Financial Administration

Meeting & Exhibit Rooms

The setup of the meeting room can make the difference between a productive or a non-productive meeting. The setup you choose depends on how many people are attending and what the meeting is to accomplish.

There are many basic seating arrangements. Whichever you choose, your primary objective should be to devise the most comfortable arrangement possible, and one that will promote open discussion among attendees as well as with the discussion leader.

To select the best setup for your meeting, first consider the following points:

  • Participants need a sense of identity with the group with which they are sharing the same learning experience. Physically and psychologically, they should feel a "closeness" with other attendees as well as with the meeting leadership. If you position attendees too far apart from one another, they will feel lost. On the other hand, if they're too close to one another, they will feel crowded.

  • It should be easy for every person to see all the other individuals and to hear everyone's contributions.

  • Participants should be able to view the visual material presented without strain.

  • It should be easy for attendees to leave the room without disturbing or crowding others.

  • When seated, neither individuals nor their chairs should touch people or furniture beside, in front of, or in back of them.

  • If there is extensive writing to be done or if participants will remain in one place for more than two hours, seat them at tables, preferably without a cloth.

Bearing these points in mind, the four most common setups include:


Theatre setup (Chairs in rows, facing front, no tables) is the arrangement of choice if you're featuring a number of speakers, a performance, or elaborate audiovisuals, and if you want to maximize the space in a room.

This setup, however, is crowded and there is less likelihood of getting good participation from attendees. In a typical group, one-third will actively participate, another one-third will moderately participate, and the other one-third won't participate at all. In addition, there is no place to put notebooks, handouts and other belongings. Those sitting in the back of the room may have difficulty hearing questions being asked by those in front and writing can be difficult.

Do not crowd attendees. Place three to six inches between chairs, and two to two-and-a-half feet between rows, measuring from the back of the chair to the front of the seat behind it. The room between chairs is very important to attendees both physically and psychologically.

If you plan to project audiovisuals, make sure your ceiling is high enough. The common eight-foot ceiling is too low. Be certain to select a room with at least a nine- or ten-foot ceiling.


Attendees are seated in rows of tables placed facing the front. This is an excellent setup if there will be a number of speakers or extensive note taking.

Classroom setups allow the introduction of team projects during the course of the meeting by having participants at every other group of tables turn to face those behind them to form small discussion groups.

This setup takes up a lot of room because of the many tables and the spacing between attendees. Provide two-and-a-half feet between participants and two-and-a-half to three feet between rows.

When selecting a room for this setup or any other, it will be difficult to get attendees to participate. Unless microphones are provided, it may be difficult for attendees in the back of the room to hear or see people talking in the front since those in front.

A square room is best. If the room is not square, a good rule of thumb is that the length of a room should never exceed its width by more than 50 percent, i.e., a room 20 feet wide should be no more than 30 feet long.

Conference Style/Hollow Square:

In the conference style setup, participants sit on three sides of a rectangular table and focus on a power fiqure at the head. This arrangement makes it easy for participants to see one another and also provides a writing surface.

The hollow square setup has four or more tables arranged in a square or rectangle. Participants sit on all sides, everyone has the same amount of space and there is on emphasis on a power figure.

Setup is critical as far as participation is concerned. Conference style or hollow square is best for under 30 people. If the group is larger than 30, this setup is stretched too far. If the participants can't hear or see well, there is no feeling of collegiality. Allot two to two-and-a-half feet between individuals.


The U-shape is one of the most popular of seating arrangements for groups of less than 30 participants. This seating style, optimal for training sessions and speaker presentations, positions the leader either in the middle of the connecting end of the U or in the middle of the U.

The openness of this setup gives attendees a sense of freedom that encourages wider participation, while the amount of space between attendees avoids the effect of compression. Also there is no sense of preferential seating because all seats have an equally good view of the meeting leaders.


Depending on the number of attendees, the number of rooms guaranteed and meals furnished, any or all of the following services may be provided free of charge. If they are not, inquire about the cost of these items:

  • meeting space and set-ups;

  • public address system;

  • audio-visual equipment;

  • signs indicating the registration area, meeting/exhibit locations; technicians;

  • ice water, drinking glasses, note pads, pencils, mints, etc.