How seating effects the audience and the speaker

Have you ever noticed an audience “check out” on a speaker?
There are times when seating profoundly effects and audiences response.
Recently I was the last speaker of a four day event. All day, for four days the attendees sat at tables set for 12 people in the same large banquet room at the Hotel.
By the time I was introduced in the afternoon of the last day they had set up their seats to create an easy way to “check out” of any presentation.
Out of 150 people the majority of the people were sitting in the back of the room. In fact, there were five tables in the front that were absolutely empty and the others up front have two or three people at a table meant for 12. This seating creates what I call the castle wall effect. The participants can tune out and talk to each other because they feel they are protected and hidden behind the castle wall.
It also makes it much more difficult to connect with the group and to get them to laugh. It is hard to move and audience to laugh over empty seats. You may have heard comics like Jay Leno talk about the advantage of having the front seats filled and a packed house for the comedy to work. The same principal applies to any speaking, training or meeting situation. Laughter and energy move easily in a crowd. With all those issues in mind, you can see were this could have made for a “tough audience.” I had to move out into the audience throughout the speech to bridge the empty gab. Now in the ideal circumstances you as the speaker can get the room arranged more effectively. Here is what you might ask.

Could you ask the banquet manager to change the room slightly before the last day’s presentation? Could the hotel staff please move out at least the back three tables and all those chairs at the back? And get rid of any extra chairs in the room that people may have pulled away from the tables and brought to sit in against the back wall. Those are what I call the, “too good for the room seats.” and are typically filled with participants who may have high assigned status, or those who most want to check out. Please get rid of those chairs.

If you can get the change the groups they will fill up the room at not have empty tables or three at the tables in front. You will have a packed house and a much happier audience!!

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at