The right way to set up seating for a meeting of two parties

three by three

The other day I did the worst possible job of leading a two-on-two – two mentors, two founders – mentoring session. I was so distracted by a personal issue that the mistakes I made in seating everyone didn’t dawn on me until after the meeting ended.

Mistake number 1: one of the mentors, who I had not met before, had a heavy Indian accent. Between her accent and my hearing deficit, letting her seat herself at the opposite end of the 12 foot table from me made it very hard for me to make out what she was saying.

Mistake number 2: I should have realized that mistake and moved closer to her or asked her to move.

Mistake number 3: As temporary session leader, I sat myself at the head of the table. There was no need to do that for such a small meeting and it set the table for my biggest mistake (pun intended!)

Mistake 4: I allowed the two founders to sit across from each other. Result? They both had to keep turning their heads to address the two mentors, seated at opposite ends of the table. I noticed this early on but, again didn’t correct it.

Lessons learned:

  1. When you have two distinct groups in your meeting, as I did (mentors and founders), seat them opposite each other, each on one side of the conference table, so each team can both speak and listen without having to turn their heads.
  2. Avoid round meeting tables!
  3. Unless you have a good-sized, mixed group and you are the leader of the meeting, avoid sitting of the head (or the foot) of the table. Those are the “power positions” and will serve to dampen open discourse.
  4. Get to the meeting early so you can take your appropriate seat and direct everyone else as to where they should sit. This avoids asking people who have seated themselves to have to pick up their stuff and move – not a good way to kick off a meeting.
  5. Explain that you are setting up the seating to enable direct conversation and save everyone from having to swivel their head back and forth.,
  6. If you notice a seating problem in mid-meeting don’t be afraid, as I was, to stop everything and solve the problem. Just find a good time to pause the meeting.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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