In a perfect world a conference room should always be full to its maximum capacity. Even having a bunch of people standing up transmits a feeling of big success. In reality it seldom happens but as the event organizer you should try your best to make the room look full or at least to concentrate people in the same area.
Having people concentrated in one area of the conference room contributes positively to the creation of relationships: 1) between speaker and the a audience and 2) between participants. A good speaker will try to create a connection with the attendees of which the most important ingredient is beeing able to look at them in the face. If participants to the event are sitting far away between themselves there’ll be no possibility for them to network and reactions to the presentation in course won’t be contagious.
How to make your conference room look full or concentrate people in a definite area:
First of all you have to make sure you have the necessary instruments to determine the potential number of attendees. This is easy for payed events and no so easy for free ones. An alternative to free events is having an online registration form (more on this in a further article). In both cases don’t forget to add the number of the guests you or your sales team may have invited (I remember trying to fit 900 people in a room fitted for “just” 700… it seems the sales guys got really creative in the invitation of prospects).
Solutions vary depending if your conference room has fixed or flexible (meaning you can add or remove) seats.
Conference room with FLEXIBLE number of seats
If you have an accurate number of participants, lay down the necessary number of chairs. If the room is big and you have to put fewer chairs than the nominal capacity consider the following tricks to make it look full:
- Leave extra space between rows. A by-consequence of this is that there will be more space for the attendees legs and to walk between lines of seats
- Make corridors between blocks of chairs (central and laterals) wider
- Concentrate seats in the center of the room, i.e. farther away from the lateral and back walls of the room
- If there is a stage, usually located on one of the extremes of the room, advance it further into the center of the room, leaving empty space behind it. If this space is visible, try to cover it somehow so that it is not too evident to the attendees
- If the conference room is a rectangle that has the stage on one of the short sides, invert it and place the stage on one of the long sides. This will make the back of the room closer to the stage
- Always keep a number of seats available for fast deployment, but be sure to keep them out of sight until needed. Have your staff with an eye of the audience, ready to add seats if needed
How to calculate how many chairs you should lay down? There is no perfect answer and it depends a lot on the kind of conference that you are organizing and the people involved so what follows in an example of my past experience.
I organized conferences for top managers with wordclass international speakers. The event had a duration of 2 full days. The entrance cost was between 1.500 and 2.400 euro (2,000~3,000 USD). People attended the event because 1) they bought a ticket directly, 2) a sponsor bought extra tickets to offer to their guests or 3) they were invited by us (the organizer) so mainly we had people that bought their own tickets and the rest were guests. Being the event so long, not all the people that had access came at the same time and many guests never used their free tickets. To lay down the appropriate number of seats we used the following formula, product of our experience:
[Total Number of Seats in Conference Room] = 95% x [people that bought their ticket directly] + 40% [guests from sponsors or organizer]
This means that 95% of people who bought their own tickets were present simultaneously and only 40% of those who received a free ticket by invitation.
Conference room with FIXED number of seats
When you cannot intervene on the number of seats of the conference room, there are several tactics to concentrate people in the same area. If you sell tickets with numbered seats, always start from the first rows so if there are empty seats they will be concentrated in the back. It fets more complicated when seats are not numbered and attendees can sit down wherever they want.
- If you have few people and they sit down randomly all over the room, have the announcer or one of the speakers invite them to fill the first rows so as to create a more “intimate” atmosphere and allow visual contact or facilitate Q&A sessions
- At the opening of the conference room, block the access to the rows in the back of the room using flexible “traffic lines” like the ones you see at airports (see photo). Your staff should be positioned in the entrances of the room and direct the traffic to the first rows. Open the blocked ones only when the other ones are almost full
- If you cannot use “traffic lines”, have your staff blocking the rows you want to leave empty and directing attendees forwards
- If the room has separated headlights (many of them allow you to turn on/off lights in blocks), turn off the lights illuminating the back rows so as to discourage their use (the reaction usually happens unconsciously)
In any case, fixed or flexible seats, avoid having too many “reserved” seats in the first rows. If your guests do not come, you will have an empty space just where you don’t want it. Be sure to recall guests and give them a specific time of arrival. After that time they still will be granted access but they won’t benefit of a place in the front of the room. Often guests tend to come later if they know their seat is reserved.