Leader Volume 8, Number 12
Rafe is President of Rapport Communications of Warrenton, VA, a
spokesperson-counseling firm (tel/fax 540-349-1039;. E-mail
email@example.com; starfire.safsoft.net). He is the author of three HarperBusiness books, including How
to Be Prepared to Think on Your Feet (1991). He is also the
principal author of The
Executive's Guide to Successful Presentations (Communication
We all want our
meetings to go well. As hosts we tend to focus on the agenda and
the participants. We want to add structure to the process and we
want the right people there for the right reasons. As presenters
at meetings, we tend to concentrate primarily on our
presentations. So we fine-tune our key points, and tweak our
Yet, if you are
in charge of a meeting, control of the outcome should be paramount
in your mind. The concept of control has been denigrated over the
years, but it still has as much validity as it ever did. In fact,
control may be even more important in our society with its
fast-paced communications and constantly changing environment.
Consider it as a responsibility to your participants. Act on it as
a duty to ensure that they receive the maximum possible benefit
accomplish much of this merely by focusing on the key elements of
the room itself. Here are some specific tips that will help.
it is possible to size up a room and "read" the power
dynamics that will most likely take place within it. You can
determine much of this just by knowing the unwritten
"rules" for who sits where in any given room setup.
Start by looking at the table configuration. Most rooms use one of
these four basic layouts: 1) long table, 2) closed square, 3)
horseshoe or “U”, and 4) round.
"power" positions of each one depend, in part, on how
the following are placed: Doors, windows, presentation boards, key
lighting, and telephone. Usually, the highest-ranking person will
occupy the chair that makes each of these most convenient to him
or her. Spacing is another consideration. Generally, the lower
ranking people sit in the chairs that are placed closest together.
There will often be more table space allocated to the power
person. This is often done subtly by the person who sets out the
briefing books, pads, pens, or water glasses. If you have ever
moved your items closer to another participant's -- only to notice
him or her subtly (sometimes) ease them back out into your
"space," -- you
know what this is all about. The research on "zones" has
much to say about this.
* The power person will sit -- or should sit -- at one end of a
long table. Which end
will depend upon all the other factors.
* In a closed-square arrangement, he or she will sit on the
side that affords the most convenience.
* He or she will
almost always sit at the middle of the closed end of the horseshoe
or "U" configuration.
* The round-table
setup also affords a power position, despite the legends about
King Arthur's knights. Again, the power person will consistently
sit where he or she finds things to be the most convenient.
The key in
controlling the power or using it to your advantage is this:
Arrive early and check out everything in the room. Do everything
you can to tip the balances in your favor without being overly
obvious. Leave nothing to chance.
This is the
approach I take when I go into a client's facilities to conduct a
seminar in a meeting room. Most often, the client allows me to set
everything to my convenience. However, I can sometimes expect
that certain changes will not have survived by the time the
participants walk through the door. Quite often it's the result of
the organization's housekeeping staffers trying to make certain
everything is "right." So, if you can, be sure to
involve them in your plan.
Once you are in
the room, locate the light switches and dimmers. Do they allow you
to keep light on the audience while you darken the area where your
visuals will appear on screen? Is there enough light for
videotaping if that is included in the plans? If there is a
spotlight, or if overhead lighting casts a glare, make sure it
won't be shining in your eyes.
Sunlight can also
become a distraction. A room that was fine while the sky was
cloudy can suddenly become glaringly bright when the clouds part.
Sunlight can also overheat a room.
thermostat if the room has one. Is the temperature set right?
Generally between 68 and 72 °F is comfortable for most
presentations. Any temperatures outside that range may distract
your audience from your message. Set on the low side, people tend
to think clearly and move matters along. Set on the high side,
they tend to provide less input and become sluggish in their
cost you power points. Can you control the temperature, or must
you ask someone else to adjust it for you? If there are no
controls, be prepared to request fans for hot rooms and heaters
for cold ones. It may take time to locate such equipment. This is
another reason you should check your meeting room at least an hour
before you need to use it. If you can't get what you need, request
another room. Find out whether there will be any audible
distractions such as sound coming from an adjacent room. Leave
nothing to chance.
audience be subjected to visual distractions such as columns and
pillars? If so, rearrange the room, or move your presentation.
