by Patrick Gaffney

The relative success or failure of meetings, whether with clients, colleagues or outside speakers, depends in part on how the space makes people feel.  Particularly with regard to meetings that are held in a collaborative law context, how the room is set up as well as the seating of the participants is important.  Bryan Garner has the following suggestions to make meetings most productive:[1]

  1. Ensure that doors open and close silently. This is an absolute imperative.  Make sure that the doors are utterly silent.  Avoid a mechanism that causes the door to shut itself noisily:  Hardware has evolved to combat this problem, so use it.  Nor should you hear a click every time the latch engages.  You must tell the space planners that doors are to be completely silent, while remaining lockable and secure.

We’re trying to solve two problems here.  The first is the flaw of loud doors designed by people who don’t know or care much about successful meetings; the second is passive-aggressive participants who come and go with maximal clatter.


  1. Install flooring that allows people to come and go silently. This means carpet.  Don’t put hard flooring into a large conference room.  As soon as you do, people will start wearing tap shoes.
  2. Plan to use a nearby room for serving food, preferably not the meeting room itself. Many firms think they’re smart by putting their biggest conference room next to a break room or kitchen.

If the food is consumed in the meeting room, you’re left with either the distraction of clearing plates—possibly while the meeting resumes—or the lingering odor of leftovers disposed of in the room itself.  So if you can, plan to have a system in which you can say: “Lunch will be served in conference room C down the hall.”

  1. Make sure the HVAC is well-equipped to handle the space, and if possible the room should have its own thermostat. It doesn’t make everyone happy, but a meeting room should remain on the cool side.  If you adjust the room to make the coolest-blooded comfortable, it will be too warm for most participants—and that’s death to a meeting.  Books on meetings advise to have 15 percent of the participants too cold:  that way, 80 percent will be comfortable and only 5 percent too warm.  With a little experience, cool-blooded folks know to wear layers.

The point, though, is that ideally the experienced speaker or organizers should be able to make instant adjustments to room temperature.  If you’re dependent on a central engineering staff who might not respond to your request for an hour, your meetings will suffer.

  1. Buy a couple of four-legged wooden stools. What’s the one prop a good speaker needs?  A simple four-legged wooden stool, about 30 inches tall without a back.  It’s unobtrusive and lets the speaker sit occasionally while still being high up enough to be seen by the seventh row. Adding a music stand for notes creates a clean, uncluttered stage.  A simple stool can actually improve mediocre speakers by helping them engage more with the group.

According to Garner, in order for the spoken word to be effective, the setting must be right.


1 This blog is an abridged version of an article taken from:  Garner, Bryan A.  “How architecture affects communication during meetings.” The ABA Journal. August 2017. Retrieved  from: