Setting Up the Room for Your Meeting or Workshop

Setting up the room is something that few people spend much time thinking about, yet it has a phenomenal impact on participants and the conversations you then have. For example, if people can’t see each other, they won’t really talk. Or if you spend all the time standing, then participants may not open up in the same way. So you need to be mindful of how you set up the room, organise the furniture and whether you stand or sit during your session.

Dressing the room

When participants come into a room, they want to know that you have thought about them and that you are prepared. You demonstrate that really clearly when you have a clean and tidy room. So make sure you do any of the following that you need to:

  • Wipe the white board.

  • Clear up the room, getting rid of any coffee mugs.

  • Lay materials out tidily and make sure pens are available

  • Tuck chairs in or arrange them tidily.

  • Turn on the projector and have your first slide ready.

  • Make sure the lights are on if the weather is gloomy.

  • Adjust the heating so it’s not too hot or cold.

  • Make sure water is available.

Doing all this sets the tone, indicates you have prepared and that you care about everyone’s comfort and well-being. But what seating arrangement are you going to use?

Thinking about what you want

Here are some questions that will help you decide how to place the furniture:

  • How can I arrange the tables and chairs to best possible advantage?

  • What tone and results would I create with

    • A horseshoe shape?

    • A circle?

    • A board table?

    • A cabaret set up?

    • No table at all?

  • Where do I want to stand or sit?

  • What’s the ‘best’ seating position and who might sit there?

  • To what extent can everyone see everyone else?

  • How might I want to switch things about during my session?

Working with something new

If you don’t know the group well and you arrange the furniture in a way that surprises them, your participants may get unsettled. And, of course, that could be part of your plan. If they are really unsettled and it’s not part of your plan, it’s worth having a conversation. Ask questions like

  • I’m curious about the effect that the layout seems to be having on you; tell me a little about that?

  • What layout would work best for you? Why?

  • How would you feel about trying something new?

These questions will help you determine if they are up for something new or if you’re going to have to build trust before they will go with you.

Switching it about half way through

If you’ve got two people sitting next to each other being disruptive together, don’t believe that you have to live with it. When everyone comes back after a break, simply suggest to the group that you want them to have some new and different conversations and invite everyone to move places. Without making a big deal of it, you break up difficult dynamics in the room.

If you want to be more directive, simply get some paper, tear it in half and then fold the sheet into an instant tent card. Then you can assign everyone to where you would like them to sit once they come back.

When you switch the room about, you also change the energy. But, best of all, you stay in control of what’s going.

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