Where you sit in a meeting room sends messages to the others. Be intentional rather than making a random choice – a significant fraction of getting what you want from a meeting is affected by your choice of where to sit. Not all seats are equal.
Hard-won advice on meeting room choices when you are not the boss or leading the meeting:
If you’re invited to a large meeting, sit at the main table. Only sit on the periphery if you’re a courtesy invitee.
Consciously sit where you can face your boss (or senior leader) with as little head-turning as possible. You want to be able to make eye contact readily. The watch-out with this choice is not to come across as confrontational, or make your boss feel defensive.
Sitting on the corner between others strongly signals collaboration and is useful if you consciously want to build trust. It’s easy to display body language which says, “I’m on your side.”
Sitting on the right side of the leader is usually perceived as being in a power position.
If there is a presentation, sitting between the senior person and the screen positions you “on the radar” in the talking zone.
Yes, getting your preferred seat usually means being in the room early.
No, arriving after the meeting has begun does not mean you have an opportunity for a “dramatic entrance.”
If the room is arranged in rows, sit in the front. In large spaces, it’s sometimes better to be in the 2nd row because the presenter can see you more readily without looking down to the front row.
Sitting on the side which faces the door makes it easier for you to greet people as they come in – a natural way to connect.
Have your presentation pre-loaded or available to load quickly. It does not serve your cause to take 4-6 minutes to launch your slides.
Choose to ask questions or add contributions. You’re in the meeting, paying attention; add value instead of being a lump of non-responsive flesh.
Your best meeting room choices when you are the boss or leading the meeting:
Sitting at the head of the table conveys power and competence. We’re predisposed to assume the person in that position has the most positional power.
Stay away from the door. Do not have your back to the door. You cannot command space that is behind you. The top power seat is at the head of the table, away from the door.
Same as above: Yes, getting your preferred seat usually means being in the room early. No, arriving after the meeting has begun does not mean you have an opportunity for a “dramatic entrance.”
If the head of the table position is not available, sit in a middle position. This grants you the “mediator” role, connecting the conversation and drawing people together.
U-shaped table layouts are the worst configuration. Round tables allow everyone an opportunity to feel engaged equally.