Speakers and presenters are not the only ones that need to be brought on board, advised Terence Donnelly, vice president of Experient, with offices throughout the U.S.
“Everyone, including the caterers, the DMC and the destination hosts, needs to be kept in the loop about what you’re trying to convey,” he said. “Keep the message going during banquets and social events. You don’t want to go overboard, but you want people to be thinking about why they’re there.”
Creative and sensory elements such as colors and graphics can also play a part in supporting a theme. In particular, an arresting color used throughout the event can go a long way toward stimulating interest and holding attention, according to Devitt.
“Because people are so inundated with information these days, it takes many touchpoints to get their attention and keep them focused,” she said. “One way to do this is through color. For example, at an event for a company that makes an orange-flavored product, we had orange in the invitations and washed the building in orange light. We had orange-colored drinks, orange table linens and even the waiters’ bow ties were orange. It kept everyone on message.”
Another way to reinforce a theme is through visual graphics that are consistent in such components as the conference logo, signage, registration and website design, according to May.
“If you go with a slogan for the conference, keep it brief and catchy or you will lose people’s attention,” he said. “It should be like writing an effective headline.”
However, when using colors or any other kinds of graphics, it’s important to understand the demographics of the audience, according to Radabaugh.
“You really have to learn the cultural nuances of the market you’re dealing with, especially if it’s international,” she said. “For example, colors may have certain meanings in Japan and China that they don’t have in the U.S. You have to be mindful of this.”
Sometimes delivering the theme can be as simple as making use of a key word or letter throughout an event that ties into the organization’s name or logo, Donnelly said.
“For example, during Experient’s annual customer event, the theme is always built around the letter E,” he said. “Last year, we used Engagement as a theme and wove it into the content, emphasizing the things we do to engage with our customers.”
A Little Levity
When weaving the theme into the program, injecting some whimsy and humor into even a serious topic can be effective, Devitt said.
“When doing a conference on risk-management for an insurance group, a planner I know used the game Risk for the centerpieces at lunch and put yellow cautionary tape around the meeting room,” she said. “People were crazy about it. As long as you qualify your audience and don’t get too annoyingly cute, a little levity can liven things up.”