What Planners Think About Themes

Planners agree: creative messaging enhances meetings

By the Numbers
32% of meeting professionals always establish a theme for the meetings or events they plan; 62 percent sometimes do so.

38% feel extremely comfortable developing theme ideas.

15% say they would never repeat the same theme -- not even for a different group.

1% reach out to family and friends for theme ideas.

Are themes passé? Not by a long shot. In fact, establishing themes for key meetings and events is important to the vast majority of meeting professionals, revealed a recent M&C survey. Of the 202 respondents, 85 percent believe an effective theme enhances their gatherings. We also asked where they find inspiration, and to describe the best themed event they ever planned or attended. For their insights, go to here.






Meeting Planners' All-Time Favorite Event Themes

We asked the 202 meeting professionals who answered M&C's latest poll on event themes to name the best themed event they've ever planned or attended. Following is a pretty much verbatim sampling of their responses. (For more, see ideas your peers shared in 2010 here.)

 "A Party in Our Pants" was an advertising awards event with a pants theme. We even gave an award for the Best Pants at the event. Everyone wore their "craziest pants." Winning guy had pants with twinkling lights that also played music.

 '50s theme for client's 50th anniversary...50 favorite things were given out, rock 'n' roll, records, sock-hop décor, '50s music and more. Everyone enjoyed, and they could dress like '50s - poodle skirts, skinny pants and ties, saddle oxfords - or not.

 We held a Wild West theme with outdoor barbecue, fire pit and horseback riding.

 "Where the Grass is Greener!" I covered a venue with Astroturf and used the theme for all décor, text, F&B, entertainment, etc. Ceilings were covered with galvanized watering cans overflowing with fiber-optic lights. Tabletops were covered with Astroturf and droplets of crystal beads. Guests loved dressing in their favorite shade of green. (Submitted by Peggy Young & Associates, www.peggy-young.com.)

 Would rather not give away best ones.

 "Transcending Uncertainty" (with an eagle soaring above a landscape of dangerous ground). Four sub-themes tied to our new strategic plan (and allowed for the framework of our Board Chair's "vision speech"): Leveraging Our Wisdom; Defining Our Value; Communicating Our Significance; Engaging in Authentic Partnership.

 Each year, the last night of our incentive trip has been dubbed "The White Party." Everyone dresses in all white, on the beach! By the last night, everyone has a great tan, such an incredible photo op! People talk about that the rest of the year.

 Wow, there are so many I can think of...I suppose recently a Gatsby-themed event, but masquerades are also wonderful if the attendees come in beautiful costumes.

 M*A*S*H (quite a few years ago)

 For a double birthday celebration, combining the years of the two people; for instance, "The 175th Birthday Celebration." Sorry, this wasn't work-related, but in my opinion it was the best.

 "Boot Camp." It was a training initiative, and we were able to build in many useful team-building and fun activities. We also did a "competitive wine tasting," which was very successful.

 "Tour de Force" (a sales incentive in Paris)

 I'm not sharing.

 All about music unifying the generation gap within the company and strengthening cooperation. Participants needed to write a song on their experience in New York, rehearse with a professional band in a professional studio, and perform on the scene at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square.

 Interactive Olympic events party for an Olympic corporate sponsor, actually using local amateurs to showcase and educate attendees in boxing, fencing, basketball, shooting, track and field.....fun!

 Olympic theme in Atlanta, post-1996 games. The city had tons of props to use.

 "It's a Wonderland," based on Alice in Wonderland theme/characters

 "Driven" - Formula One racing elements were mixed in the corporate branding.

 "You Rock"


 "Totally Exposed!"

 "What Skills Will You Need in the Next 10 Years?"

 "Who? Only You!"

 "It's a Jungle Out There"

 "Paint the Town Red" - Everything was red, including food.

 "What Matters Most" - It took on both business and personal elements. Ultimately, it was each individual's decision to determine "what matters most."

