Do you design your conference meeting space with participants’ behaviors and actions in mind?
Or do you design meeting space based on what is the most efficient and not necessarily the most effective?
Regardless, you have the unique ability to motivate and stimulate your participants’ specific behaviors during your event.
Orienting The Room For Specific Purposes
Orientation is the relative positioning of people and things.
It is the principal vehicle directing human attention. It is also the primary medium used to fine tune human connections with an experience.
Orientation is also the easiest characteristic to manipulate to transform behavior and mood. Often it only requires adjusting the direction in which people are standing or sitting. The arrangement of the furniture reflects the desired engagement between the audience and presenter.
If you want participants to be passive with full attention on one person, you’ll orient the room in a singular fashion, with all the chairs facing a stage and podium.
If you want participants to be active with attention on each other, you’ll orient the room with a multifaceted fashion where everyone is treated equally. No one person is the focus.
Actions are behaviors and tasks that participants are to use within a space. They are the steps of doing at any given moment.
Identifying the various activities that you want participants to engage in can help you design the space for that purpose.
Six Actions For Conference Participants
In the book Make Space, authors Scott Doorley and Scott Withoft identify six actions that the d.school : The Institute Of Design at Stanford uses to engage others in the creative process. I’ve modified these six actions to apply to conferences and events.
These six basic actions are descriptions of what a conference participant might do during a snapshot of time.
Focus is narrowing attention on a single topic for a sustained period of time. This requires ignoring other activities or topics. It’s working toward an insight or implementing an idea.
The traditional lecture-based theater room set encourages focus on presenters and their ideas. Shifting from receiving information to evaluating ideas would require a different room set.
Generating tons of new concepts and options. Flaring requires ignoring constraints and suspending disbelief in favor of creating something new. Brainstorming and ideating are common ways to flare.
Room layouts need to provide flexible, moveable seating in small groups. The focus should be on engagement with each other through discussion.
Turning an idea or concept into something tangible. This action requires participants to move beyond discussion to actually creating something.
Room layouts need to provide both small group interactions as will as individual, independent stations. The focus is on participants creating action plans and actually designing programs, services and products.
Reflection is reconsideration of what just happened. It’s to learn, illuminate, capture and evaluate past experiences in light of the new information. It’s about connecting the new information to what is yet to come. It signals a next step, not necessarily an endpoint.
Room sets should provide opportunities for participants to share, discuss and assess past experiences as well as how to connect new information.
Saturate is the unpacking of information, data and facts. It’s the sharing of information and ideas with each other. Contained within saturation is the revealing and displaying of information through allegories, graphics, illustrations, metaphors, photos and stories.
Traditional theater room sets allow for saturation of information but not necessarily the sharing of ideas with each other.
Synthesizing is clarifying complex and layered issues. It often takes combining available information with other ideas and merging unassociated thoughts from different disciplines. Sometimes it involves rearranging elements to generate new ways of looking at a challenge.
Room sets should encourage collaboration and small group processes.
Which of these actions are most appealing to you for your next conference and why? What barriers keep you from creating more room sets that encourage active participant engagement?
The physical environment is so crucial. It can make or break an event but we often play safe (and let budget rule). We need flexible venues who don’t huff when we ask for the room to be changed during breaks (or at short notice!). We need to demand more from our venues. It’s only one little point I’ve made a comment on from a good list of tips. Good blog Jeff.
Jay S. Daughtry says
It seems to me that the needs would vary from session to session and not just conference to conference. The biggest barriers to creating these settings are the large and mostly unimaginative convention centers these conferences are being held in. Venture out! Find the local venues with character!