The Hot Seat: Event Seating Trends for 2020


“The human body has two ends on it: one to create with and one to sit on. Sometimes people get their ends reversed. When this happens, they need a kick in the seat of the pants.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

At live events, a great deal of focus is placed on what Roosevelt referred to as the creative end of the human body. Experiential activations engage our senses and play with our memories. Keynote speeches captivate our thoughts. Educational sessions engage our intellect. Eye-catching and thrilling entertainment amuses our minds.

It’s unfortunate, however, that frequently so little thought is given to the other end. After all, it’s impossible for someone to listen to a keynote speech if they are uncomfortable and fidgeting the whole time. How can anyone absorb information during an education session if their back is in agony because of a chair?

An attendee’s comfort level during an event session can be the difference between them being able to take in everything or completely missing out. In fact, it could be argued that keeping our “sit on” end comfortable is essential to engage the “creative” side fully.


Sit-uational Awareness

There are several elements to take into consideration when contemplating the seating for your event.

The first is, naturally, the event itself. What are you trying to accomplish with your event? Is the atmosphere formal or casual? How large is the crowd? What do attendees hope to achieve from the event, and how can your seating help them achieve their goals?

At first, it may seem presumptuous to assume that the seating arrangement of an event can help attendees meet their goals, but it can. For example, if attendees hope to spend a significant amount of time networking, the placement of chairs can facilitate or impede this objective. If you set the chairs in long, tightly packed rows, people will be discouraged from getting up and moving around because it is inconvenient. Whereas if the chairs are placed in short openly spaced rows, then people can get out of their seats easily and move around the venue without awkwardly stepping around and over other attendees.

Second, once you understand the seating goals, it’s time to contemplate how they can be accommodated within your selected venue. Does the area allow for the type of spacious seating that will enable networking? Will you be able to accommodate everyone while providing for their comfort? Are there concessions you may need to make, and what can be done without compromising the quality of the event?

Using a 3D event diagram software can help you plan the entire seating arrangement. This tech will let you play around and find your perfect layout without anyone having to lift hundreds of chairs first. With this software, you see your layout from a top-down, birds’-eye view, and you can also swoop down to floor level and perform a virtual walkthrough.

The third element to consider is how long attendees will be in the seats. If the intent is for attendees to be seated only for a short period (or if you don’t want them to spend much time in a single place), then your seating does not need to be exceptionally comfortable. However, if attendees will need to be in one place for an educational session (or if your long-winded CEO is speaking after lunch), then you should consider comfortable and ergonomically designed seating. 

For events that occur annually, attendees may have used post-event surveys to voice opinions about past seating arrangements. Perusing these evaluations will provide a picture of what works for your crowd and what does not. Even if the surveys do not specifically mention seating (because they probably don’t), there is still plenty of information that can inform your seating selections. For example, if the surveys indicate that attendees want more Q&A sessions with speakers, this indicates one type of seating arrangement (such as a few short rows facing forward). Whereas, if the surveys say that attendees want brainstorming sessions, that indicates a different set-up (like a few chairs placed in a circle).


By the Seat of Your Pants: Seating Trends and Fun Ideas

Large and in Charge

Attendees love their devices, and, frankly, event planners love attendees’ devices too. After all, without those devices, nothing gets posted to social media, no event apps are downloaded, and much less attendee data is collected.

All of that activity places a significant strain on those devices. Most batteries can’t make it through the day, and many won’t make it to lunchtime. Fortunately, there are several clever ways you can provide attendees with options for powering their devices, while maybe repowering themselves, as well.

One way is to create charging stations located around the periphery of the event. These stations could include some comfortable seating (recliners, loungers, sofas, etc.), so attendees can wind down while their device powers up.

Another option is to bring the charging to the attendees. Many newer devices can charge wirelessly. So, you could utilize furniture that has built-in wireless charging capabilities or liberally spread wireless charging bases throughout your event.

Chill Out

Live events are engaging and a great deal of fun, but they can also be draining, especially multi-day affairs. Give your attendees the chance to take a break and clear their minds with designated relaxation areas.

One way to differentiate these areas from the rest of the event is to bring in some of the comforts of home, such as big, comfy couches with throw pillows, standing lamps, beanbag chairs, plants, and cozy rugs.

An even greater relaxation opportunity is providing the possibility for attendees to grab a power nap on the show floor. Set up a series of Express Portable C event structures, and your attendees can catch some shuteye in comfort. Express Portable Cs deliver the amenities of a hotel room in a mobile 8×8-foot pod. Each pod sleeps up to two people, is equipped with a lockable door, and can be rigged with electricity (for lights, amenities, and device charging) and climate controls.

Express Portable Cs set up in about 10 minutes. Their rigidity and strength come from a double layer of coated fabric membrane, called an AirCell, that fits securely in an aluminum framing channel. The fabric is pressurized to create tension and durability, which also helps eliminate some outside noise. Express Portable Cs are fully customizable both inside and out. Options include bunk beds that can sleep four or one double-sized bed, accent lighting, choice of flooring, Wi-Fi, sound systems, a lockable safe, and extra insulation for further soundproofing.

Variety is the Spice of Life

There are as many event seating options as there are chairs. Break up the monotony of venue-supplied seating by introducing some unexpected choices. Some possibilities include:

  • Benches

  • Loungers

  • Deck chairs

  • Beanbag chairs (modern options now come with backs)

  • Modular furniture

  • Barstools

  • Standing desks

  • Hammocks and swings

  • Picnic benches

Inflatable Smart Chairs are another option to add a fun – yet still comfortable – vibe to an event. These chairs are comprised of durable, weatherproof materials that feel like real leather, are designed with ergonomics and comfort in mind, and can be inflated and ready for use in less than 60 seconds. Unlike fabric holstered chairs, spills are not a concern, which makes Smart Chairs an ideal option for outdoor seating. No matter what hits the seat – red wine, mud, snow, mustard, cheese, etc. – these worry-free chairs repel the elements and food and beverage spills.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the seat. Ensure that your attendees are comfortable, and maybe even entertained, through your event seating.