Throngs of people in massive rooms and overflowing trash cans are staples of the corporate conference, but they take their toll on both the environment and attendee satisfaction, indicates a recent research effort.

The PCMA partnered with design company Steelcase to survey hundreds of business leaders at the association’s Convening Leaders event in April, and the results revealed that one of the most important aspects of event planning is venue layout, including where to place chairs and tables, as well accessibility of amenities like food and water. Not only did these details impact how happy guests were but also how sustainable the overall event was.

Many of the report’s survey respondents said that there were not enough places to sit down and relax at the event. Designated quiet areas, they emphasized, were important for recharging in the midst of all of the crowds and noise.

In a similar vein, other respondents felt it was difficult to find spaces to do work, which included activities like going on the internet, typing on their laptops, or making phone calls.

“Space was underutilized from a work-setting density perspective,” the report states. “People were observed sitting and working in a narrow space between the window and stairway and standing along walls during peak periods, indicating a need for more work settings and potentially more spaces to support this use type.”

Of course, this did not prevent people from doing those activities. The report noted that attendees would sit pretty much anywhere, whether or not there were chairs.

“Space is so important,” said Gary Murakami, director of global sales at MGM Resorts International. “At events you’ll have areas that are packed and those that are just completely empty. At least put some couches or chairs in the empty spaces to create more of a balance.”

Additionally planners need to make sure food and beverages are highly accessible to keep the general mood of guests high, the report indicated. This means having tables with refreshments located at key points throughout the venue.

However when it comes to food and drink, it is important to keep in mind sustainability, according to Murakami. “You can provide water stations instead of bottled water,” he said, referring to tables with water dispensers which guests can use to fill up cups or reusable bottles. “That can also be stations for coffee or juice or iced tea.”

The layout of the furniture also had a potential impact on the sustainability of an event. Respondents of the survey noted that sometimes there were no tables to set down their food and drinks, and when possible they would place them on empty chairs.

The annoyance of carrying around cups and plates can increase the likelihood of attendees abandoning their food or drink, leading to both food waste as well as plastic waste. Conferences already have a track record of contributing to food waste, due to the overabundance of catered food.

Other priorities for guests were having windows in the rooms where panels were being held, as well as simplicity when it came to event scheduling and panel information. Many respondents reported being overwhelmed by the number of panels offered, as well as the timing of the different panels, many of which had staggered start times.

Photo Credit: Crowds at the San Diego Convention Center. Robert Ziegler / Flickr