Thinking Outside the Banquet Room
When planning your event layout, don’t be afraid to mix it up and think creatively. There are many style options for your event – from classroom style to lounges, mixed seating arrangements and everything in between. With so many possibilities it is easy to be overwhelmed and tempted to stay in your comfort zone. Below our team shares a few tips to creating the perfect layout for your event.
Let the Goals of the Event Inspire the Layout
Always start your planning process with the purpose of the event. Is the goal education or networking? Decision-making or team building? If the goal is networking, create seating arrangements that encourage interaction. If the purpose is purely educational, choose a layout that enables participants to easily see and hear the speaker and presentation.
Tip: Stagger the seats as well as the tables. Staggered seating allows guests to see between those people sitting in front of them rather than staring at the backs of their heads.
There is no such thing as too much information. As your venue coordinators, we want to know all facets of your event. This allows us to make recommendations and work with you to accomplish your goals. For example, one corporate group wanted their event to focus on comfortable, small group chats with their president. We moved that portion of the program to a space with a wood-burning fireplace and it became “fireside” chats. Another group loved a particular room for its views, but this space was not the right fit for their event goals. We worked with them to find the best of both worlds by using the room with the view for the gathering space and a more appropriate room for their seminar.
If you find that your event layout is specific and cannot change, make this known during your venue search. An event layout can dramatically change the capacity of a venue or cause one room to be the obvious choice. Each of our venues at Keeneland are unique and certain rooms fit different layouts and events better. We can always advise you on a space that will fit your desired layout.
Another important factor to keep in mind is logistics. Classroom seating may seem to work great until you run out of room for the lunch buffet line. You have to ensure the ingress and egress is not only safe but also efficient.
You should consider your audio-visual needs, which can necessitate adjustments to the layout. For example, Keeneland’s Phoenix Room has floor to ceiling windows that let in the morning light. If you have a presentation in that space, we need to orient guests so that they are able to see the speaker.
Other items to consider include electrical needs, check-in procedure, food and beverage locations and event flow. All of these items can affect the event layout.
You also must consider psychology and human needs. If you want your guests focused on the information you deliver, you need to first take care of their basic needs. If they are uncomfortable in any way, it will affect the success of your event.
Tip: If there is no way around traditional theater seating, consider sending out a recording or copy of the PowerPoint so guests do not feel the need to take notes.
Everyone needs to be able to see and hear, have ample legroom and personal space, feel a comfortable temperature and have clear access to food, beverages and bathrooms. For example, try not to place the speaker in front of the exit to the bathrooms. No one wants to feel they are in the spotlight when they need to leave the room.
Select the correct chairs. Some event chairs are beautiful but uncomfortable. If you have a long event, comfort should be a top priority. If you have the budget, using sofa chairs or desk chairs on wheels can make a world of difference and (going back to logistics) gives you the flexibility to change the layout during the event.
Tip: People stare at screens all day. Use flipcharts or a whiteboard instead of a screen to promote interactive discussion. Mixing up their senses will encourage participants to be more engaged.
Theater seating is an effective way to maximize your capacity for a presentation. However, it can be uncomfortable and awkward for attendees with nowhere to put your drink, food, personal items, etc. One way to solve this issue is to place end tables between chairs to give attendees space to set their drink or phone. Another idea is to consider a venue like the Sales Arena, which has built-in theater seating with cup holders. One group we work with purchases lap desks for attendees in case they want a surface to write on.
Using the Outdoors
Fresh air and a change of scenery can do wonders for your attendees, so why not use the great outdoors as your meeting space. In a world full of technology, getting your attendees outdoors opens a new part of their brain. When deciding if an outdoor space would work for you, start with the aforementioned tips. First, think of the goals of your event and then consider logistics. Often you can translate most items to an outdoor space, but you still need to make sure it works for you.
If an outdoor setting doesn’t align with your meeting goals, consider an outdoor break. Suggest that attendees leave their phones behind and provide them with a ten-minute walking tour of the grounds. A healthy on-the-go snack such as a smoothie, trail mix or juice bar can be paired with this type of break.
We have also seen a lot of success with scavenger hunts. These are wonderful team-building activities and can be educational depending on the clues. We can provide suggestions on a Keeneland scavenger hunt or help you create one tailored to the topic of your choosing.
Click for more ideas on incorporating the outdoors in your event.