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Presenting to an Audience: How to Choose the Best Seating Layout

An important factor often overlooked when presenting to an audience is the seating arrangement at the place for presentation. That’s because the room layout can have a high impact on the way the audience experiences and responds to your presentation, and accordingly has an influence on the way you need to plan your content and organize yourself.

To help you decide the best seating arrangement, I’ve developed some examples with suggestions on the seating plans for different events.

When deciding on seating arrangement, you need to consider four factors:

  • audience size,
  • level of interaction between audience members and the presenter,
  • whether audience members will be required to take notes,
  • duration of event.

Small groups
When presenting to an audience of up to about 15 people, the Circle or Rectangle layouts are best.

presenting to an audience - circle room layout

Circle layout

presenting to an audience - rectangle room layout

Rectangle layout

Both layouts are good if interaction between participants is required as audience members can easily see each other from where they sit. Typical examples are informal discussion groups (Circle layout) or business meetings (Rectangle layout). The Rectangle layout is also better if people need a flat surface to take notes or for drinks.

Medium sized groups
For medium sized groups of around 20 to 30 people, a better solution would either be the Open Square or Block layout.

presenting to an audience -open square  room layout

Open square layout

presenting to an audience - Block room layout

Block layout

I favor the Open Square layout when presenting to an audience of this size especially if delegates need to interact with each other. People usually like to see each other when they talk as body language can be an important part of the communication. The Block arrangement has the disadvantage that people on the inside have to turn round to see the presentation, which can be irritating if the presentation is longer than an hour or so. It's okay, however, if the presentation is secondary to the proceedings, for example if people are in discussion groups, only occasionally stopping to look at the presentation.

If you intend to give a presentation where you want the audience to interact closely with each other while working on some activities (e.g. problem solving or a staff development training day), the best choice may be the Restaurant layout.

presenting to an audience - Restaurant room layout

Restaurant layout

You could start the presentation using one of the more formal layouts then rearrange the seating to the Restaurant layout when you start the group activities.

Large groups
When presenting to an audience of more than 30 people the Theater or Class layout maybe your only option. Interaction between participants is limited as audience members are all facing in the same direction. This is something you should be aware of particularly if you have a question and answer session. In this situation, you should repeat any questions to ensure everyone has heard clearly.

The Class layout is also suitable for smaller groups in, for example, a training presentation where limited audience interaction is expected.

presenting to an audience - Theater room layout

Theater layout

presenting to an audience - Class room layout

Class layout


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Presenting to an Audience: How to Choose the Best Seating Layout


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