Where to Sit for Professional Success

Professionals do it every day. It has subtle psychological and behavioral effects. A bad choice can ruin a business relationship or opportunity. A good choice can convey confidence, leadership, connection and ambition. Yet, no one really thinks about this mundane activity enough to strategize how do it most effectively.

The activity is sitting.

One-on-one meeting

Here’s a guide to help you choose the best seat for your professional future in any scenario, whether you’re in an intimate or large group setting.

The One-On-One interview

When participating in an interview with one other person, sit directly across from him or her. Adjust your chair so that the two of you are at the same height. Sit erect.

If you are the interviewer, this direct seating arrangement allows for face-to-face conversation that is candid. It conveys a sense of power but not elitism because you have not given in to the classic trick of raising your chair so that you are looking down at the visitor.

If you are the interviewee, this eye-level seating might put you on the spot, but it shows that you are feeling secure and assured. The other person’s face is in the direct line of sight so both of you can read expressions and movements.

The Group Interview

If attending an interview with two or more people on the interview panel, communication and authority can be lost if all participants sit together, such as at a round table, such that there is no distinction between who is doing the interview and who is being interviewed. Arrange the seating so that the interview panel is directly opposite the interviewee. If you are one of the interviewers, this set-up allows you to retain control of the question-and-answer process and have equal access to the interviewee. If you are the person being interviewed, choose a seat across from the panel that places you as close to the center of the panel as possible. Do not put your belongings on the table where they become points of focus; instead place them on the floor. Be upbeat, smile and take turns looking each interviewer in the eye.

The Think Tank or Brainstorming Pow-wow

At such a session, all participants are perceived as equals and should be seated around a table where they are evenly spaced. The equal distance and equal personal space encourages equal contribution, whether one has a strong or mild persona and whether one is an extrovert or introvert.

The Presentation

If you are attending a presentation, sit in the front row toward the middle so that you won’t miss anything and you can be seen if you need to ask a question.

Business presentation setting
photo credit: ScoRDS

If you are presenting to a group by yourself, arrange the audience seats in a semi-circle facing you, creating a theater-style arrangement. If you need several rows, try to stagger chairs so that people in back can see between seats and have a better chance to view you. Arrange your seat at the front and center of the crowd, facing them.

On occasions when you are presenting with a partner, each of you should take the stage one at a time so that the audience’s attention is not divided. Until it is your turn to speak, sit in the audience in an end seat on the front row. This places you near the stage. When it is your turn, arise and take the center seat on stage.

If presenting with many people, have everyone seated in a panel on stage so that transitions from speaker to speaker won’t be a distraction. If you are the moderator of a panel, sit on stage with the panel but slightly to the side and back so that you are not the focus. You need to remain nearby to guide and manage the discussion.

Lastly, if the presentation is a sales meeting, lunch, dinner or conference, set up banquet tables around which guests can sit. These tables should be in a semi-circle facing the presenter’s table, where the presenter remain front and center.

Business Meal at a Restaurant

When dining out, avoid booths and choose a table away from kitchen traffic and in a quiet and secluded area. Do not sit across from one another as you would at an interview. Sit as close as possible, such as at the corners of a square table, so that you will have an easier time talking and hearing.

By following the seating tips seen in this infographic from Seats and Stools, you’ll have enough insight to achieve all the seating power and advantage you need.