We had a "Mustache Bash" themed after-party. It was perfect for our group because several members have distinct mustaches. Our entertainment for the evening also had a famous mustache: Jeff Foxworthy. Our dance band had mustaches as well. We also turned it into a mustache contest on social media, and it engaged attendees pre-show and during the convention leading up to the event. It was also very easy to find mustache décor. Our attendees really got into it and are still talking about it two years later.
Themes elevate the success of special events, 86 percent of planners agree (see this month's Research). But coming up with creative ideas is challenging to many. We asked planners to describe the best themed events they've ever planned or attended. Here in their own words (sent anonymously) are some highlights.
Many years ago I had the privilege of attending several presidential inaugural events and kept many items as mementos, which I used for inspiration years later when planning a meeting for 50 people in D.C., just one month before a presidential election. The meeting was at the historic Mayflower Hotel, which provided a beautiful setting. Here are a few of the things I incorporated into the three-day event.
• Instead of sending the usual email to announce that the registration site was open, I printed formal invitations that looked and read like the one I had received inviting me to the swearing-in ceremony, and we sent them via USPS.
• Custom name badges looked exactly like large political campaign buttons, with the attendee's name and a clever title that reflected a political or government position that resembled the position that person held within the organization (president, president-elect, secretary of state, etc.) or something personal about that person (e.g., a scuba-diving enthusiast was secretary of the navy). It was quite the conversation-starter at the opening event.
For inexpensive centerpieces at brunch, we used glass-cylinder vases lined with various historic images on antique-style paper (past presidents, Washington monuments, etc.). I found them in the hotel gift shop during a site visit, where they were sold as place mats.
• During one of the sessions, we directed an actor posing as a reporter (complete with trench coat and fedora) to slip into the back of the room. At a predetermined point in the speaker's presentation, the "reporter" stood up, stated he was from the Washington Post and started asking probing questions regarding the material being covered. The speaker played along. The whole thing brought on laughter and a healthy Q&A session in the meeting.
• We took the group on a scenic tour of New Hampshire and Massachusetts avenues (Embassy Row).
• The awards dinner that year was promoted as a state dinner. The entrance was flanked by "Secret Service agents" (hired talent) who were so convincing, everyone thought they were the real thing!
• In an elegant banquet room with a domed ceiling, one large table was set in a huge square, with magnificent tall floral arrangements of red roses. The banquet staff added a creative touch by placing votive candles all the way around the table that spelled out in Morse code, "We the people of the United States."
We recently held a French-themed fundraising dinner. Entertainment included a troupe from Cirque du Soleil, with street performers and artists outside the building. The venue was an 18th-century castle and grounds à la Dangerous Liaisons, featuring carriage rides, attendants in period costumes and an indoor garden dotted with statues and archways.
Dressed to distress
Our annual silent auction event last year was a mix of an ugly-sweater party and the showing of holiday movies. Everyone had a lot of fun, and it was an easy theme to incorporate into every aspect of the event.
Our goal was to grow sales, so we landed on "Reaching for New Horizons." We used fighter jets in our graphics, as well as horizon shots. The event took place at Miramar MCAS, the Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, where we were hosted by an F-18 squadron. Dinner was held in the Officer's Club. Giveaways included a flight jacket with the flag for each attendee's country. We also created a squadron patch reflecting our logo and included a patch from the squadron hosting us. It was one of best received meetings to date.
For a basketball-themed event, we hired Nets dancers and the team mascot. The lighted dance floor was themed, as were the favors -- basketball banks signed by the team mascot. We also had photo posters signed by the dancers, custom imprinted basketballs painted on by graffiti artists, basketball backboards used in décor, gobos, printed sweatshirts and T-shirts, and more.
We held a masquerade ball that had a charitable slant: Participants wore jeans and T-shirts, and donated the cost of a costume to one of three charities. Folks could make masks at the event as well, which was really cool.
I planned an "Alien Invasion" themed staff holiday party at a venue called the Moonrise Hotel in St. Louis. All décor and food was alien-themed, and we had a trivia night where all the categories were themed.
Our national sales meeting during uncertain times was held at the "Fear Factor" exhibit at Universal Studios in Orlando. The theme was a big hit, and
it was a great message to our salespeople, who had been given aggressive goals in a time of economic uncertainty.
For a Western barbecue night, along with themed food, table decorations, etc., we had our VIP ride onto the stage on the back of a bull. It was a riot! Venues may not allow that any longer, but the VIP's face was very memorable!