Common Seating Styles
As a speaker, you will probably encounter audiences in a variety of seating styles. There is no “best” seating style; each has its own advantages and drawbacks.
Some of the more common seating styles that you'll encounter include —
In classroom seating, the audience members sit facing the speaker, with a table in front of them (similar to a school classroom – hence the name).
Because it facilitates taking notes, this is oftentimes the most comfortable arrangement for a training session; however, the table can sometimes act as a barrier between the speaker and the audience, diminishing rapport. It also requires a lot of room to hold a relatively small audience.
In theater seating, audience members sit facing the speaker, but without a table in front of them (and frequently with less elbow room).
This arrangement usually seats the largest number of people in the available space; consequently, hotels — and frequently speakers — like this arrangement. However, taking notes is difficult for the audience members, and they can feel "packed in".
With banquet seating, audience members sit facing the center of the table. This arrangement obviously works well for meals; it also allows easy audience interaction with others at their table.
However, since several people at each table must turn their chairs in order to see the speaker, it can be a challenging seating style for speakers to work with. If you’re working with this seating style, you might want to consider coming down from the lectern or stage and walking among the tables.
A U-shaped (or horseshoe-shaped) shaped seating arrangement can be used with or without tables. (Sitting around a conference table is a smaller version of this seating arrangement.)
Tables certainly facilitate note taking, but not having them makes for a much more intimate environment. Since the people at the base of the "U" are further away (possibly much further away) from the speaker, this arrangement obviously only works with relatively small audiences
Sometimes you have a choice in your room's set up. If you have a choice in your room's seating style, you should choose the one that works best for you, for that particular situation.
However, as a speaker you frequently do not have a choice. In that case, you need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of whichever style you're given, and work with it.
Whatever your situation, you can see that it's vital that you know what your room's seating arrangements are long before you utter your first words!