.
The disadvantage, as with the hallow square, is unsuitability for presentations on a screen, as some will always be faced away.
The Informal Set-Up
This appeals to many, as it can be in a bar, restaurant or over coffee. It allows people to feel more relaxed, and in some cases (particularly thought-showers and ideas raising) that informality is a positive strength. There is no obvious head of table or high status position.
The disadvantage is that a public place may be inappropriate for attendees’ concentration or confidentiality, depending on the nature of the business.
About The author: is a keen blogger who has regularly written about business events in London and other industry news