Buyer’s Guide to Conference and Lecture Seating

Evertaut News

17 Dec, 2019

Fixed auditorium seating is used in a variety of education and training establishments:

  • Secondary schools and academies
  • Higher education colleges and universities
  • Armed forces and emergency services training centres
  • Conference centres
  • Corporate training rooms

If you’re responsible for sourcing seating for one of these venues, there’s a very wide range to choose from and it can be difficult to decide what type of auditorium seating will work best. Here we guide you through the different seat and desk combinations and show you some of the most popular seat styles and features.


Seat and desk combinations

With fixed auditorium seating, desks or writing tablets are usually integral to the chairs rather than standalone. The exception to this is the front row where separate desks will be required if this option is chosen. What’s best for your venue will depend on how the space is used (particularly if it’s a multi-purpose venue) and what equipment delegates will need to use.


Lecture and Conference Seating without desks

In some cases, a desk may not be required. This could be because delegates will just be listening to someone speak and won’t be required to take notes or use devices. The lack of desks also reduces the cost of any conference seating so if budget is an issue then going for a seat only option can make a new seating installation more viable.

The seat only installation below left is in a traditional style university lecture theatre. As part of its refurbishment, this space was fitted with new auditorium seating upholstered in a mid-green with black under-seat boards to maintain a smart and traditional look.

Below right, the seats fitted in this football club training facility are actually stadium seats. The club chose these rather than traditional conference seating to help theme the space. The seats also feature embroidery of the club’s logo on seat backs whilst artificial grass is used in place of carpet. This is a good example of how a training or conference room can be made more engaging and even though black is the predominant colour, the space doesn’t look or feel dull.

Fixed conference seating in a lecture theatre and football training facility

Lecture Theatre Seating with rows of fixed desking

A popular choice in higher education establishments is lecture theatre seating with rows of fixed desking. Desktops are attached to seat backs and supported by the seat frames so they keep the floor area clear and help maximise space. Separate, standalone desks will only be necessary on the front row. Dependent on the configuration of the room, portable desks are often used on front rows as they can easily be moved to allow access for wheelchair users (see the ‘Provision for Wheelchairs Users’ section below for more information on portable lecture theatre desks).

Lecture theatre seating with fixed desks

The height of seat backs on this type of seat/desk combination will be determined by the height of the floor tiers. Rooms with bigger tiers/steps will have higher seat backs (as pictured above left) whilst rooms with a flat floor or low tiers will have lower seat backs (as pictured above centre). If you want seats with a higher back but only have low tiers, it is possible to extend the seat backs above the desktops (as can be seen on the first 2 rows of seats pictured above right).

As well as the straight rows pictured above, fixed desks can also be manufactured to fit seating positioned in curved rows (as shown below left). Desktops can incorporate power sockets and charging points if required (shown in both lecture theatres below).

2 different lecture theatre seating installations with plug sockets with USB ports in desks

Seating with rows of fixed desks also work well in conference centres. For high-end and exclusive venues a more premium look can be created by opting for high back seats with stitch detailing, as pictured below. You can match fabric to your corporate colours or choose something like the black faux leather pictured below right, which is co-ordinated with walnut effect curved desks to project a smart, professional image.

Lecture theatre with seats with rows of fixed desks and a conference room with curved rows of seating with fixed desks

Conference Seating with individual writing tablets

For establishments where you need to maximise space, or where a desk isn’t always required, look at the option of conference seating with individual writing tablets. These usually fold away into the seat arm so don’t get in the way when they’re not needed. You will often find these described as ‘anti-panic’ writing tablets which means they will automatically fold away if the user stands suddenly, eg if they need to evacuate the room in an emergency.

Writing tablets are positioned within the right-hand chair arm as standard so if you choose this type of seating you need to specify how many left-handed tablets you will need and decide whereabouts in the room they will be located.

This type of seating works well in multi-purpose venues such as theatres which are also used for conferences or lectures or vice versa.

3 different lecture rooms with conference seating with individual flip-up writing tablets

Lecture Seating with folding writing desks

If a writing surface isn’t always needed but an individual folding tablet doesn’t provide enough space when it is, you can look at the option of individual folding desks. These are attached to seat backs just as fixed desks are, but each seat has its own desk with a mechanism allowing it to be folded away. These provide a much larger writing surface for each delegate and are ideal for use with laptops and other devices.

University lecture theatre with rows of fixed lecture seating with individual fold down desks

Stacking & Linking Conference Chairs

For times when a venue needs to increase its capacity, stacking and linking chairs are a flexible solution which can be added and removed as required. Conference and lecture rooms often have an open space at the front between the first row of seats and the area where the lecturer / trainer would usually stand. For occasions when there may be a higher number of students / delegates than usual, stacking and linking chairs can be brought in to create additional rows of seating in this space.

