Theming an event is how you establish the
energy, mood and emotion your guests will feel and enjoy. Theming, or styling and event
is achieved through location, décor, props, lighting, music, food and beverage. Though
you might not carry one of these themes heavily throughout an entire conference, business
meeting or trade show, they are all suitable for cocktail parties, fundraisers, gala events,
icebreaker receptions and networking opportunities at business events.
How you theme an event is based entirely on the vision of the event which you established
in video presentation #4: Visions, Goals and Objectives in Event Planning. Let’s quickly
recap the elements that make up the vision of an event; they include:
* The overarching goal * Any number of sub-goals
* Who the attendees are * Whether the event is benevolent, for profit
or public and press relations focused * What information needs to be imparted and
how that will be done * What type of destination is best suited
for the purpose of the event * When will the event take place
* What are the attendees’ expectations and how can you motivate their attendance
* What is your budget * Do you need networking opportunities or
multiple venues * What are your environmental and green considerations
for the event As you developed your vision, you asked and
answered all of these questions. Your vision for the event dictates the theme of the event.
Let’s look at a number of theme possibilities and what type of events they are best suited
for as well as how to implement them. Note that we’ll use the terms theme an and theming,
and style or styling interchangeably. The beach theme can be used for almost any
type of festivity. It is, for the most part, a party-styled theme: cheerful, relaxing,
fun, casual, it can also be “dressed up” and made more formal for a ceremony or reception.
Beach themes can be implemented indoors or out, and feature the cool colors of sand and
aqua surf, or hot tropical fabric colors. These themes are characterized by rattan furniture,
palm trees, tropical birds and flowers, umbrellas, music from the likes of Jimmy Buffet, tropical
drinks, and seafood. In this image, the planner used randomly place white holiday lights to
give the room the ambiance of a starry night sky. Under lighting a blue-green drape nicely
evokes a waterfront. Defining a casual theme is somewhat subjective;
however, this event style implies that attendees and guests do not have to dress in business
attire or formally and the atmosphere will be relaxed. Casual styling is great for clinics,
workshops, intensives and other business events where the participant might even get a bit
dirty. It is also well suited to any type of outdoor event and events with a young theme,
a convening of video game designers for example. The degree of casual dress can always be specified
in an invitation, and casual styling can be a great budget saver; folks who are told they
can wear jeans and t-shirts throughout a convention, for example, are not expecting crystal dinner
services and elegant floral displays. They are likely to expect beer and wine with appetizers
at cocktail parties and burgers on the dinner menu.
A classically themed event can go in any of two directions: Greco Roman or Mad Men. The
term classic, when applied to event planning, is a bit nebulous. It essentially implies
hankering back to a time when a way of doing things became iconic. For business events,
think 1940s through 1960s, suit and tie, just the basics design and décor for the event
with stand-up cocktail receptions and moderately priced but good-quality sit-down dinners.
This classic style is about getting business done without much pomp and fuss.
On the other hand, consider styling a special or social event based on Roman gladiators,
Greek columns and sapphire and white fabrics, flowers and lighting. Togas may be appropriate,
but probably not for business events! Best suited for private parties, belly dancers
for entertainment, Greek food, retsina, Ouzo and music nicely round out this event style.
There are two types of country themes as well: Country and Western and country living. The
former is almost always characterized by a barbecue, but may also be more formal, black
tie and boots for example. What is always present at a C&W styled event is country music.
In some industries—rodeo for example—a business meeting would likely be attended
by people who are most comfortable in their western boots and two-stepping to country
music. For special and social events, almost everyone enjoys donning western wear and kicking
up their heals to country rock. The country living style theme is equally
desirable for casual weddings, showers and reunions as it is for home and garden trade
shows and parenting and public lands management conventions. Styling for this type of event
begs for meadow-flower arrangements, simplified food and beverage services featuring fresh,
locally grown delicacies, and background music such as Tchaikovsky’s Four Seasons.
Cultural events typically focus on a single nation or culture or bringing nations and
cultures together. Although the business portion of a cultural event might be fairly standard
meeting planning, the design and entertainment styling for a cultural event is almost always
colorful, tasty, somewhat exotic and tremendous fun to coordinate. Tahtonka.com, a site that
embraces and promotes global cultural diversity, lists an annual calendar of cultural events
worldwide which include: Art Dubai, the Ocean Sciences meeting in Oregon, the New Zealand
International Arts Festival, Italy’s Global Education Festival, Ireland’s Festival of
World Cultures, and Berlin’s A World Without Walls among dozens of others. Although your
cultural event might not be a large and scope as these, and it may not be in another country,
you can look to such events for theme inspiration. All it takes is research; you need to know
about the art, cultural preferences, colors, foods, beverages, music and passions of the
cultures you host, then incorporate them, in equal measure into multi-themed décor
and events, or a number of events each with a strong and well developed cultural theme.
Elegance is a mood and spirit more than a style. In theming events, choose an era of
elegance that best suits your event vision. If the event is appropriate for historical
styling, look to the foods, fashion and décor of the Renaissance, Elizabethan, Baroque,
Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras. If the vision dictates theming based
on near-history elegance in North America, look to the Victorian, La Belle Epoque, Art
Nouveau, and Roaring 20s eras as well as 23 years of Hollywood leading up to the 1970s.
Keep in mind that a Great Gatsby theme, for example, will require quite a bit of research,
and the authenticity of your final production will be challenging: period food, fashion
and transportation won’t be easy to acquire and will be pricey. That said, there’s no
reason not to play the music of the time and decorate to just that theme; even if it’s
impractical or even silly to ask guests to dress from the era, they’ll enjoy being
transported back to it. Formal events are almost always stand-alone
evening events (or afternoon weddings), or the culmination festivity of a larger event.
