In business situations, choosing a seat can guide the type of reception, cooperation and respect you get from others. Everything about the action of taking a seat – the location, the posture, the proximity to another person – speaks volumes and becomes a part of your professional body language. Seating tendencies should be adjusted based on environment, the amount of people present and your specific role.
In general, side-by-side seating is known to suggest cooperation between parties. Corner seating is viewed as friendly and disarming. Opposite seating configurations connotes a serious, restrained atmosphere where protocols should be followed. To make sure you are conveying the right tone and personal traits in any scenario, consider the following tips.
For a group interview, it’s best for the interviewee to sit so that he has the full attention of every interviewer and always remains the central focus. The recommended arrangement is for all participants to sit at a long table that allows the panel of interviewers to sit evenly spaced on one side, while the interviewee sits on the opposite side in the center of the table.
For a small interview that includes just two people -- the interviewer and person being interviewed – there are two trains of thought. If the interview is meant to be formal, the two should sit directly across from each other in chairs of the same height. If there is a major height difference, the shorter person should adjust his seat so that he can see eye to eye with the taller person. This arrangement allows for very direct communication and a no-nonsense atmosphere.
If the interview is meant to be less formal and more intimate, some seating experts recommend the two sit on either side of a table corner, which is less confrontational than sitting opposite one another. Meeting at the corner will usually put the interviewee more at ease. It’s not the interviewee’s job to presume that it is alright to take a corner seat, however; he should confidently go for a seat opposite the interviewer unless told otherwise.
- Working Meetings (without presentation)
When meeting to brainstorm ideas in an atmosphere where there is no true leader or presenter to serve as authority, all participants are assumed to be of equal status and should sit accordingly. This means they should sit at a table that has no head, such as a round table. Also, each person should sit in chairs spaced an equal distance apart.
- Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner Meetings
Often business people combine meal time with meeting time. Usually, these affairs take place in restaurants. The first objective is to avoid the most extreme restaurant clatter, such as noise near the kitchen area or areas near the lobby. Sit at a quiet table. If there are many more chairs than people, everyone should sit close as possible while keeping chairs evenly spaced.
If there are only two people, they should meet at a corner of the table, sitting on either side so that they can hear one another clearly and be more personable.
If you get there early enough and want to get the best seat, choose a seat as close to the front and center as possible.
- One Presenter
A presenter should command the audience from a center seat in front of the crowd. The audience should be seated in semi-circular rows facing the presenter.
To avoid dividing the audience’s attention, two presenters should never take the stage at the same time. Instead, one should sit in the audience on the front edge of the semi-circle and take a seat on stage only after the other presenter exits and turns over the floor.
- Panel of Presenters
For three or more presenters, entering and exiting the stage creates a chaotic atmosphere. So, to avoid that, all presenters should be seated on stage an equal distance apart. If a moderator is present, he, too, should sit with the panel of presenters but should separate himself by sitting a little off to the side and a few inches back.
- Working Meeting (with presentation)
For a large scale business meeting that involves a presentation (such as a industry conference, sales meeting or business awards ceremony), the audience should be divided into small groups and seating at banquet tables. This turns a large gathering into a more intimate and personal event; it also allows food to be served easily. The presenter (or presenters) should be seated in the middle of his own table on center stage, but the table should be a long rectangular one rather than a banquet style.
Remember, sitting is more than a casual, neutral activity; it is the basis for strong or weak non-verbal communication.