The physical condition of meetings

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Wilbert van Vree, University of Amsterdam (Interdisciplinary Studies)

Every meeting takes place in a physical environment, consisting of a room, table(s), chairs, technical installations, and so on. These things together constitute the physical conditions of a meeting and have an impact on the meeting participants and thus on the meeting process and results.

As a meeting expert I have often been asked by journalists what is the impact of a specific physical element on meetings. Curiously, the correlation between the diverse variables which shape the physical environment and meetings has not yet been the object of any thorough and systematic scientific examination, as far as I know. What we know about the issue is mainly based on personal experiences and experiments. For instance, some mighty but small leaders have heightened their seat to impress their meeting fellows. A rich repertoire of environmental manipulations to impress the adversarial party during negotiations is to be found in the second chapter of Tom Wolfe’s novel A Man in Full.

Probably, only the effects of various table shapes, furniture and seating arrangements have been the object of serious study by (interior) architects and conversation analysts, among others. So, we are aware that round and square tables have a different impact on turn-taking and the conversation process.

I shall argue that the impact of the physical environment on meetings should be an important field of study for meeting scientists: What effects do colors, lighting situations, sounds, acoustics, smells, temperatures, window views, and the like have on the participants, the process and the results of meetings?

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