There are a wide range of designs of this type of conference seating from basic plastic seats to fully upholstered variants, designed to co-ordinate with auditorium seating. Many of these can be supplied with trolleys on which the chairs can be stacked and transported to a storage area when not required. A selection of these types of chairs are pictured below.

Range of stacking and linking conference seating

Cushioned seats like those shown on the left can be upholstered in the same fabric as auditorium seats for a co-ordinated look. Wooden or plastic seats as seen on the right are generally a cheaper option and can be stacked higher although do not offer the same level of comfort as a cushioned seat.

Above centre, you can see how some of these chairs, with and without arms, can be linked together. When using this type of seating in an auditorium setting it is advisable to utilise the linking facility as this ensures the rows remain uniform and helps avoid potential hazards such as rows becoming obstructed if chairs were to be moved around or knocked over.

There are also a wide range of loose conference seats with integral, fold-away writing tablets, an example of these can be seen above right.

Provision for Wheelchair Users

Whatever type of establishment you’re sourcing seating for, it’s essential to ensure there is suitable disability access and space for wheelchair users. From removable banks of seating to portable writing desks, there are several options when it comes to making provision.

Whilst auditorium style seating is screwed to the floor and usually fitted in linked rows, it is possible to incorporate removable banks of 2 or 3 seats within the front or back row (dependent on the location of the entrance/exit). An example of this is shown below left where you can see two removable banks of 3 seats on the front row. The seats screw into the floor through a connecting bar which runs along the top of the base plates. Screw heads feature twist handles (shown circled in the image below) for ease of removal. You simply turn the handles to unscrew and the whole bank of 3 seats can be removed to make space for wheelchairs.

For lecture theatres and conference rooms where desks are needed, portable writing desks on the front row are a popular solution. As pictured below right, these desks can match all the other fixed desks in the room, the only difference being they have feet with castors, rather than being fixed to the floor. This type of desk can either be moved out of the way completely or moved to allow access for wheelchair users and then pushed back into position for use during the lecture or conference.

Auditorium seating with removable banks of seating on front row and lecture theatre with portable front row desks

Aesthetics of Auditorium Seating

Seat Composition

Once you’ve decided what type of seat and desk combination would work best in your establishment, you need to consider the aesthetics of the seats. Fabric colour is key to setting a tone and making an impact but your choice of desk colour and seat boards (if required) can also dramatically change the look.

Below is an example of how the you can tailor the same seat in the same colour fabric to create different looks. Below left, beech effect seat boards and desks break up the blue upholstery and carpet to give a smart, sleek finish to the room.

Below centre, black painted seat boards are striking against the blue fabric and, combined with the natural brick walls, create a totally different vibe.

Below right, fully upholstered seats combine with a paler shade of carpet to create a calming sea of blue in this university lecture theatre.

Blue auditorium seats shown with beech seat boards and desks, black seat boards and fully upholstered

Seating Configuration

If you already have a floor plan drawn up, this is a good starting point when approaching suppliers so they can see the available area and calculate how your chosen seats will fit. If you don’t have a layout drawing, potential suppliers can usually create one for you; you will simply need to provide them with the measurements of the room and the location of exits. They will be able to draw up a seating plan, taking into account fire regulations and best practice in line with British Standards.

BS 9999 is a British Standard that provides recommendations and guidance on the design, management and use of buildings to achieve reasonable standards of fire safety for all people in and around them. It is applicable to the design of new buildings, and to alterations, extensions and changes of use of an existing building including recommendations for theatres, cinemas and similar venues with an auditorium.

It details the maximum number of seats permitted in a row relative to the number of gangways and seat widths, and maximum travel distances to exits. If you are designing your own seating plan then it is recommended you consult this standard to ensure compliance.


Seating Installation

When commissioning a new installation of auditorium seating it usually makes sense to get the manufacturer or supplier to also undertake the installation as they will be familiar with the seating and will be able to fit it correctly and efficiently. They will also be able to deal with any problems that may arise during fitting without causing delays. You can of course use your own installation team or a local joiner if there is someone reliable you feel confident can do the job for you. For those on a tight budget or where only a small quantity of seats are required, it can be more cost effective to do this.


If you need advice on planning an auditorium seating installation or would like a no-obligation quotation for auditorium or conference seating, please complete and submit the short form below or click here to contact us.

This guide was first published on 17th Dec 2019 and was updated on 6th May 2021