You can also gain
power in a room by the way you use odor. Smells can heavily
influence the receptivity and demeanor of the people in any
environment. For starters, if the room smells stale, or musty,
spray it with a product that will eliminate odors, not just mask
even-greater impact, you can also inject aromas that can influence
the brain. Tyler Lorig, a Yale researcher in psychophysiology,
offered this unique tip in Prevention magazine (May, 1988): The aroma of certain foods, such as
apple pies, can cause brainwave changes that are similar to the
patterns associated with the calmness produced by traditional
stress-reduction techniques. While you may not be able to provide
pies, before participants arrive you could spray an air freshener
that contains this fragrance, or one that smells of cinnamon
and another smells like apples. You can also enhance people's
reaction to your meeting by providing fresh coffee. Its aroma can
"perk" up your participants.
Is the View?
Does the room
cause the meeting's participants to focus on you? Or will the view
outside the windows compete for their attention? If so, close the
drapes. No drapes? Turn the chairs so the audience members' backs
are to the windows. If the meeting is important enough, block the
windows with folding screens.
as potential distractions, as well. Close the doors if you can.
Passersby create unpredictable distractions. If the doors have
window glass in them, tape construction paper over them. It is
difficult to compete with the face at the window. If you can't
close the doors, reposition the chairs so they face away from
"power" quickly when your equipment doesn't work. So,
check every piece of a/v equipment you plan to use. Are all the
parts there? Do you have electricity power? Can you put the
equipment where you want it? Will the extension cords reach? Do
you have extension cords? Always have a three-pronged adapter and
a three-outlet coupler handy. Tape down your wires so that no one
trips over them and disconnects you, knocks over your equipment,
or injures himself or herself. Make sure you have spare projector
bulbs. Pre-set your slide trays, overheads, videotapes or other
visuals where you can reach them. Do a test run.
lectern. Does the light work? Is it set at the right height? If
you use a side table for handouts, do you have them placed where
you can find them quickly? Check your microphone. Does it work? If
it is not cordless, can you move it to where you need it?
Check the chairs
and tables. Remove any that are broken or damaged. On adjustable
chairs, make sure all the seat elevations are the same (unless you
want to raise yours and put your worst critic's much lower.) Make
sure the spacing between rows and aisles will provide comfortable
passage for handicapped and other participants. Have soiled tables
cleaned and torn or soiled table covers replaced. Add to this list
everything you might need before, during, or immediately following
The way you
control the flow of people into or out of your room is another way
to gain or lose power. Usually it is the meeting participants,
themselves, or their messengers who are the culprits.
experienced the tactics of those who like the visibility and sense
of importance they gain when others interrupt the flow of the
proceedings to bring them messages. Invariably, the messenger uses
the appropriate non-verbals to show he or she did not intend to
intrude. However, the other participants generally treat the
intrusion with silent indignation -- unless they are the boss and
they're the ones receiving the message, or someone else is
receiving the message and they want to put a stop to the process
If you feel you
can exercise some control, you might try posting signs outside the
doors. For diplomacy and tact, the signs might read: "As a
courtesy to our meeting participants, please enter only when this
door is open." In addition, you might post a note that advises participants,
for the same reason, to turn off their pagers before entering.
Also, if you have
sufficient authority, you might notify everyone beforehand that to
avoid interruptions and improve the efficiency of the meeting, a
message board will be posted outside the door and may be checked
during the breaks. As for telephone calls, you might unplug or
shut off the phone in the meeting room and route all calls through
One can't always
control everything. However, to the extent that you can carry out
any of these suggestions, you can increase your meeting-room