Meeting seating can be as informal as choosing to sit in the first available seat to making a highly structured seating plan. Most of the meetings I take part in don’t have a hierarchical seating order, but there surely are times when who sits where really matters, and in that case you want to be sure to sit in the right place.
What are the considerations for seating when it isn’t every person for him/herself?
- The most important seat is typically reserved for the host, chairperson, or most senior individual at the meeting. That seat is at the head of the table. At a rectangular table, the head of the table is at the end that looks toward the entrance as opposed to the end next to the entrance. Interestingly, this seat commands a direct view of everyone at the table, as well as everyone entering the room, making it a position of strength in conducting and participating in the meeting.
- The second most important seat is the position at the opposite end of the table. Likewise this person has a view of everyone at the table. Sometimes there is no seat available at this position, which, of course, only enhances the position of the head of the table.
- The seat to the right of the head of the table is also a premium position. In social situations it is the position given to the guest of honor. In business meetings it is considered valuable because the occupant has the ear of the person sitting at the head of the table. The person seated here may be a key confidante or advisor to the person at the head of the table. Similarly, the person to the left of the head of the table is in a strong position.
- People seated to either side of the person at the opposite end of the table are in positions of strength as well.
- People who fill the seats along the side are in the less favorable seats. They cannot see the other people at the table as easily and their influence with the key decision makers is diminished by not being near the most important people.
All that said, people can get too wrapped up in the symbolism of seating. More important is that you are a contributor to the meeting. Your primary goal should be to leave the impression with the host, your boss, or the organizer that your presence positively affected the meeting, convincing them to want you at the next meeting. Do that and your particular seat at the table is of much less importance.