Event Formats for Covid-19 times: 10 seating varieties you should know

How should I arrange the seating at my event? Measures against corona aren’t the only important topic for an event manager.

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A jam-packed room is every event planner’s dream. But during corona, there are a few things that we need to be aware of. Entry and social distancing rules, limited number of participants, and more square meters per participant.

We’re also using this as an opportunity to present the basics of event seating in more detail. This will allow you to better plan your next event and know what you should be aware of when arranging seating during corona.

Important for you to know: Regulations can change at any time and are always adjusted according to the current situation. This article will help you to keep up with the minimum requirements as per the Austrian Covid-19 event regulations.

1. Theatre Style

Rows of chairs is a classic for lectures or conferences, specially in a plenary sessions. During “normal” times, you can plan 60-70 cm between the back of the seat and front of the seat behind it. However, this distance isn’t sufficient during corona. Currently, in Austria, a distance of at least one meter must be maintained between people who do not live in the same household or belong to the same group of visitors.

We sugest to keep the distance between any delegate at your conference between 1 and 1,5 meters. This is also what we do at our own events in order to comply with regulations and offer a maximum of health & safety.

Setting Theatre Style
Setting Theatre Style

To maintain minimal distances between rows of chairs while being able to walk between them, you should plan 140-150 cm (instead of 70 cm) between the rows. Of course, you shouldn’t forget the one meter distance to each side.

A variant of row seating is theater seating in which the rows are staggered to allow for a better view of the stage. The same rules with regard to corona distancing apply.

Setting Theatre Style
Setting Theatre Style

Pro & Cons for rows of chairs

 

Pros:

  • Maximum use of the capacity of a meeting room
  • Higher volume of delegates per room at less cost

Cons:

  • Few options for interactivity between delegates
  • Poor sight of the stage and speakers at long halls
  • Less atmosphere when ceiling hight is to low

 

Synonyms are: Rows of chairs, Theatre style, Cinema style

2. Class room style

This type of seating is also known as “parlament style” and is well suited for seminars and conferences – ideal for keeping drinks or documents ready on the tables. Also Laptops can be used easier as power plugs can be set up under the tables.

In Corona times, you can also set up one table per delegate with several aisles in between so delegates moving from their tables are still keeping distance from each other.

Classroom Style
Classroom Style

Also remember to maintain minimal distance to nearby chairs both in the front and to the sides. As mentioned, use aisles in between.

Pros:

  • Delegates can use tables for taking notes and laptops
  • Easy installation of microphones and power plugs
  • More space and leg room for delegates
  • Ideal for working classes

Cons:

  • You need a larger hall as tables need space
  • Larger halls are usually at a higher cost
  • Still less interaction options for the audience

3. Banqueting style

Banquet seating is well-suited for gala events, formal dinners, award ceremonies and also workshops. Interaction between guests is encouraged and team-work or break-outs are also possible, too. The disadvantage, however, is that some participants will have to turn around to view the stage, which can be uncomfortable during longer sessions.

Some Locations in Salzburg offer oval tables, that take less space, but still look elegant and can seat the same amount of guests.

Banqueting Style
Banqueting Style

Here, corona regulations stipulate that you can only plan for half of the otherwise typical 6 to 12 people at a single table.

Pros and Cons of Banqueting style seating

 

Pros:

  • Ideal for elegant event concepts
  • Usef for more formal occasions
  • Round tables offer more space for decoration
  • Great for workshops as round tables have enough space for flip chart papers etc.
  • Think about oval shapes of tables to better use the halls' capacity

Cons:

  • Not all delegates do see the stage unless cabaret seating
  • Less interactivity as guests can only speak to their seatmate
  • Need of larger meeting spaces
  • Cost for decoration, table linen and seat covers for galas

 

More interactive: Cabaret style seating

Cabaret seating is a special form in which the stage facing side does not have any seats. This allows the guests to have a clear view of the stage while being seated around the table – ideal for group work.

4. Chevron- or herringbone-style

Similar to parliamentarian seating, this arrangement has guests sitting at tables that are positioned diagonally to the stage. This allows for better interaction between speakers or moderators, although it does take up a lot of space.

But remember to maintain at least one meter of space between people at all times with this seating arrangement as well.

Herringbone style
Herringbone style

5. Block seating or Boardroom style

This variant is perfect for meetings and smaller conferences. Rectangular tables are surrounded by chairs. During corona, you can maintain distancing by placing a red cross on every other chair. This makes it clear which seats can be used and prevents chairs from being pushed too close together.

Square tables can also be used. A carré seating arrangement also presents the tables in a square; however, the middle is kept empty.

