Event Design

Musical Chairs for Meetings

Group dynamics change during the course of a meeting. Why should the room set stay the same?

room setFor the past three years, Jon LoDuca, founder and CEO of The Wisdom Link Inc. — a Holland, Michigan–based business-development and brand-strategy consulting company — has been hosting brainstorming events for clients in Chicago. The small groups of 15 to 20 clients meet at Workspring, an experience-design brand of Steelcase, and an all-inclusive meeting, events, and coworking space.

Highly successful, creative, and experienced business owners, each Wisdom Link client group that gathers at Workspring for a “Wisdom network meeting” are strangers to one another, and initially on guard. LoDuca’s goal is to facilitate meaningful dialogue among them, so they can help each other resolve their unique and shared business challenges. “These are folks who typically assume no one gets them, because they are usually isolated from other entrepreneurs,” he said. Gaining their trust so they open up with each other is what he calls a “high-wire act.”


The environment can’t come off as “too corporate or too polished,” LoDuca said, or his clients won’t open up with each other. Nor can the meeting start off in a way that’s “too intimate, too casual, too warm and fuzzy,” he said, or “they will also push away. I mean, you can’t exactly start out the meeting with trust falls.”

In order for the meeting space to set the right tone for the daylong event, LoDuca worked with Danielle Galmore, Workspring’s managing director, who takes time with each customer to understand their objectives. “That means staging the day based on user-centered research,” Galmore said, “as well as delivering a highly hosted experience that gives people every possible advantage in reaching their desired outcomes.”

“The way that you stage an experience with its space and negative space, the positioning of things in the room, and the way that seating is set up creates a certain type of energy,” LoDuca said. “A certain dynamic can ensue.”


LoDuca was concerned about a room set that conveyed “too familiar an engagement style,” he said. “On the other hand, as the meeting wears on and their boundaries come down, it also seems a little weird to have a formal setup.”

Galmore recommended adjusting the environment “to support a path to trust and openness,” she said. That included serving the kind of meals and providing the tools and props that would best support key activities throughout the day — as well as adjusting the furniture and lighting.

When participants first entered the Workspring room, they saw that it was set up in “a fairly classic interview-style with a table,” LoDuca said. He and his team sat on one side of the table, with clients on the other. That barrier gave clients a level of “comfort in having some sort of private space. By lunchtime, we’ve removed the table. We’ve swapped it out with lounge chairs that have swivel writing tablets they can sit in, so now we’re almost like in a living-room setting.”

The new room set signifies that “we’ve crossed a few barriers in the morning, and we’ve established some trust,” LoDuca said. “Now we don’t need to have this thing be overly formal. And so they come back from lunch, and it’s like now we’re getting down to it on a different kind of level. It just fascinates me the way the behavior really catches fire. We just see it really grow because of the slight change in the room setup.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.