Follow these three rules for setting up the chairs for your presentation. Notice the seats at a baseball stadium.
1. Curves are better than straight lines.
Place the chairs in curved rows to be warmer and more friendly. Straight lines look and feel like fences. Straight rows also isolate your audience members because they end up looking at the back of heads and can’t see other faces.
2. Make it easy for your audience to see you while they look straight ahead.
If they need to turn their head to see you – at some point they get a pain in their neck. They stop listening and they blame you for giving them a pain in the neck. The curved seating will help alleviate this pain.
3. Position yourself in the room so that all members are as equidistant from you as possible.
This helps creates warmth. You want to avoid having some people very close and some very far. That would be the case where you stand at the front of a long narrow room. You want to arrange the chairs into the fewest possible rows.
Have soft chairs, but not too comfortable or participants will fall asleep! Sit in some of the chairs before anyone arrives so you can check sight lines and comfort. If the chairs are “ganged” or hooked to each other – unhook them and spread them a few inches apart so your audience can sit in every chair and still feel comfortable. Few people want to sit butt cheek-to-cheek so if they have a choice they will sit in every second chair which makes your room look half empty.
As people arrive the back rows tend to fill up first, which could leave you with vacant seats in the front. To avoid this, mark the back rows with “reserved” signs, so that no one will sit there. You could also tape off the back rows with masking tape. As the room fills, you can remove the signs or tape. Another idea is to put out fewer chairs than you will need, leaving the rest stacked at the back to be used as required. Full seats at the front of the room help to make your talk appear more interesting plus the late arrivals can sit at the back without disturbing your presentation.
It is best to have everyone comfortably seated before you are introduced. The main thing to remember is that you want everyone situated so as to best hear and see your presentation. If you speak in a board room and know the names of the attendees, you might wish to pre-assign seating. It is better to position participants so they meet new people.
Arranged seating also reduces idle chatter. If your company’s President or some other important business leader is expected to attend, plan to position that person near the front where everyone, including you, can see their reaction to what you say. If the boss likes it, the rest of the room will like it too!
If you expect people to take notes you might furnish them with a writing surface where they can spread out notes, handouts, briefcases, etc. Each person should have a table space approximately 2.5 to 3 feet wide. You might supply notepaper, pens, mints, water, and other conveniences.
For presentations involving a screen, do not arrange chairs closer than twice the height of the screen.
Example: 10 foot screen - not closer than 20 feet.
3 meter screen - not closer than 6 meters.
The last row of seats should not be farther than eight times (8x) the vertical dimension of the screen.
Example: 10 foot screen x 8 - not farther than 80 feet.
Set up the chairs to make your audience more comfortable and hence more inclined to listen to your message.
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Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives