Learn the Secrets to Designing a Successful Meetings Space

Smart design can play a critical role in meeting success. Meetings Imagined talks shop with Tom Condon, an award-winning interior designer and artist, to identify the latest meeting design strategies. Condon is the creative director of TCondon LLC, specializing in tradeshow, conference and showroom design for Steelcase, a workplace-furniture innovation leader and partner of Marriott International.

Q: What role does our physical environment play in the success of a meeting?

When we’re designing a meeting, we start by asking what a planner wants to accomplish in the space. Furniture plays a critical role. If you want it to be a fun, interactive meeting, then we’re not going to put people behind a table.

Offering a variety of furniture creates a much more productive meeting, because people are supported in different postures that help them stay engaged with the content.

It’s important to have a palette of posture—a variety of seating for meeting productivity.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes planners make when setting up a meeting?

Often you see chairs that are uncomfortable, and planners are leaving attendees in chairs way too long. Temperature and lighting are often overlooked: People are too warm or too cold, or the lighting is too harsh.

Q: What do you recommend for alternative postures and furniture, so meeting attendees aren’t sitting too long?

The body needs to move to stay engaged. Keep the blood flowing, so people aren’t falling asleep on you. You’re seeing more instructors asking everyone to stand up and come over to a whiteboard.

Q: What about vertical spaces, such as walls? What are some innovative ways they’re being used for meetings?

We have created a wallpaper solution that goes up in a temporary way, totally changing the feel of a room and helping with branding.

We’ll put a large graphic on the wall. It’s 30 percent adhesive, so you can pull it down and not damage anything. For a recent customer’s conference in 2012, we put up a big graphic with their theme in the pre-function space.

Q: What can planners do setup-wise to create a more compelling experience?

Often … we do an unusual furniture setup. That way, people know right off the bat, when they walk in the door, that it’s going to be a different kind of meeting. They might walk into a ballroom, and in the back maybe there are some café tables, and then you also have some very comfortable chairs. Near the stage you might find beanbag seating.

This solution is best for creating a feeling that the meeting is about new ideas, relaxed attitudes and creative thinking. A new and different setting can energize the attendees and create an anticipation of great things to come from the stage.

The experts in the field are recommending more variety in meetings, and planners are also trying to prevent people from leaving early from conferences. Offering seating options—from lounge chairs to higher café tables in back—gives the attendee the option to choose the type of posture that they would be most comfortable with.

Q: How will meeting space change in the next decade?

I think there will be solutions that are much more flexible, such as being able to change the layout of the room as needed throughout the day. Steelcase research shows it’s important to have a palette of posture—a variety of seating to choose from. When working with Libby Ferin, manager of the Steelcase Experience team, we always look for opportunities to build this into the solution.

Plus, the addition of technology in meeting spaces is truly changing what a meeting can be. The use of videoconferencing and live-stream video allows meeting concepts to live on long after a meeting ends. And social media can keep conversations going and help people continue the connections that they made at a meeting. Technology also allows a global connection to experts who might join a meeting through high-def videoconferencing from anywhere around the world. All of these technology uses will become common in the future.

Q: What’s one innovative piece of furniture that’s gotten you fired up lately?

Steelcase studied posture and how people interact with devices like the laptops and tablets we all carry. To address their use (and the pain or discomfort possible if people don’t have the right support), the Steelcase Product Design team, led by James Ludwig, came out with the Gesture Chair that supports how people use their many devices.

For example, the chair flexes to support the many ways that we all position our bodies while using our devices. In addition, it has a unique feature that allows the arms to pivot in and support our natural position when using smaller devices like a smartphone. I’m a big fan.