By definition, tuxedos and ball gowns are required. Formal affairs are never inexpensive,
and are usually elegant. When you are designing a formal affair, think crystal chandeliers,
impossibly large and glorious flower arrangements, champagne, waltzing on marble floors, canapés,
one wait staff for every four to six people, powder room attendants, valet parking, and
a full 15-plus place setting for each attendee. You’ll need at least a string quartet, reception
line and master of ceremonies. Reviewing periods from the Elegance theme category—or the
modern style—is a good place to start for formal affair ideas.
Fun events can be anything that strikes a person’s fancy and can be used equally for
business meetings and entertainment at fundraisers, rallies, trade shows and conventions. Types
of fun themes include Mardi Gras, fiesta, Top Gun, Indiana Jones adventures, Orient
Express, Phantom of the Opera, etc. As shown in this graphic, even giant-card gambling
themes are crowd pleasers. Although many business affairs are seriously about business during
the working hours, integrate fun-themed after-hour events into your agenda to give your attendees
a break from work, and a great icebreaker for socializing and networking.
If you are holding a business event during the holidays, it is a great idea to decorate
the meeting, conference and trade show venues accordingly. Always keep in mind that many
holidays have religious significance; unless your attendees base is solidly of one religion
during a festive period, make sure to integrate a neutral holiday décor. For example, during
the September holidays use lights and greenery, candles and white flowers instead of Christmas
trees. For a spring event, don’t focus on anything like the Easter bunny, instead use
spring flowers—tulips, daffodils, and greenery—in floral displays, and bright spring colors
in fabrics and lighting. If you have catered lunches during a holiday event, consider having
the caterer serve a variety of seasonal food samplings from around the world.
Intimate after-hours get-togethers at business events can be great stress relievers. For
example, if the theme of the daily agenda is fairly intense and intensive, your attendees
will be ready to relax in a quiet, tasteful setting at the end of the day. Lighting and
small groupings of people are the two easiest ways to achieve an intimate setting. Lower
the lights, play soft classical music and decorate tables in such a way that a table
of eight is divided into two sets of four by a high center arrangement. Intimate settings
are, of course, appropriate for some ceremonies, a small engagement party for example, but
they are also well suited for day-end decompressing at almost any business event.
Ultra-modern design and décor for conferences and meetings can really focus attendees. If
your client is in the technology business, use event space that has very clean and contemporary
furniture, and décor, and make sure all the audio/visual technology is state-of-the-art.
A modern space should have clean lines, and a carefully chosen number of colors; this
conference room achieves this well with the broad black and white wall striping and shocking
green floor. After hours affairs in following a modern theme might be held in an all-glass
room lit with column lighting and featuring glass-topped tables without linens and metal
frame chairs in chrome or a vibrant color. Modern food and beverage might feature all-vegetarian
delicacies of sushi and sake. Some types of event are better suited to outdoor
venues than others; it’s easier, for example, to hold a trade show indoors where utilities
are readily accesses and inclement weather isn’t an issue. That said, boat shows typically
have trade and consumer goods and services booths around the in-water venues, and outdoor
wedding have always been a favorite style. “Outdoor” isn’t so much a style or theme
as it is a location. The first rule of thumb in planning an outdoor event is to make sure
you have ample shelter (tents for example) for presenters, attendees and features, that
power and heat of cooling systems are on site, and that sanitary facilities are ample. Once
the mechanics of an outdoor themed event are well in place, the décor can be any style
at all. Remember that outdoor events aren’t worth the additional challenges if the outdoors
isn’t used and enjoyed. Few business events lend themselves to romantic
theming unless the products or services represented are romance industry related: lingerie, champagne,
romantic novels for example. In fact, it might be considered irresponsible to foster romance
at a business conference as it might take attendee’s minds off the business at hand.
If, however, the setting is suitable for a romantic theme, red is an easily identifiable
romance color, candlelight and chocolate must be a part of the setting, champagne can be
served, and hearts and roses are good design elements. A romantic setting can also mirror
an intimate setting theme; minus the hearts and candles, after-hours events that take
place in a fine restaurant, discretely lit represent a mature version of a romance theme.
Sports themes can be very effective for tributes, social events, and sports-industry conferences
and trade shows. If your planning budget allows, consider decorating meeting and social venues
with sports items that the attendees can also take away as gifts at the end of the event.
Sports themes can also be done fairly inexpensively; people expect hot dogs and beer when networking
at a sports themed event, and, as shown in this image, inexpensive balloon art can be
used to set the scene. Creative Impact Group lists 93 event themes
their clients like. These “themed” event styles include: the 1950’s, Mash, Speakeasy,
Futuristic, White on White, Gilligan’s Island Shipwreck Party, Murder Mystery, Jurassic
Park, Carnival, Casablanca, Wild, Wild West and dozens more. For a bit of fun at a fundraiser,
set up a speakeasy styled event and ask guests to dress in the 1920s period, or recreate
Hawkeye’s swamp for a Mash themed icebreaker on the opening night of a military memorabilia
consumer show or conference. Research the style a bit to determine what the favorite
beverages of the period were and what music played on the radio.
The key to proper theming of an event is give serious consideration to the goals of the
events and the demographics of the attendees. The Mash theme, for example, would also be
very appropriate for a conference of emergency room surgeons. Also consider whether attendees
would be at all inclined to dress for a period-themed event, or if you should just decorate to the
theme and let them have fun stepping out of the daily grind and into another time. Be
creative and mindful of your budget, and you’ll be very successful at creating memorable themed