Thinking Outside the Room: Innovate Meeting Room Set-up for All Ages

Posted by TMG on June 6, 2017 11:18:00 AM

If you’ve been to any kind of meeting lately, you’ve likely noticed that room set-ups have changed. I was at a recent IAEE meeting and my colleagues and I were snickering at the sofas that had been installed way up in the front. The last laugh was on us, however, when, as the day progressed, there wasn’t an inch of space to be had on those now very comfortable-looking, relaxing and even enticingly soft sofas! Could foot massagers be far behind?

Meeting organizers are getting increasingly innovative with their room set-ups, partly to encourage a more interactive tone with chair layouts that facilitate conversations, and partly to respond to generational differences in attendee demographics. (Could baby boomers and millennials be any more different?)
Thanks to technology, of course, we’re all changing, and being connected means being accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as well as responsive. Juggling multiple meetings is not uncommon, and to sequester ourselves for any length of time isn’t easy. In short, we’re experiencing a major shift in how we do things; sofas in the front of the room, highboys in the back—all in an effort to help attendees multitask while remaining engaged with the presentation or speaker.
I recently attended a PCMA session that offered several forms of seating set-ups based on the presentation that was offered: a conference style with AV on both sides of the table to allow for better viewing of a speaker who freely moved around the room—forcing us to follow and actually pay attention!  For a panel discussion, we were treated to a circle within a circle, with the inside circle facing the outer one. At first, I was somewhat afraid they were going to ask us to grab a partner and bust out some dance moves. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, we found ourselves having an in-depth discussion with those fellow attendees that were closer to us, and it ended up being very informative. Another shocker!
We moved from area to area, each with a different purpose and level of engagement. As a bonus, whenever one of those important calls came through, the various set-ups allowed attendees to disengage themselves and move to the highboys in the back, sparing themselves the “walk of shame” across the knees, toes and bags, and down the center aisle, all the while drawing everyone’s attention, including the speaker. Yes, you know who you are!
The innovative room set-up was a hit. Then again, PCMA sessions attract meeting planners, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-Type A personality in the pack (everyone knows we’ll talk to mud), so the results were bound to be somewhat skewed. You could, however, argue that alternative meeting room set-ups serve as an ice breaker, since many may want to sit on those comfy sofas but need a buddy to join them—make new friends!
In general, though, most conference attendees are not open to new ideas—attempt to start a session at 9:10 am instead of on the hour and you’d think there was a conspiracy. Considering introducing a mobile app to a group who has never had one? Make sure to stock up on Tylenol and alcohol (for the staff!). You get the idea. Attendees, for the most part, want to come to a meeting, sit, listen, network and leave…any change to that routine and you’d think you told them the dress code was “Renaissance Revival”!
Aside from dealing with the human resistance to change, diversifying room set-up also implies logistical issues. These include the need for more AV, innovative monitor placements, sound and rental furniture—all leading to higher costs (that’s a whole other blog post!).
Many of the venue contacts that were in attendance did note that more and more frequently they were being asked for unique set-ups to give their meetings a face lift. So, how do you know if innovative meeting room layouts are right for your group?
The important factor to take into consideration is that learning practices differ greatly from generation to generation. Boomers learned in the world of lectures, workshops, classrooms, study halls, books and manuals—information that was given to them.  They’re idealistic, competitive and strive to achieve. They are the “lead-me-to-information” generation, self-driven and expert-driven. The “Befores or Traditionalists” are the folks you read about on your Snapdragon 805 (there’s something to Google search!). They’re comfortable with a hierarchy, are loyal to their employer and institutions, and are motivated by financial rewards and security. They are of the “teach me” time.  Gen Xers and Millennials have an entire world, literally, at their fingertips, and they use it.  They’re Googling, hashtagging and tweeting. Gen Xers are willing to change the rules and are community-orientated, team-driven and collaborative. They see the wisdom of a team effort; they’re the “connect-me-to-people” group.  Millennials say, “Connect me to everything!” Confident, impatient and tech savvy, they’re the search, explore, and entertain-me generation.
The bottom line: know your group, their demographics and where they fall in the generational scheme of things. The challenge for the planner is to find the right room set-up combination so that everyone can teach, learn and share ideas. In the end, after all, that’s what successful meetings are all about, and that’s something everyone can agree on—regardless of age!
About Wendy
In almost 15 years with TMG, Wendy has managed a range of client events from 25 to 2500 attendees, mostly in the medical field and trade association events.  2015 also brought several new opportunities in the form of managing the registration and hospitality areas for a city wide conference of 58,000 attendees and involvement with the World Meeting of Families that preceded the Papal visit in Philadelphia.
Between strikes, fires, floods and a once missing snake, there isn’t much that will rattle her.  Hotel sales brought her back to New Jersey in 1998, working with several Philadelphia properties as a Group Sales Manager and Director of Sales.
Besides snake wrangling, Wendy loves to travel, enjoys a good book and is always up for a game of Trivial Pursuit.

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