Cheat the seating for better presentations & parties

Leading the horse to water

If you went your presentations to be effective and your events to rock, you will need to think about where you let your audience sit. Here's why.

Check out the first diagram below - it's the well known scheme of where we ought to sit in a classroom or presentation room. You know - the more front-and-centre you sit, the more information you retain and take home afterwards. Old news.

The second diagram, two paragraphs further down, has no hard research behind it. It's just my own experience from a gazillion shows, classroom lessons and presentations I have given over the years. It shows where people want to sit.

When people come into a presentation, classroom or gala event (let's assume for now they didn't pay for their own tickets), they invariably fill up from the back, and along the aisle. It seems they are looking for a swift exit, or trying to avoid direct contact to whatever is happening at the front. Even the keen ones, unless they are die-hard fans, avoid the front row, preferring the midfield.

Now compare the two rooms - the consequence is obvious. Unless every seat is taken, your audience will tend to sit in the seats where they will benefit least from their presence, and your efforts as a presenter.

And that is only the first downside of this trend.

A successful presentation is all about atmosphere (you are there to shape emotion, remember?). For a good, infectious buzz you need to have your audience up close and bunched together. If they are all spread around the back of the room, you are going to be struggling to reach them.

To avoid wasting both your time and the audience's, borrow these tricks from the hospitality industry.

First, choose a room that is as tight as possible for your predicted numbers. Then, encourage your audience to fill from the front, perhaps by:

- using pleasant soft lighting at the front of the room while the rear rows and outer edges remain dark
- standing at the front of the room, welcoming attendees there and offering them seats
- or, most simply and effectively, reserving the rear rows until the rest of the room is full. *

The result of your audience management will be a better buzz and more effective use of everyone's time - a winner all round.

* the sneakiest way is to simply set up fewer rows of chairs than needed, then fetch "reserve" chairs from another room when it gets to standing room only. Wow, the event was a surprise hit!

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