People come in different shapes and sizes, yet seating at meetings is standardized. Many categories of furniture and types of setups are not comfortable for a vast number of attendees.
People pay more attention when they are comfortable. FACT.
Being uncomfortable is distracting and changes the focus of the experience. FACT.
So what can event planners do to increase the comfort and concentration of our guests?
Chairs In Circles
One of my most dreaded phrases, when I am attending a meeting, is, “pull your chairs into a circle.” I HATE, no DETEST, chairs in circles. I AVOID sessions with chairs in circles.
People of size, particularly women in skirts, have difficulty in holding their knees together. It is uncomfortable.
Some women would be very embarrassed if they could see what is often visible when ladies in skirts cross their legs. I thought I was seated across from Sharon Stone a few times.
And, don’t get me started on ‘manspreading.’ Manspreading: men sitting in public places with legs wide apart with no regard to other’s personal space. When men sit expansively, they are signaling dominance.
Short people do not have laps, their thighs tilt forward and sometimes their legs dangle. So it is difficult to hold a notepad, laptop or any food.
Most attendees want tables. With tables, they can juggle:
- Beverages and snacks
- And lean forward for a different seated position
There are tables that are designed specifically for collaboration.
The Comfort of Your Attendees
If attendees are going to be sitting for more than an hour, you need to provide chairs with lumbar support. Just last night, I left a dinner awards event early because my back was killing me.
31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time. At least 80% of the population will experience a back problem sometimes in their lives.
Avoid low or soft chairs that are difficult to get up from. With low chairs, tall people end up with their knees up high.
High chairs and stools are an issue for some. Short people have difficulty getting up on them and if they do, they have dangling legs, unless the stool has a foot bar.
Deep cushion sofa seats aren’t good for short people, as they can’t sit back or if they do, their legs are extended straight out. Lumbar support is crucial. A bunch of pillows simply does not do it.
While standard banquet chairs are fine for meals, they are set so close together for theater-style sets that attendees feel squished. The width of standard banquet chair is 16”, while the width of the back of most people far exceeds that. This is why I always try to get an aisle seat, so I can pull my chair over a bit.
You should space chairs in rows 2” apart. However, in some jurisdictions, fire marshals require rows of chairs to be linked.
When hiring banqueting furniture, check out the furniture sizes for different options.
Open Space Seating
This all brings us to Open Space Seating, which allows attendees to sit in the way most comfortable for them.
- Easy Chairs
- Classroom Style - Banquet Chairs with 18” wide Tables
- Standing Tables, for those that prefer to stand
- Floor Pillows/Bean Bag Pillows
Kathy Power, AFR Furniture Rental commented, “Unfortunately often times the client selects the same seating for all guests which highlights the need for thought in designing a comfortable environment that allows all guests to feel engaged in the process.”
My open space seating Board on Pinterest has lots of inspiration.
Most banquet tables are about 30 inches high. Standard banquet chair height is generally 17 to 18 inches (from the floor to the top of the seat). Allow 12 inches between the seat of your chair and your tabletop. Leave 7 inches between a chair arm and the bottom or apron of the table.
Many foldable/stackable/portable chairs are only 15” high, leaving attendees feeling like they are sitting in a hole.
Exhibitors should also consider the type of seating they provide in trade show booths. Shaun Cahlan and Robin Schaff, of Angles on Design commented. “It takes only a second to form an opinion of an exhibit and 94% of that opinion is design related. Not all companies have a big budget, but one thing that should never be left to chance is exhibit furniture selection. Selecting the proper array of furniture for your booth is key. Consider comfort, and functionality along with multiple style and color options so all needs will be meet.”
Most convention cities have furniture rental companies your convention service manager can recommend. They typically carry occasional seating, chairs and couches of all types and sizes, and even outdoor furniture. Tables and chairs with built in charging stations are popular with attendees. They can design a perfect set-up for your event, meeting or tradeshow exhibit. They can provide CAD drawings of different room sets.
7 Tips for Open Space Seating and Better Attendee Comfort
- Consider the needs of your attendees. Do a lot of them use laptops and need tables? Do you have a good number of older attendees? Young attendees?
- Discuss setup options with the venue Convention Service Manager.
- Consider the extra space needs required.
- Consider the additional cost vs attendee comfort.
- Consult with a furniture rental company – they can provide CAD drawings.
- Provide seating with lumbar support for those with back issues.
- Leave 2” between chairs in auditorium/theater seating, when possible.
One size does not fill all. If you do not want your attendees skipping sessions, leaving early or not focusing due to being uncomfortable, consider providing a variety of seating options. Various seating options would be an incentive for attendees to get into the room earlier to access their preferred seating.
A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin: what else does a man need to be happy? - Albert Einstein
Photo credits: Thanks to AFR Furniture Rental for the image inspiration within this post.