The best way to get ideas and inspiration for your events is to attend other events. Reading magazines and following blogs (like this one!) are great, but getting out there and physically attending an event is great. Not only can you find inspiration and ideas, you can see how logistics work (or in some cases, don’t work). Sometimes, the best information you can get from attending an event in person is realizing how something does not work.
I attended a day-long conference a few weeks ago. There were a few things that didn’t go well with this conference but the one misstep the conference organizers made that I thought I’d share with you is the cautionary tale of the chair.
For the general session, the room was set theater style, which isn’t uncommon for general session. Theater style seating (such as in the photo above – which is not the room where this conference was held, just an example of this style) is the most efficient use of space. It’s also the most passive for guests, but if the majority of guests will just be sitting and listening or watching a presentation, it usually makes the most sense to set the room in this way.
One draw back for theater style seating is the amount of time that guests can sit in one place. There’s all sorts of data about the average adult’s attention span (shockingly low), but what about how long someone can sit in a chair? With no table or place to put anything down? Especially when those chairs are right up against one another, not spaced.
It comes down to the chair itself. Certain chairs are more comfortable than others. Most people don’t complain about sitting in one space for two, maybe even three hours at a movie theater, but in that case even if the film itself isn’t attention grabbing, the chairs are likely padded, maybe they even recline a little. Some movie theaters have really fancy stadium seating now – you can take a nice nap in those chairs!
What about the standard hotel chairs. Most hotels have something like this in their stock. It’s not exactly a movie theater seat, but it provides a little bit of padding and comfort.
Well, at this conference I attended, this was the chair for the general session:
Hard, molded plastic folding chairs. Ouch.
The general session was supposed to start at 1 PM and run until about 4 PM. Three hours in that chair – and they were crammed up against each other. I was sitting next to people I knew but I still felt cramped.
But the conference didn’t start on time and there were several technical problems which delayed the start meaning that the time guests were seated in those chairs stretched from a bit before 1 PM until after 6 PM. That’s more than 5 hours! That is just way too long to be seated in such uncomfortable chairs.
For me, sitting there was a good reminder of how important it is for us as event planners to put ourselves in our guests’ shoes. Let’s not ask our guests to do something (or sit somewhere) that we wouldn’t, especially not for a long period of time.
As much as theater style seating for conferences isn’t my favorite, it’s not going away any time soon and there are time where it makes the most sense. Here are some ways to make it easier on your guests:
The chair: even a padded folding chair might have provided a bit more relief than the molded plastic. If plastic chairs are the only ones available, see if you can invest in (or rent) basic chair pads. Or consider holding the event in a theater where the existing set up is more conducive to long periods of sitting.
The set up: If you can, space the chairs a bit. Even an inch or two on either side is helpful. Folding chairs are designed for people smaller than I am and I felt like I was literally on top of the people sitting next to me. Allow a bit of space for everyone to be a bit more comfortable.
Mixed seating: If you have the space and the budget, consider offering some alternate seating mixed in with the theater seating. Perhaps some cafe tables and chairs, or even some lounge furniture. Or have some high cabaret tables without chairs if guests want to stand for a while.
The schedule: There’s no specific cut-off in an event schedule that tells planners how long guests should be seated in one space. But for many audiences, more breaks in the schedule are appreciated. Encourage guests to get up and walk around the room, or even just stand and stretch. I’ve been in general sessions where the speakers ask the audience to stand and stretch – it usually goes over well and guests can better pay attention when they are less fidgety.
So I hope you learn from my tale of the uncomfortable chair and choose furniture – or a set up – that is more comfortable for your guests!