Seating Layout

Too Active

I remember once delivering training to a group of employees and removing all the tables from in front of them. They were seated in a large U-shape all 25 of them. I had also given them plenty of fun ice breakers. The result was that they became extremely active to the extent that they eventually broke out of control.


During a different training program I had trainees all sitting behind a large oval table. Their participation was relatively limited, they were not very active nor lively during the training session. Seating layout and how chairs and tables are arranged in a training room have a strong influence on the performance of training.

Perfect Circle

During group work, when trainees are divided into a number of groups, to reflect on a video they have just seen or discuss a topic specified by the trainer, the way each group arrange their seats has a noticeable impact on the performance of that group. If the group is sitting in a perfect circle this group will achieve superior performance. The circle layout allows every member of the group to participate equally and allows for a good deal of synergy to take place among all members of the team. You can almost sense the energy flowing unobstructed when passing next to such group.

If group members are instead arranging their seats in an imperfect circle with one of the members of the group sitting behind another member or more distanced than others then such an arrangement would break the harmonious flow of energy, not give each member of the group an equal opportunity to participate and drastically cut down on synergy among members of the group thus greatly reducing their performance.The lower performance of such group would be quite evident. As a trainer, you should go to such a group and ask them to arrange their seats in a perfect circle. You should do so early on in the activity so that they would have enough time to carry out the group activity with high performance.

Tables Reduce Activity Level

Generally speaking, having tables in front of participants shielding them from the trainer dramatically reduces their level of activity. Having participants face the trainer directly without any obstructions, by removing any tables in front of them, allows them to be way more active. The decision of chair and table layout is for the trainer to make. The trainer can control the amount of activity of trainees through making changes to seating layout. A trainer may start the training for instance with tables placed in front of participants then decide to remove them completely during the second half of the training day or during the second training day. This could provide variation and the right amount of activity from trainees.

U-Shape, Incomplete Circle and Crescents

Participant seats can be arranged in a large U-shape spanning the training room with the backs of the chairs towards the 3 walls of the training room leaving the fourth wall for the trainer to stand against. Another similar arrangement is to have seats arranged in an incomplete circle which provides the highest degree of synchronized and harmonized participant attention. A third variation is to have seats in a crescent shape. This arrangement is similar to that of the incomplete circle and has the advantage of allowing for several ‘waves’ of crescents to be arranged one after the other to allow for more seats to be used in the training room.


A competent trainer must be aware that seating layout in the training room is no trivial thing and that it should be taken seriously for it has a powerful impact on the performance of participants during the training.

What other seating layouts can be used in the training room?

Group Work Activities for Training Workshops

Interactive training workshops are more engaging than boring lectures and are more effective than mere presentations done by a trainer. Group work is one of the main kinds of activities that can make a training session highly interactive and engaging and thus enjoyable and of high impact.

Single Presenter

Here is basically how group work works:

  1. Trainer divides participants into groups.
  2. Trainer asks each group to discuss a specific topic and write down their thoughts in points.
  3. Trainer then asks each team to nominate one of its members to come and present the points of his team in front of all participants.

Multiple Presenters

A variation would be to ask each team to send 2 or even 3 of its members to present the points written by the team. This is helpful in team building training where you want participants to practice collaboration and cooperation. In such  cases, you must clearly state that both participants sharing the presentation have to share equally in presenting their team’s points. It is not acceptable that one participant goes ahead reading and explaining all the points while forgetting all about his colleague who is standing next to him and not leaving any points for that colleague to cover. The trainer must clearly state that this is not allowed. The trainer must state this before the teams start their presentations.

Time Stretching

The time it takes each team to present their points is proportional to the number of team members giving the presentation. If you ask each team to send 2 of its team members to give the presentation this would take them more time than if you had asked them to send only one team member to do the presentation. Similarly, 3 members would take a longer time in presenting than 2 members even though they have the same number of points to present. This phenomenon can be used by the trainer to reduce or expand the time of the group work activity in order to manage the training session time.


Before the teams start their discussions, you can provide them with flip chart sheets to use for writing their points. You may even ask them to cut the sheets themselves from the flip chart and divide a single sheet into 2 or 3 parts and divide it on the other teams.


It is of great value that you ask the teams to site in circles. As they start their discussions, if you find one of the teams not arranging their chairs in a proper circle go to them and guide them to do so. The seating positions during this activity have a very high and noticeable effect on the performance of a team. Sitting in a perfect circle makes it possible for everyone to participate and boosts synergy among team members creating what might seem like a sort of resonance.

Getting Creative

I remember once that one of the teams got creative during their presentation and threw in a mini-play instead of a mere reading and explaining of the points they have written. A trainer should praise and encourage such creative initiatives.


