A Meeting Space That is Right for Your Meeting

Holding a brainstorming session in a room that is set up for an inquisition might not get you the best results. Likewise, giving a formal presentation while everyone is sitting in bean bag chairs is not going to let you make your point very well. Those things are noisy.

Bottom line: when you set up for a meeting, do it in a way that helps you get the most out of it.

If you have got one or more experts coming in to give a presentation, or someone is providing an update on a project, then put that person somewhere obvious, where they can be the focus of attention. It is OK for the speaker to stand out, since the meeting is about them. Rows of seats with the speaker up front make sense. If people need to bring a lot of material with them, have tables.

If you have got a group giving updates, and it needs to be fairly structured (i.e., we need to know about A, and then B, which explains C, etc.) then putting people around a conference table works. If you have got a creative team that needs to know what other members of the team are doing, this kind of setting can help the conversation flow around the room.

When you are setting up for brainstorming, you might want to keep it casual. For instance, lose the table, but have a dry write board or someone typing on a wall-mounted screen. Non-structured seating arrangements help you avoid a sense of hierarchy, so that a junior person does not feel quite as intimidated when he or she has something to offer. Keep the focus off of any one individual so that it stays on the group as a whole.

This might sound like common sense, but we get into habits and it is hard to break out of them no matter how much sense it makes to do so. We have a room set up, and it does not occur to us to change it. Ask yourself: when was the last time you took the table out of your conference room? Have you ever purposely created a different seating style? Give it a shot.

You might think this is a pretty minor issue, and maybe it is. But if you are going to bring people together and take up their time, time that could be spent on other things, then you might as well get the most out of it. Something simple like the room where you get together can have a big impact on the usefulness of a meeting.

Of course, all of this presumes you actually NEED a meeting. We all know that sometimes we have too many meetings.