Most events are going to have two types of people to arrange seating for: the delegates and the speakers.

There are clearly many more delegates than speakers, so let’s start with the main floor of our venue.

Delegate Seating

The way this is arranged plays quite a role in how your attendees will ultimately interact with your content. Before you select a seating arrangement, you’ll want to think carefully about how your programme is laid out, as well as how much movement will be expected of your delegates throughout the event. The venue’s ability to rearrange between sessions, especially if you have a multiple day event, must be considered as well.

Because there’s a much higher emphasis on group work and team collaboration, it’s likely that some version of a cabaret style will be most accommodating. Delegates expect to spend more time mixing, mingling, and networking with their peers than ever before. In fact, in the last 10 years, events have transitioned from being almost entirely styled in theatre seating, to being primarily cabaret style in the main plenary room.

We’ll define all of your options, and I’ll even lay out some samples of how Auaha have mixed and matched seating to maximize delegate experience and comfort.

Quick tip: the only time the entire venue should be set up in the banquet style is for formal dinner events.

All right, let’s dig in. Below, you’ll find an infographic illustrating the standard delegate seating configurations that are widely recognised in the business event industry. Most venues will understand your needs and accurately create seating plans based on these titles.

We already noted that theatre is a bit out of style, and banquet should really only be used for dinners (not speakers!). Classroom style seating has similar limitations, in that people tend to have difficulty interacting with anyone they are not seated next to.

U-Shape/Boardroom seating patterns are primarily going to be reserved for smaller groups  of 10-15 (20 maximum). This is ideal for when each member of the group expects to take an active part in round table discussions or other full-group efforts.

Although these guidelines can be helpful, there will always be someone who might have liked some “other” way – that’s why we’re open to a bit of mixing and matching!

If you’re particularly creative, or are working with an amenable space, you might try a hybrid seating plan. We’ve done this for a few events, and hope to continue to offer it in the future, as it’s always gone down a treat.

Hybrid Seating Examples

Event Example 1

We did oval tables at the front, followed by round tables in cabaret style in the middle, followed by theatre bleaches in the back. This provided adequate means for networking, and also meant those at the back of the room would be elevated enough to get a good view of the stage (which can be an issue with having cabaret style only).

Event Example 2

We placed round tables in cabaret style through the centre of the room, directly in front of the stage, with theatre style seating angled on the wings of the room. A few bar leaners at the back provided a welcoming area for those who preferred to stand.

The goal with providing multiple options should always be to improve your delegate experience, and more options are almost always welcome!

Now that we’ve got our delegates comfortably situated, we’ll turn our attention to the presenter’s experience.

Stage Seating

Just as we considered our delegate’s needs, we’ll need to consider our presenter’s needs. Let’s start with the easiest question: What is happening on stage?

  • Will you have a single speaker walking and talking?
  • Will you have presenters using a lectern?
  • Will you have more than one speaker on stage at a time?
  • Will speakers be on stage for panels, discussion, or to wait for their turns?

All of these are factors when it comes to stage set up.

If speakers will be moving about (or if you’re not quite sure what they’ll prefer), do your best to leave free space near the front of the stage so that they can do so without needing to navigate furniture or other potential tripping hazards.

In addition to speaker movement, you’ll want to consider what presenters will be doing when they are not actively speaking. Often there is some sort of seating provided; make sure it is comfortable not only to sit on, but to access.

For example, I prefer not to use bar stools on the stage – a speaker who is short, or who is wearing a skirt, will have to awkwardly hoist themselves up. This is embarrassing, uncomfortable, and can create modesty issues, particularly for female presenters.

One way to prevent this is to utilise a lower coffee table styled arrangement, which may act as a courtesy board to provide a bit of extra privacy for the comfort of your female presenters when seated.

Occasionally, speakers have been known to be seated behind tables on the stage. In my opinion, it’s best to avoid this unless you are trying to create an exceptionally formal air. In most cases, it’s better to create a sense of connection between the speakers and delegates, 

which is rarely enhanced by introducing additional barriers such as tables. Do your best to create a warm, friendly environment that will create intimacy and connection, not distance and space.

No matter how comfortable a speaker is, they’ll likely have a bit of nerves before or during a big event. Do your best to make their environment as comfortable and natural feeling as possible. How you set the stage is incredibly important!

At the end of the day, your goal is to create the best experience possible for everyone attending the event! By taking time to consider the needs of each individual present, you’ll be one step closer to giving them that amazing event experience we all desire.

And when you can match the delegate seating style with the stage setting? Even better!

Creating an atmosphere in which everyone is on the same page and enjoying a similar experience creates the best kind of event – and everyone knows that the better the experience is, the more likely it is for everyone to keep coming back for more.