Celebrating 10 Years!


“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. Our program will begin in five minutes.”  Well, only if you have set up your room and it is show ready. That leads to an important question that many meeting planners have asked me over the years: How should we set up the seating?

Seating for your audience is the first order of business when it comes to choosing and assigning space for any event. Often this becomes a huge challenge for meeting planners because they contract venues and space while agendas are in their infancy. But once plans begin to gel, the meeting planner is saddled with the daunting task of allocating space for sessions that come, go, change and change again with the ever fluid agenda.

Knowing that few events will ever come off exactly as conceived on day one, the better question to “How should we set up the seating?” is “What do I need to know about seating arrangements so I can make the call?”  Now that we have the right question, let’s provide some answers.

As every planner knows most venues give you the seating options of theatre, classroom or rounds and given the content of your session it’s simple to determine which seating arrangement would work best.  The challenge comes when you realize that given the number of attendees, A/V, food, etc., the best seating option may or may not fit in the room. Then what?  Here are your options along with why you may or may not want to choose them:


Theatre Seating

(Spacing for seating is 20″ by 40″ per person)

  • Maximum number of attendees
  • Intimate environment
  • Best for keynote address or when you want to focus the audience’s attention
  • Not good for educational sessions
  • No place for materials or personal items
  • Cramped and best only for short sessions
  • (open large theatre seating diagram)



(Comfortable at 2 persons per 6 feet, tight at 3 persons. Spacing  is 24″ x 54″ with table.)



(Tables are spaced on 10 ft, 11ft, or 12 ft centers)

  • Excellent table space
  • Good for educational and food functions
  • Perfect when there is a large amount of materials
  • Allows for table discussion
  • Space hog (less attendees possible) 
  • Larger spacing recommended for meal service or Q&A sessions.
  • (open large rounds seating diagram)


These are the basics every planner needs to know, and while it would be great to simply choose the best seating option based on your event requirements, reality dictates that is not always possible even though the room seemed ample during the walk through.

But consider a typical space allocation. A/V can take up to one-third of your usable space.  You can save some space if you skip the stage or use front projection rather than rear projection,  but you can really only get away with that set up in breakout rooms. (See diagrams.)

Another challenge when calculating space and room set up  is the lack of good formulas.  Beyond that, you have to be very careful using published capacity charts. Many, and dare I say most, use a square foot model that produces a number representing a room with wall to wall seating.  Impractical for a few reasons.  First, you cannot set a room wall to wall, and second the square foot measure for useable space only works if the room is a square. Length and width are far better indicators. Think about the difference between a room that is 100 feet x 100 feet, vs. one that is 50 feet x 200 feet? Both are 10,000 square feet, but they are completely different in how you can realistically use  them.

(And don’t get me started on ceiling heights, that’s another blog entirely.  Chandeliers anyone?)

So let’s take our 10,000 square foot room, drop in our AV and see what options we really have?















At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is get a good diagram.  Formulas are nice, but since every space is unique, diagrams are the only way to truly get peace of mind that all your attendees will have a seat to see and experience your event. Think of the drawing as your pre-production blue print. During my days in the theatre I was taught, “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”  Good advice.  Get your homework done early when you still have time you adjust, that way when you ask everyone to “Take their seats,” everyone will have one.


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