Setting the Tone for a Successful Meeting Space

Ana Zaldarriaga
Ana Zaldarriaga

In my prior article “ The Popcorn Series: How a Creative Shift in Staff Meetings Created Success", I provided a framework for a successful company-wide meeting. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into one of the most essential factors in a successful staff meeting: space.

First, it is absolutely essential to have a space. That space can be anywhere, indoors or outdoors, your office or a cafe. Our next upcoming Popcorn is actually our last one for the year, and since it is a culmination, we will actually have it in 2 spaces: our office and then our President’s backyard. No matter where it is, it still has to meet some basic guidelines: clean, clutter-free, low external noise levels, good lighting, air circulation, and climate control so that everyone is guaranteed to be in an optimal performance atmosphere. Those are the basic guidelines, but so much more goes into the physical space of meetings and how it affects the productivity and impact of the meeting participants.

What does it feel like to have the same lunch every day, or simply do the same things as part of a routine? So many of us feel this way about staff meetings and anticipate it with dread. If one of the goals of a staff meeting is to connect, motivate, and inspire your participants to innovate or increase productivity, then you have to create the feeling of inspiration in your space. Your meeting space is a blank canvas for designing an experience. So what does that look like? 

There are 4 main ways to set the tone for success in a space:

1). Physical Layout

2). Direction of Viewpoint

3). Ambiance

4). Surprise.


Physical Layout. Just like when you’re setting the dinner table at home for a party, the physical layout of your tables in a space is important. How many people will be there? What message do you want to convey? Will you be doing Group work: clusters of tables? Is it a Celebration: one long family-style table? Is it Potluck Planning: tables in quads A Mini-Conference: banquet style tables? The dynamics of your group can be preliminary set with the actual configuration of their seats.

Direction of Viewpoint. It is good to change the literal viewpoints for your group. If it is a presentation heavy day, then you can have them face the SmartBoard or projector screen theater style. If it is a day of planning and visioning, then you might want everyone to look towards the window. Either way, a change in perspective always leads the mind to creative shifts in mindset.

Ambiance. How else can you set the tone for a meeting? If it’s a day of presentations, then maybe you can gear up your audience with popcorn and a theater style motif around the space. Or if, it is strictly an informative session, spunky colored notebooks, Post-Its, and pens can reinforce the importance of information sharing and recording throughout the day. If it is your mid-year check-in, maybe a half-time game theme could work. You never have to go all out with theatrics, but the ambiance can certainly get your team spirit aligned with your goals.

Enchantment. Even with the creative license you can take in ambiance, adding a surprise is always a great way to get full engagement and bring attention back when it can get lost through the day. A surprise can be sweet treats, a quick stretch, a 1-minute dance, or anything that will provide a brain break and a jolt of energy. In one of our Leadership Classrooms (internal professional development series) about Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment, the room was covered in origami butterflies.


A meeting space is a container for an experience, a box for a present, and a vehicle for your message. How you set up the space to meet your participants will affect how your participants relate to you in that space. So before your next meeting, think about what you want your participants to learn, feel, and remember and then set up the room to lead them to that end.  


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Ana Zaldarriaga

By Ana Zaldarriaga

Ana Zaldarriaga Pronouns: she/her/hers Sr. Dir. of Employee Development The Leadership Program 535 8th Avenue, Floor 16 New York City, NY 10018 Phone: 212.625.8001 Fax: 212.625.8020 “…building strong leaders in classrooms and communities."