Boardroom Style or Block Seating
Boardroom Style or Block Seating

Pros of board room style:

  • Ideal for smaller meetings
  • Physical proximity between delegates keeps psycological proximity between participants
  • Less hierarchy and good for negotiations
  • Space for laptops and to take notes

Cons:

  • Block needs to be wider the longer it is so everybody can see everyone at the table
  • Swivel chairs are ideal, but not every venue offers them
  • Not ideal for larger audiences

Alternatively carré seating or hollow square presents the tables in a square; however, the middle is kept empty and delegates have more space for a larger sight of all participants. You might now this from political or VIP conferences, like summits. For international high end conferences this meeting room set up can play an important role.

6. U-Shape

This set-up involves arranging rectangular tables to create a "U-Shape". The speaker can move freely in the center of this arrangement – making it ideal for workshops, presentations or debates in order to guarantee free sight from one to another person in the room.

This arrangement is also very interactive but can become uncomfortable for some participants that sit along the sides. Many trainers prefer the U-shape just with chairs and no tables.

U-Shape Setting
U-Shape Setting

Pros of U-Shape:

  • Interactive and communicative
  • Better sight for every participant
  • Flexible use of meeting room when you leave out the tables

Cons:

  • Sometimes unconvenient for delegates seated at the side of the "U"
  • More meeting space required

7. Standing reception or networking event

The good old networking. At a standing reception, larger groups can gather without having to sit down at a table. Standing tables or rectangular poser tables are often used here. More and more event planners combine seating options so guests can switch between standing, bar stools, sofas and coffee house tables.

This also a good option outdoors during corona – if you make your guests promise to wear masks. Otherwise, it can be difficult to implement the distancing regulations.

8. World Café

This set up involves conversation partners that are first selected and then seated at a round table with moderators. Usually there is a group of delegates that are together and walk from table to table. Each table can deal with certain aspects or topics of the conference.

The discussion rounds change according to a set schedule, for example every 20 to 45 minutes. The participants then continue to the next table and the moderators stay at their original tables. The advantages include a high level of interaction at the tables, a varied format, and the participants discovering many new perspectives on a variety of questions or topics.

In principle, this variant also works during corona, as long as distancing regulations are respected.

World Café Setting
World Café Setting

Pros of World Cafe:

  • High interaction rate
  • Many topics in a shorter time frame
  • Different aspects and views from many people

Cons:

  • Delegates are can not leave their "table group"
  • Organisation is a little more complex and requires explanation to delegates

9. Fishbowl

The fishbowl arrangement has 4-5 people sitting in an inner circle, surrounded by the audience, also seated in a circle around the bowl. The idea is that everyone can participate in the discussion but doesn’t necessarily have to. Whoever wants to participate can take a seat in the inner circle – but someone will need to leave in order to free up the seat.

Listeners from the outside can raise their hand or just stand up and walk inside the bowls, asking one of the current participants to leave. Also the moderator can decide and controll the situation, depending on the rules that exist for the session.

Fishbowl Setting
Fishbowl Setting

The fishbowl is – just like the World Café and the bar camp – less a seating arrangement than a complete event format. It encourages “quiet” participants to speak up. Hierarchies do not play a major role. The danger, however, is that there are some people who talk a lot that will not want to leave the inner circle.

If distancing rules are respected, the fishbowl is also a good format for live events during corona. It’s also possible for “virtual” participants to make a reservation, thus combining the online and offline worlds.

Pros for a Fishbowl session:

  • Promotes communication and different perspectives
  • Very democratic and participatory format
  • Less hierarchy for delegates as everyone is in the same circle

Cons of a fish bowl session:

  • Extremly challenging for the moderator
  • Hot topics can quickly escalate
  • Higher need of space but often better output after the session

Barcamp

Bar camps, also known as “non-conferences,” are conferences without a predetermined schedule or plan. There are no predetermined speakers. Every participant can suggest subjects and sessions at the beginning that are then voted on. This allows everyone to become a lecturer or moderator – a touch of anarchy accompanies this concept and its supporters can be found especially in the digital business and start-up scene.

For such a free, creative format, flexible seating arrangements are required. This can be a seating circle with a flip chart or, additionally, a lecture room with classic row seating. Flexible seating concepts, such as seating cubes that can be moved according to the situation, are popular.

During corona, bar camps can also be held digitally with tools such as Zoom, Teams or Hopin. But there’s no reason bar camps can’t be carried out in a corona-compliant way if safety measures are followed.

Who can help me with my questions?

 

We are happy to help you with information on the current safety requirements for events. The number of participants in outdoor events in particular can change often.

Also, we provide information on regulations for Austria, the city of Salzburg and Salzburger Land. Together, we can discuss which seating arrangement is best for your event goals and how to execute them optimally during corona.

Covid-19 help for your event

Sales & Marketing Manager
Natascha Ringerthaler