The current trend in event management and design is engagement.

Organizers want their events to be engaging. Everyone is talking about the importance of technology and using it to influence engagement. Various apps have been created to facilitate this — but I don’t hear so much about the speaker and the power he or she has as a person to influence and engage attendees.

Have you ever considered the effect the venue or room layout has on the speaker, and on the delegate engagement we are trying to create?

How to handle different room setups for delegate engagement


Classroom (or theatre) setup style makes us listen and constantly look at the speaker. Like a teacher in high school, the speaker has authority in this room layout. This is one of the most popular styles for large conferences and events. It’s not hard to see why: it is designed to make people listen. The speaker arrives onto the stage and can make eye contact with the audience. They have full control of the audience.

Invite some delegates onto the stage and make them do certain activities with you. You can observe this approach often with magicians or comedians and it really works. As the audience, we love seeing one of us out there on the stage. This approach works wonders in professional events and conferences.

Ask questions and have microphones ready to pass around the audience. There are various tools such as throwable microphones. These are nothing more than a plush toy with a mic inside that you can throw around the audience and have them engage in conversations with you and with each other. The effect is that audience members turn around and look at each other. A very good approach with this layout is to ask the audience to share some of their personal experiences on the matter rather than answer difficult questions. That way, they will never worry if they answer ‘wrong’.

U shape

This is one of our favourite layouts for speakers to create engagement.

We, the audience, are still facing the speaker and the stage, but we are also facing each other. Don’t worry — this room layout works really well even with numbers up to 100 (if you have a big enough room). What is really great about this setup is that the delegates will engage with you as a speaker voluntarily. They will also talk to each other and make more connections.

Pair people up and have them write something. With a U-shaped room layout, you have the advantage of the table. So do ask delegates to pair up and have them write some short examples or answers to a few questions. Keep it sweet and simple. Do not move people around as it creates chaos.

Have a ‘pass-around’. Pass around a list to which participants can add something and express their feelings or ideas. Or pass around an object that people can touch or try out.

Reception style/standing

People are standing in one big room, outdoor space, or terrace. There are a few options here. However, the most important thing is that people talk and mingle with one another.

Provide little tall tables for people to gather around. We create small groups and that is inevitable, but without the small tables to lean on or to rest drinks on, this setup can be really annoying and awkward.

This layout works great during lunch, welcome reception or farewell cocktails. No matter what, little canapés and drinks will keep people nourished. I must say this is the only setup where I actually encourage the organizers to serve the food, as, in this setup, eating is not a distraction from the speaker.

As this setup prompts conversation (even if there is a speech happening and participants were asked to keep silent for the time being!), there is always some chatter happening so make sure to use very good mic and A/V system — loud and clear.

Ballroom/gala dinner

If you happen to speak to an audience who are invited to a gala dinner setup, you are in luck. People are sitting at round tables and interacting with each other.

The stage effects matter the most here. There is so much happening at the beautiful tables, champagne, starters, decorations — people tend to naturally look away from the stage. But not if you provide some great entertainment or light effects. This is a setup where you can show off on the stage as a speaker with various effects: music, video, lasers, lights, AR, holographs, magic tricks and so on.

Speak during the breaks between courses — and never when the food is being served. Ask for the second course to be served after your talk. With this room setup, we are dealing with cutlery, hot plates, nice suits and expensive dresses. In reception style, we can look at the stage as we eat small bites; sitting down we must be more mindful of our manners and our food.

As a speaker, you cannot always influence the setup of the space you are in. However, you can definitely influence the delivery model in order to engage the delegates and leave lasting memories. Make the room setup complement your speaking style and add to your presentation. Good luck.