Creating your centrepiece: How to make your theme the focal point of your next event

By Kristin Hosie

The theme of a meeting should be considered its ‘centrepiece.’ In the events industry, we know all about the centrepiece. Sometimes its floral; sometimes it’s made of ice. In any case, it’s the focal point of a function’s dining table. Your theme should be the focal point of your meeting – a jumping off point for everything that follows and in every aspect of the meeting from start to finish. Determining your theme should help to streamline your planning in order to achieve your end goal.
How to make your theme the focal point of your next event
It is important to decide on your end goal, or call to action, in order to determine the best meeting theme as well as execution method. There could be a number of stakeholders involved in determining a theme. Maybe it’s your CEO who wants to drive usage of a newly implemented program. Or possibly it’s a vice president who needs to motivate the sales team to exceed targets for the quarter. In either case, developing a theme from these goals is essential to getting your message across.

When in the early planning stages, try to create a think-tank or brainstorming group with key stakeholders. It is often left too late in the planning process and the theme becomes more of an afterthought. Often themes are considered to be little more than choosing décor or entertainment, instead of being incorporated into each aspect of the event. With the help of these key team members, determine your meeting purpose, which can then be translated into a theme.

Here are a few keys to success with theme development:

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

There is evidence to suggest that repetition is the best method for instilling an idea or concept into someone’s mind. This serves us well in developing a meeting theme or concept. The theme should be expressed from initial registration, to on-site, to all collateral materials, to décor, to entertainment right through to post-event evaluations or follow up. By intertwining elements of the theme into each aspect of the meeting, you are subconsciously delivering your message over and over to participants.

Less is more

Keep it simple when developing a theme. It’s easy to churn out complicated, drawn out messages you think might make a good theme. But more often than not the more complicated you make it, the more the message is lost or forgotten. Stick to short, precise, key ideas you want your attendees to take away. This will ensure your message will endure long after your meeting ends.

Do something — anything — to break up the meeting

In order for your message to be fully understood, it is imperative that you keep the full attention of your attendees. Not an easy task with all the distractions surrounding us. In order to keep the attention of the delegation, you need to engage your audience. By involving them in the presentation — yet another opportunity to reiterate your theme — you keep engagement high and retention levels equally elevated.

Divide up your session into smaller components by doing something to break it up. It could be an interactive Q&A midway through, it could be a skit, a short video clip, or a mini exercise session. A big trend in corporate meeting planning is gamification. Take your attendee retention to a new level by providing an interactive gaming app or participant-driven activity to ensure your message is heard loud and clear.

Take advantage of your pre- and post- opportunities

Remember repetition? Well it doesn’t start and end on event day! Utilize your opportunity to create pre-meeting teasers that hint at or even share outright your meeting theme. This can start the attendees thinking about concepts even before the meeting starts and pre-engages them. The same goes for your follow up methods post meeting. Here’s your chance to reiterate your theme’s message once more to your audience. This can act as a reminder of your call to action.

Share success stories

Everyone enjoys sharing success stories. This is extremely motivating for colleagues and does wonders for improving morale. Another opportunity to reiterate your theme is to share related stories. For example, if Tom has exceeded his Q1 and Q2 goals and your theme is “achieving new heights”, Tom can be asked pre-event to be a presenter at the meeting, to provide his own tips and best practices to his colleagues about how these goals were achieved. This idea could easily be incorporated throughout the session, giving those with success stories to share that relate to your theme a five-minute window to share with the group. This is yet another way to break up the monotony of a general session, and allows for restatement of the theme by their peers.

Creativity is key

Coming up with a theme can be relatively easy if the right team members are involved. Developing ways to incorporate your theme throughout the meeting is where creativity is so important. This is where an event planner’s experience comes into play. Playing off key words in the event’s decor, utilizing a new technology, designing food menus around your theme, these are all creative ways to get your message across. Imagination can take a theme from acceptable to remarkable.

Most importantly, have fun with your theme creation! Meetings can be monotonous. An annual event someone is required to attend year after year can seem less than exciting, but this is your opportunity to break that cycle. Think out of the box and try to put yourself in their shoes. A surprise mid-meeting could mean the difference between a successful takeaway and a room of bored attendees. A seamlessly delivered theme can ensure your message is heard and retained long after your attendees return to the office. Don’t get complacent. Challenge your inner event planner to make your next meeting’s “centerpiece” unforgettable.

About the author

Kristin Hosie, CMP, has nearly a decade of corporate event planning experience. Formerly a third-party planner, she is now Field Marketing Specialist – Canada for VMware Inc., a software company that provides cloud and virtualization software and services globally. Kristin has extensive international conference and event management experience as well as a track record of leadership and success with her events. Connect with Kristin at hosiek@vmware.com or on Twitter @KristinHosie

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