What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Straight rows of chairs and tables in meeting room spaces may look nice and tidy, but are they really serving your attendees?

You know the scene well: Your attendees walk into a room designated for a traditional conference breakout and see rows and rows of hotel chairs and tables. It may be the norm, but it’s not the most inspiring setup nor is it conducive for them to easily connect with their peers. While the presenter stands at the front of the room lecturing, people may have to strain their neck to see everyone else scattered throughout the room.Traditional-Breakout

Or think about asking your attendees to sit upright for an hour in an uncomfortable chair or asking them to form small groups with their session neighbors, while sitting in rows. They will likely start dragging chairs across the floor to form a circle, or even wind up sitting on the floor instead.

Not only are such scenarios a physical strain, they can interfere with a meeting’s objectives. “A big problem is that traditional learning experiences are not aligned with how the brain works, particularly as it relates to attention,” says Andrew Kim, an education researcher at Steelcase. When people feel comfortable in their spaces and are able to move and change postures freely, their attention spans increase, discussions are richer, and the entire experience becomes more rewarding.

So how can the space you place your attendees in activate inspiration, stimulation, and successful learning outcomes? Here are some ideas from Workspring Meeting Experiences, an experience design brand of Steelcase focused on designing for the meetings industry environment:

workspring_breakout1. Place presenters or discussion facilitators in an area where they can walk around and comfortably engage with the audience, and set attendees up in configurations with easy sightlines to the instructor, content, and to each other.

2. Take advantage of every inch of real estate by offering easy access to vertical planes, using whiteboards or other spaces to post sticky notes during discussion and ideation. This will keep attendees engaged as they sit, stand, and move to their liking through products that support a range of postures.

Workspring-Breakout 1  3.
Employ mobile furniture to make room for real-life scenarios and role-playing, if applicable.

  4. Provide work tools and surfaces for individual reflection.

  5. Offer comfortable settings to increase focus.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.