Seating for Success

One of the most influential features of a presentation or a training session is the way the seating is arranged in the room…yet it’s remarkable how many people leave the issue of seating arrangements to chance.  A well-arranged room creates the foundation for training and can remove distractions and powerfully influence the effectiveness of the training.

I’m a little pedantic about preparing a room in advance. I like my participants to feel a sense of anticipation when they enter the room and it also helps me to feel calm and prepared. I usually use one of three seating options: Café Style, U-Shape or Lecture.

1) Café Style Seating

Cafe

A café style seating arrangement is where participants are seated around small tables with the trainer located at the front of the room. It’s great for small group work that requires a lot of interaction and discussion.

In a nutshell

  • A café style seating arrangement is more informal and generates discussion.
  • Participants can work in small groups and then return to the whole group.
  • The trainer moves between groups during lectures and activities.
  • The trainer can circulate easily and focus on smaller groups as well as the group as a whole.
  • There may be visibility issues for some people in the room.
  • This style of seating can encourage side conversations and perhaps lack of attention.

2) U-shape Seating

Ushape

As the name suggest, the U-shape seating arrangement features a number or rectangular tables set up in the shape of a ‘U’ with participants seated around the outside. This set up is ideal for small to medium groups and puts the trainer at the front of the room (in the middle of the U) or at one end of the U.

In a nutshell

  • The U-shape seating arrangement encourages whole group participation.
  • It is good seating for trainer/participant contact.
  • There is good visibility for participants, although participants may feel a little exposed.
  • Seating can take up quite a bit of space for the number of people involved.

3) Lecture Style Seating

Lecture

The lecture style seating arrangement is best used for formal presentations to larger groups when you want to maximise the space in a room. Chairs are placed in rows and face the front. There are no tables.

In a nutshell

  • Great set up for lectures that are being presented to large groups.
  • Good for audio-visual displays.
  • Reduces interaction as communication is mostly one way.
  • The trainer may have difficulty viewing the participants in the back rows.
  • There might be visibility / sound issues in the back rows.
  • Note-taking can be difficult for participants.
  • People in the back rows will be less likely to participate than those in the front.

 So how do you select a suitable seating arrangement?

Consider the following factors:

  • The size of the group and the size of the room.
  • The type of content ie does it involve group work or audience participation?
  • Are there participants with special needs (mobility, seeing, hearing)?
  • The furniture that is available to you.
  • Any audio-visual requirements and other teaching aids such as posters, flipcharts etc.

But above all, the most important factor is not to leave seating to chance!

3 thoughts on “Seating for Success

  1. The room setup sure is important. Years ago, I went on a software course and was shocked that there weren’t enough PCs for everyone, so a few people had to pair up. That didn’t seem the ideal way to learn, but I suppose sharing could have benefits too.

    I’m interested in what topics you teach, and what’s the nature of the audience?

    I’ve not run courses for many years, but in one of the first I taught, I was struck by the vast range in abilities of the attendees. It was a programming course, and some people were more qualified than me, whereas others had absolutely no experience!

    If you’re ever looking for ideas for posts, ways to engage people with very different skill levels could be a good one…

  2. My core work is designing and delivering training/presentations for external groups on legal topics eg Australian Legal System, Employment Law, Housing, Discrimination etc. I also do a lot of in-house training (including PowerPoint design training) and support our staff with their presentations for conferences & events. I agree that one of the biggest challenges for trainers is delivering training when there is a wide range of knowledge and abilities in the group.

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