Remember your high school prom?
That either invoked fond or cringe-worthy memories (or maybe both). Let’s get more specific. Remember the theme of your prom? It was probably something like “Enchanted Kingdom,” “City of Lights,” or “A Starry Night.” Those themes tend to stick with you, don’t they?
The professional world continues the trend of theming corporate events. Planning an event and creating that theme comes with a set of challenges and requirements that change depending on why you’re having an event, who it’s for, and the results you’re hoping to achieve. A lot of time, energy, and funding goes into an event, especially if it’s spread out over the course of a few days or a week—wouldn’t you want to get the maximum yield for what you put in?
There is, after all, little point in theming your event if it goes unnoticed and unappreciated by attendees. There are ways to carry the spirit and personality of your meeting through all of your visual elements and production. Before we go into it, we’d like to address something first.
Why are you theming it to begin with?
This isn’t prom. You’re not just commemorating a cultural experience. Before we even throw a list at you, it’s important to know why a theme is still important. Injecting personality into your meeting can help make the entire point of the event stick in your audience’s mind, tie the entire meeting together, and keep attendees’ energy high throughout the event. An engaged audience is an attentive one. The best themes reinforce why your audience is there to begin with.
Here are 5 ways to ensure that your event has the right personality.
1) Collaborate Early
If you’re bringing in a team to help plan and produce your event, bring them in early. Production and theme design go more smoothly when the team is brought in at the very beginning of the process. That way, they can brainstorm with you instead of learning about the theme after the fact. “We can bring an outside perspective to provide an educational and supportive mix of feedback,” says Cary Williams, Brella’s event operations manager. “When we collaborate with your internal team during the brainstorming process we can discuss with you the visual, aesthetic, and practical sides of theme support, instead of forcing the visual and production elements to fit a preset theme or tagline.”
Partnering with the meeting and/or production planning team when your idea is in its infancy encourages collaboration, and helps the production team suss out conflicting ideas and get a better grasp of what you’re trying to achieve with the theme.
Your production team wants what you want—a successful event with a relevant, memorable theme that drives your message. Let them help you develop the theme and give feedback to ensure that your idea is executed well.
2) Match the Personality to the Message
Driving your message is exactly what your event should do.
“One of the reasons you choose a theme, a tagline, a branding element, or a logo,” says Mark Mallchok, Brella’s executive meeting producer, “is to reinforce what it is you’re all there to do. The best themes are the ones that support the business, training, or sales objective of the team that’s present.”
When the event’s theme and the meetings’ objective support one another, they reinforce each other. This way, neither half of the whole can be ignored, and attendees 1) know what the theme is and 2) retain the purpose of the meeting.
If you’re training people on new software, and your training event’s personality is an old spaghetti western, something has gone awry. Dressing up like cowboys sounds fun, and it is fun, but not in this context. It’s not helpful. The theme can’t distract from or contradict what you’re all there to do. And if your event personality is overly complex, you run the risk of your purpose getting lost. “You have to go back to what your audience is there for, and what you’re trying to do from a business objective standpoint,” explains Mallchok.
3) The Economy of Scale
Would you take the same approach for a single day event as you would a week-long conference?
We hope not!
The length and scale of the event you’re planning for plays an integral role in identifying the appropriate theme. The requirements of a single day event are different from an event stretched over multiple days. Some themes are so intricate or involved that they may take multiple days to realize, and trying to communicate that in a single day would be difficult. The message could get lost or be confusing.
For a single day event, keep it simple to keep it effective. Your theme shouldn’t have to work overly hard to communicate your company branding and message and doesn’t need to be grandiose. If you’re throwing a gala, you can get a little fancy and have a prom-worthy ambiance, but it shouldn’t be overly complicated.
For a week-plus long affair, an appropriately scaled theme will help tie everything together and bring cohesiveness to your message. Keeping it fresh involves building on your theme throughout that week, and that can be as simple as using a different color each day for your signage, subtle variations in language and visuals, and creating an ongoing narrative with video elements that—you guessed it—reinforce your event’s personality.
4) Theme Support—Before, During, and After
Let’s go back to prom. High school students look forward to it because it’s the big event of the high school experience. In the corporate world, however, events happen all the time. Your attendees have been invited to half a dozen of them over the course of a year, and they have options. Gaining momentum beforehand helps your event stand out, and starts the engagement well in advance.
All pre-materials, such as eblasts, should communicate the theme. “Most people are attending meetings nonstop. Identify what this meeting is in every communication so they know what they’re in for,” says Williams.
“Consistent visuals, branding, and design make it easier to stay in the brain, and your theme might convince them to prioritize attending your meeting,” Mallchok adds. “Your theme is your branding, and you have to market that brand as surely as you market a product.”
Support your theme during the event with visual elements—video, PowerPoint, signage, colors. If your event is stretched out over a few days or a week, make sure all elements are coordinated so that everything that goes out is in one tight package. Express your event’s personality a little differently each day by changing it up, because if it remains the same the entire time, it begins to blend into the background and you no longer “see” it.
There is also a cost-effective, free way to provide additional support.
Don’t let your eblasts and signage carry the brunt of the work—bring it to the stage and have your keynote speakers and presenters verbally bring the theme into the discussion. Incorporate it in the breakout sessions. Commit to it. “The most budget conscious way to reinforce your theme is through your speakers,” says Williams. “Support your visuals—it costs you nothing to have your speakers reinforce the message to keep the theme present throughout.”
Let’s go back to building on that theme. Each day of the event is an opportunity to dive a little deeper and present something new for the audience to discover and learn from. Take a tagline such as “Soar to New Heights.” Break “Soar” into its components and focus on a letter each day, and then link it all back to connect to the greater whole.
So much time and energy is put into the actual event that it would be a shame to lose that momentum after the fact. We consult Brella’s design director, Dennis Marinosci, for words of wisdom on pre- and-post theme support. “Your theme and brand should have recognition from beginning to end. I would argue that post-support is more important than pre, especially for those who couldn’t attend. Positive feedback from coworkers and brand recognition from beginning to end makes sure the theme resonates.” The reminder keeps the theme, and thus what they learned, fresh in everyone’s minds.
“If you’re sending out a lot of information afterwards, send it out as recapped information,” adds Williams. “Those informational items are useful for attendees that might have missed a session along with people who couldn’t make it. The continuation of the theme helps them feel pulled into the event themselves.”
5) Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Communicating your event’s personality to your attendees should be clear—no guess work involved. Your attendees are not at a murder mystery dinner; the theme should not be a surprise to them, nor should they be left wondering how it fits in to the reason they’re there. If you have sub-themes to accommodate multiple divisions of a single company, harness every aspect into one all-encompassing theme that works for the event as a whole, yet accommodates those subdivisions. Think complimentary instead of competing.
Ensuring your event has the right personality is as simple as collaborating early with your event production team, matching your theme with your message, considering scale, supporting your theme before, during, and after the event, and using consistent messaging from the very first communication to the very last. Follow these five steps, and you’ve got yourself a memorable, engaging event that enhances your goals and messaging.
And while there is nothing wrong with being nostalgic about prom, don’t bring it to your corporate sales, marketing, and training meetings. How we all learn and have fun has changed a bit since high school…and so should your theme. Brella knows how to plan your meeting, execute your event, and have fun as a grownup; just ask us.