 "Don't Be a Dinosaur" (mailed piece showing Jurassic Park-type theme)

 "Chase the Clouds Away!"

 "Experience the Power of One"

 Many years ago at a sales and marketing meeting we were faced with bad quarterly sales numbers. The theme was that we were at war. The audience wore camouflage and helmets, and the VP of sales wore a dress uniform and stood in front of a projected American Flag. He concluded by giving a Pattonesque speech about the need to crush the enemy.

 "Purpose Passion Power"

 "Mission: Possible"

 "Winning in the New Frontier." It was a Star Trek theme.

 "Bids, Glorious Bids!" for an annual auction. Inspired by our holiday show Oliver! at our theater, this auction raised money for our children's education programs.

 "Let the Magic Begin" for a meeting in Orlando

 "Customers 1st!"

 Patriotic - Event was held in D.C., team building was to raise money and supplies for Freedom Service Dogs, and Saturday night bash was red, white and blue, from décor to talent to food.

 "Flip Flops and Flamingos"

 "Continuing the Legacy"

 "Spirit of Entrepreneurship"

 "Symphony for the Senses" was a good theme for a flower show. Allowed us to bring in a lot of music, food, etc.

 Our Texas-themed event. Our meeting was at Barton Creek, and we had line dancing, armadillo races, old-fashioned barbecue and a calf-roping machine.

 "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

 "Embrace, Engage, Empower"


 "Ubuntu": I am because you are, we are because God is.

 Sorry, not giving up my ideas :) that easily.


In addition to the sources of inspiration mentioned in our poll (including colleagues, media, top management, third parties/suppliers, clients, and friends/family), planners noted other ways they find event themes. Here's a sampling of their responses.

 I get theme ideas from everywhere and everyone. There's no one best source.

 As an independent planner, creativity is one of my specialties, and I always enjoy developing and producing new ideas -before they become mainstream!

 I mostly start from scratch to ensure that we are not using a shopworn theme.

 I craft our themes from a wide range of sources/concepts/approaches. It is always connected to our larger strategic efforts/plan, and it is always inspiring and motivating, with words and graphics that we bring to life throughout the entire meeting (signs, structures, printed materials, speeches, marketing, website, etc.).

 Social media, the ambience of the venue and information from the clients

 Our marketing communications/creative services department

 We mostly brainstorm theme ideas with work colleagues but also use suggestions from other planners, friends, family and ideas from industry happenings.

 It's based on location and conference content.

 We get to the main message of the meeting as defined by the client and then brainstorm creative from there.

 It's a little bit all of the above and always need to speak to the overall strategy of the corporation and to the specific goals of the meeting.

 Developed by our incoming board president

 A little bit of all of the above, just years of being exposed, trying to read what is current, also talk to vendors

 Myself (third-party planner)

 It is so specific, the type of event. Tough to answer. Sometimes media, hot industry topics, the CEO's idea, fun new buzz words...

 It is based on what we want to convey to our membership that year.

 Books on theming; play off hotel

 Our president determines.

 Our theme often corresponds with our marketing objective for the year.

 You can never have too many sources for good ideas/themes.

 Local committee chooses a theme that is representative of the host area.

 For one association, we use "coordinated" themes for three events held in May and June. For instance, "Blue Skies," "Nothin' But Blue Skies" and "Blue Skies From Now On."

 Current issues of concern to the industry

 Events have a reason for being...If the theme speaks to that reason in a creative way, then it all comes together in the minds of attendees, presenters and vendors.

 Inspiration comes from everywhere. I've had fundraisers where I brainstormed themes with my department or my volunteer committee. In other cases, the theme is handed down from the CEO/president/committee, and you just have to roll with it. Other times you develop them yourself - but it's always best to have a group to brainstorm and discuss.

 We brainstorm as a team. Each person's individual ideas help morph an entire concept.

 From the arts, science, current events, fashion, reading, nature, you name it!

 We create an ad hoc group, specifically charged with theme development.

 Inspiration comes from all of these and MORE!