Conferences are back in vogue so here’s another discourse on conferences (but it applies to any gathering).
Often overlooked, yet immensely significant: the art of arranging the room where ideas are exchanged.
The venue proprietor (be it a hotel or convention center) craves convenience. Your boss craves frugality. You yearn for a tried-and-true setup that shields you from blame. And what do you end up with? Mediocrity. Dull uniformity. What an egregious waste of potential.
In the grand scheme of things, a remarkable conference room is an absolute steal. Investing the necessary resources to make it exceptional reaps immeasurable rewards. With that in mind, here are some reflections:
“What does this remind me of?”
That’s the subtle question that individuals ask themselves the moment they step into a room. If it evokes memories of a high school cafeteria, we instinctively know how to comport ourselves. If it features circular tables set for a mundane dinner, we know what to expect. And if rows upon rows of hotel-style chairs are neatly aligned, we know how to sit obediently and wear a glazed expression.
If a space reminds us of saying “no,” we’re likely to respond accordingly. If it signals a realm of positive news, importance, or attentive engagement, we’ll act accordingly.
You have the power to harness this Pavlovian response to your advantage or become a victim of it. A non-traditional arrangement can captivate attention and inspire curiosity. A setup reminiscent of a rock concert will elevate the energy levels, even among the skeptics. A circular formation without tables can make people feel exposed. These are tools at your disposal, and the choice is yours.
If you must serve lunch, then serve lunch. Envision large round tables filled with lively conversations. Afterwards, encourage everyone to stand up and gather to listen to the speaker in a different room, a room that befits the occasion. No one has ever experienced a life-altering speech while sitting around a round table after a subpar meal. Mixing contrasting settings serves no purpose, squanders time, and saves only a negligible amount of money.
Can you perceive that this is merely another facet of marketing? You tell a story through the arrangement of chairs.
If you could prioritize just one aspect, make one deliberate choice, let it be this: make the room too small. Standing room only. People spilling into the hallways. Observe how the energy level escalates.
If you are speaking “to” people rather than fostering an open discourse, position the stage along the narrow wall of the room (in a room measuring 30 by 80 feet, that means the 30-foot side). A long and narrow room far surpasses a wide one because it brings the audience into the same plane as the speaker.
Furthermore, it becomes much easier for the audience to simultaneously see the speaker and the slides or screens. This aspect is crucial. Countless times, I have witnessed individuals fixated on the screen, neglecting the speaker, or caught in a disorienting back-and-forth struggle.
iMag: That’s the projection of the speaker on the screen. It can be quite costly, but for groups exceeding 500, it has become almost obligatory in our Orwellian world. If you seek to maximize your investment, consider hiring a second cameraman equipped with a handheld camera. When you switch between views, it injects tremendous dynamism into the event.
Screens: Big screens are now more affordable than ever. Obtain the largest and brightest one within your means. Bigger! Place the screens close to the speaker. Very close. It greatly assists the audience and boosts the overall energy.
VGA cables: Have more than one. Switchers are inexpensive. Nothing is worse than watching speakers stumble around as they swap laptops.