All About Seating Arrangements: What Speakers Need To Know

by drjim on December 10, 2013

Where the chairs are may impact how successful your speech is

Where the chairs are may impact how successful your speech is

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In order to make sure that your next speech has as much impact on your audience as is possible, it turns out that there is one more thing that you need to be thinking about: seating. I realize that all too often we speakers show up to deliver our speech and we discover a room that has already been set up – despite the importance of public speaking, we don’t have any say in the matter. Guess what – how the room is set up matters and so you need to start to speak up early in order to make sure that the room is not working against you!

What Bad Seating Looks Like

Giving a speech is hard work. The last thing that you want to have happen is to have the room in which you are giving your speech start to work against you. If you are not careful, the way that the seats that you audience is occupying just might start to do this.

The sad truth of the matter is that some of the most common seating arrangements are the ones that will work against you. One of the very worst is a long conference table with people on either side of it and you standing at one end. In this configuration, there is a different distance between you and just about everyone else in the room. Additionally, those at the back of the table won’t really be able to get a good angle from which to view your speech.

Another bad seating configuration is the so called “classroom style” where row after row of seats are placed one in front of each other. None of your audience members will have an opportunity to see each other and their view of you may be blocked by the tall person who is sitting directly in front of them.

What Good Seating Looks Like

Good seating allows your audience to feel as though they are close to you. This will permit them to connect with both you and your message. If you can get the seating set up correctly, then you’ll have a far better chance of getting group participation in your next speech.

A “U-shaped” or angled tables are both great configurations for your audience. This allows you to get close to them and allows them to see each other and feed off of other people’s reactions to your message. The ability to see each other will boost every audience’s excitement level.

Finally, when you are in a large room, horseshoe seating is generally preferable to military row seating. Once again, this is going to allow your audience members to see each other as you speak. Allowing this to happen is going to improve everyone’s impression of your speech.

What All Of This Means For You

All too often speakers believe that they have no control over how the seats in the room where they’ll be delivering their speech are set up. A dirty little secret about public speaking is that setting up the chairs is generally left up to the janitorial staff and one of the benefits of public speaking is that they are more often than not willing to do whatever you would like them to do.

When making requests for how you would like the chairs to be set up, make sure that you don’t ask to use conference tables or classroom style seating. Instead, look for ways that your students can be angled so that they can see each other. This will allow their excitement about your message to build off of each other.

Giving speeches is hard work. The last thing that you want to have happen is to have the room in which you’ll be delivering your speech to be working against you. If you take the time before the speech to talk to the people in charge of the room and if you know what to ask for, then you’ll be able to get the seating set-up that you need and your speech will be that much more successful.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should ever start to rearrange the chairs if you show up and the seating is all wrong?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just exactly what makes a speech tasty? Sure, you can write a great speech, you can practice a great speech, you might even be able to deliver a great speech – these are all things that relate to the importance of public speaking., However, if you are missing the one ingredient that it takes to turn a great speech in to a powerful and effective speech then you will have created something that nobody really wants to listen to. What is this one ingredient? Why it’s enthusiasm of course.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Mahoney December 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

You didn’t mention the after dinner (or after lunch) speaker with the audience at the round tables.

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drjim December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

Tom: that’s a great point. One of the challenges that comes with food is that the way that things are set up is often done to permit rapid serving of the food, not to help your speech be better!

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