The topic of discussion can be to reflect on a video just viewed by participants or to try and find answers for a question or solutions for a problem or just to list any kind of information the trainer asks them to list.


Group work is an activity that participants usually enjoy greatly and benefit from. Nevertheless, the trainer should take care to alternate between it and other forms of training so that participants do not get over-exhausted. Group work is usually a fundamental part of every interactive training workshop.

What kind of training program do you think group work would not be appropriate to use in?

Think and Listen

I had read about the think and listen technique in the past in a PDF document that I had stumbled upon online. It was a technique used in meetings aimed at community building and working collaboratively for activism.

Productive Meetings

I then later set out to try it out during delivering a training session about productive meetings. The think and listen technique turned out to be a great success. I used it once again during delivering another productive meetings workshop to a different group of participants with tremendous results. I then started using it regularly during my training programs for various things.


Here is how the think and listen technique works:

  1. Have participants seated in a continuous circle or U-shape.
  2. Go in turn giving each participant a number in sequence starting from #1. Start with participants on your left side.
  3. Ask participants with odd numbers to raise their hands.
  4. Now ask those with even numbers to raise their hands.
  5. Ask those with odd numbers to turn their chairs slightly to the left side and to look to their left sides.
  6. Ask participants with even numbers to turn their chairs slightly to the right side and look to their right.

Participants will find themselves being paired with one another! They will start smiling and speaking to one another.

Now explain to them how the think and listen technique is carried out and the benefits of doing it such as practicing the all important listening skills.

  1. Now ask participants with odd numbers to start speaking to their colleagues about a specific topic you had specified.
  2. Participants with even numbers must keep completely silent and only listen to their colleagues.
  3. This can continue for 2 minutes.
  4. You then ask participants to switch roles allowing participants with even numbers to speak, about the same topic, while those with odd numbers must now listen while keeping silent.
  5. After another 2 minutes, you signal to participants to stop speaking.

Go Round

A fast round of go round should follow the think and listen activity. Each participant in the circle takes a turn to select and mention to the whole class one and only one of the many points he had just mentioned to the colleague he was paired with.


An optional step would be to write down what participants are saying in points on the flip chart. You can even ask one of the participants to do the writing. If one of the points is repeated, a check point can be added next to the point that has already been written. When the round of go round has finished the technique now has completed.


The think and listen technique can be used for a variety of purposes such as collecting problems facing participants at work, gathering their expectations at the beginning of the training or asking them to state what they would be doing differently at work having attended the training.

Where else other then meetings and training sessions do you believe the think and listen technique can be successfully used?


When I went to Alexandria to attend the 3-day Graphic Facilitation Workshop, by Nanna Frank and Anne Madsen, I experienced the clustering technique which was used by the trainers as an activity during the workshop. Clustering turned out to be a very interesting and highly engaging technique. I am going to describe the clustering process below.

Divergence: Brainstorming

Small pieces of paper are placed on the floor in the middle of the training room while participant seats are arranged in a large circle. Participants are asked to write one or more words on one of the small pieces of paper on the ground then leave the paper facing upwards on the ground. Participants may also draw instead of write. What they draw or write belong to a topic or answer a question asked by the trainer such as: “In your opinion, what do you think makes a community healthy or makes a team tick?”


Participants are then allowed to move simultaneously in silence and arrange the pieces of paper on the ground into groups or clusters of related words and/or drawings. Participants should not keep holding the pieces of paper in their hands but move them around by pushing or sliding them on the ground without holding them in their hands so that they remain visible to the rest of the participants. Participants are not allowed to speak during this phase. When a participant feels satisfied with the groupings he or she then steps back. When everyone is satisfied and steps back the third phase of the clustering group activity starts.

Convergence: Distilling

Each participant selects a cluster and stands next to it. The cluster he or she selects should be the one that represents him or her more. We will find that participants sharing similar views are standing next to one another around the same cluster. Participants are then given a chance to speak to one another. Each group of participants standing around a cluster are asked to grab an extra piece of paper and write on it a title that sums up all the other words and drawings present in the cluster they are standing around.


Each group then shows the title they have arrived at. The trainer then asks them how they reached such a title and how did the discussion go. Participants then stick the pieces of paper forming their cluster on the wall under the title they have come up with. Those titles are considered to be the answer to the question the trainer had first asked. They were reached by the whole community of participants.

This technique is so fun and participants feel a lot of satisfaction after completing it. I have used it twice myself during delivering team building training for the banking sector and once during delivering a training of trainers course at Resala with great success.

Would you consider trying out the clustering technique in your next training program?