Event Theming Masterclass: 5 Special Event Planners Share Their Learnings

Coming up with a successful event theme is no easy feat, we help you navigate the dos and don’ts of event theming and also look to the experts for their tips and advice.

Although it may not feel like it initially, themes can make the event planning process easier because they focus ideas and lend towards generating their own energy. Once you have a theme in place, it can run away with itself and inspire you to come up with décor, props, backdrops and lighting around this singular idea.

The specificity of a theme helps attendees to get out of their comfort zone and can involve costumes or fancy dress which generates a pre-event buzz as guests discuss and decide on what they are going to wear.  

The downside is, before any of this, you need to actually decide on a theme and this can be particularly tricky and overwhelming as you may not know where to start. Luckily, we have you covered and these are some things to consider when choosing.   

Event Theming Masterclass: 5 Special Event Planners Share Their Learnings

5 Things To Consider When Choosing An Event Theme

  1. Purpose
  2. Demographic
  3. Venue
  4. Budget
  5. Season
  1. Purpose

Why are they all here? You should be able to answer this question before even considering the theme because it will partly determine the type of event you are throwing as well as what you want to achieve. A fundraiser may need different theme elements than a celebration so knowing exactly what the purpose of the event is will help to discount some themes for you and make choosing easier.

  1. Demographic

Who is your target audience and what do you expect from them? Are they likely to dress up? If your theme is reliant on costumes, will you be enticing your demographic or putting them off? Knowing who you are aiming your theme to as well as the age range (and other parameters) will help avoid embarrassment, there’s no point hosting an intricate historical theme for a kid’s 5th birthday!

  1. Venue

What is the size you are working with? Is the space outside or inside, or has it got any limitations for use? Does the venue have features that might complement a specific theme? For example, an old historic house might lend to a historical or period era theme whereas a museum could have the event space for a prehistoric or ‘night at the museum’ theme. Having a venue in mind before the theme is essential because it can help outline possibilities and inspire you.

  1. Budget

This is a big consideration because with all the DIY event creativity in the world, some themes should not be considered without some sort of budget otherwise they look cheap and tacky. Of course, if you have a larger budget, there are more theme opportunities as well but you should consider your venue as well as larger spaces with intricate themes can be more costly than more compact spaces.

  1. Season

Although your theme doesn’t have to match your season, (in fact, it can be a quirky alternative to do the opposite, for example a winter wonderland in summer or a luau in winter) it is important to take note of the weather as well as any notable events that could be occurring at that time of year. Knowing this, you can either incorporate or avoid certain themes or add a twist on a previous idea, e.g. a camping theme in December would have to be brought inside and it would change the dynamic of the theme and event.

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10 Event Theming Tips From The Experts

Credit: MGM Resorts Event Products, Kelly Creative Las Vegas

Think Of The End Game

“Choosing a winning event theme really comes down to the end goal of the client. It has to make sense and be able to tell the story and convey a specific message. A theme doesn’t need to be blatant and spelled out, but alluded to and made to be experiential. It can evoke feelings or emotions to tell the story.” 

Kate Patay, CPCE Chief Strategy Officer of Patay Consulting

Stay On Topic

“There are ways to incorporate them [themes] without making a room look like a prop shop exploded.  A theme needs to be fun and engaging and have some tie in to the purpose of the event. They must relate in some manner to the demographic of the attendees and be something which is relevant as it relates to the group or the setting.”

– Lenny Talarico, CSEP, CHE, Executive Director of Events, MGM Resorts Event Productions and  instructor for Event Design & Production at The International School of Hospitality

Integrate Audio & Visual

Projections, slideshow, and video mapping that relate directly with the theme. Have a playlist of songs that again relates to the theme. Also, have a great Event Designer who understands the theme and all the elements necessary to transform the space.

– Gisele Barcelo, Events Manager Consultant, GEM Events NYC

Simple Yet Effective

I always advise clients that it’s important to weave a theme/solid brand through the event but at the same time not over do it. Simple really does win people over. When you overdo the design, your audience is going to get lost in the event

– Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, Owner & Chief Event Strategist, Red Velvet Events, a Global DMC Partner

Create A Journey

When you’re thinking of a theme try to imagine how it will play out and take the attendees through a journey from start to finish. Start with the invites and the first communication your audience receives to make sure that every element you include plays back to that storyline. Each part of your design should guide them through the experience and leave them wanting to turn that page to find out what happens next.

Kate Patay, CPCE Chief Strategy Officer of Patay Consulting

Know Your Audience

Know the demographics of your audience, expectations of the client and the offerings at the venue – theming can be simple with huge enhancements or completely unique.  Listen to what your client is looking for and create from there!

Chris Coniglio CMP, Independent Special Events Manager and Production Manager, Blue Liger Productions, LLC

Work The Entrance

First impressions still matter. I strongly suggest investing the budget here to make an impression that is not just Instagram worthy but also on brand.

– Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, Owner & Chief Event Strategist, Red Velvet Events, a Global DMC Partner

Add An Element Of Surprise

Keep them waiting. An unveiling, flash mob or use AR (Augmented Reality) to excite the audience mid-way through the event.

– Gisele Barcelo, Events Manager Consultant, GEM Events NYC

It’s In The Details

No detail is too small to be overlooked… decor, food, and entertainment from start to finish will all play a part in the theme. Subtle hints of the theme should be woven throughout the program for optimal cohesion across all of those channels from the moment they walk in the door until the event ends. Supporting that with strong detail work will help you to achieve this balance and goal. 

Kate Patay, CPCE Chief Strategy Officer of Patay Consulting

Anticipation

How are you teasing the invited guests to what to expect to your event? You should definitely PLAN AHEAD so that assuming you are using a motif that it starts with the invitation (whether that be physical or electronic or even website).

– Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, Owner & Chief Event Strategist, Red Velvet Events, a Global DMC Partner

4 Event Theming Mistakes To Avoid

Credit: Lenny Talarico, CSEP, CHE, Executive Director of Events, MGM Resorts Event Productions

Know Your Space

Themes should complement the environment, not fight against the space. There is nothing worse than ultra-modern furnishings in a traditionally appointed ballroom.  Evaluate the space and work with the existing architecture to enhance not recreate the setting. Understanding why the client selected a particular space and then determining how to make that space the best it can be for the client should be the primary focus.  

– Lenny Talarico, CSEP, CHE, Executive Director of Events, MGM Resorts Event Productions

Check Your Venue

Double check that the venue has good cell service (Sounds like a small detail, but it will be the one thing they remember from the event if you DO NOT have it.)

Chris Coniglio CMP, Independent Special Events Manager and Production Manager, Blue Liger Productions, LLC

Amenities

Everyone loves a gift but I am a huge fan of only proposing gifts that are practical and make sense to the budget/brand/event goals. We all have enough junk tchotchke so take the time to really think about what you want to give away and to allow your guests to remember the event even after it’s over.

– Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, Owner & Chief Event Strategist, Red Velvet Events, a Global DMC Partner

Avoid Tacky

Have masks, hats, glasses, sunglasses, or any prop that relates to the theme as giveaways. But be selective it can get gaudy and tacky.

– Gisele Barcelo, Events Manager Consultant, GEM Events NYC

Extra Tips & Advice

Think Food

Incorporating food stations or quirky dishes that match your theme are bound to get attendees snapping pictures and also creates conversation starters at the table or buffet. This small detail can make a big impact.

Go Interactive

Credit: Lenny Talarico, CSEP, CHE, Executive Director of Events, MGM Resorts Event Productions

Themes can be made more immersive and enhance attendee experience by including participatory activities such as themed photo booths with props and backdrops, workshops or inclusive entertainment to make more of an impact.

Look Up

Remember the ceiling and aerial décor because it can show an attention to detail and make your theme more convincing, even with a smaller budget. Hanging, draping or ceiling décor can enclose a venue space making it feel smaller and more intimate.

Be Creative

Creativity makes you stand out from other brands, makes you more marketable as well as memorable. Traditional or popular themes can be a safe option, particularly if you are unsure how guests will take a themed event but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same as everyone else and fade into the background. Put your own spin on an idea make it your own and do things that guests won’t have seen before, the similarity only has to stop at the theme title.

Remember Branding

Often, event planners get so caught up in creating an inclusive theme that they forget the event purpose and branding that goes with it. Never forget about the client or underlying reason for the event and ensure to incorporate branding into the theme as well.

Commit

Whether you are going all out or being subtle, commit to your theme otherwise it comes across as half-hearted and flat. Don’t just add props sporadically and call it a theme, put some thought into the smaller details as well as the bigger ones or don’t go for a themed event at all.

Know What Not To Do

Avoid certain themes for general events such as the political or religious as it can often be misconstrued and someone, somewhere is bound to be offended and that’s not the lasting memory you want them to have. In events, there is such a thing as bad publicity!

Low Budget Doesn’t Equal No Theme

Ready-made themed items, props, specialty colors and made-to-order products are great, but they eat the budget! Even if you have more to spend, there are simple ideas you can get away with yourself so that you don’t need specialty products. Consider repurposing items like things you have from previous events and dressing them up to suit your theme. A themed event doesn’t have to equal an expensive one.

Lighting

Lighting effects can be a unique way to transform a venue, particularly if your theme is reliant on colour or you have a lot of space to fill, as well as being a less intrusive way to incorporate the venue.

Credit: J&M Events

Understand The Theme

It may sound silly, but particularly for cultural, eras, books or films you should always do your research to make sure you get the correct colors, avoid inaccuracies and include all of the main features or important ideas. Completely understand your theme and you are better able to relay it to your guests because if you don’t they will be just as confused as you.

In Conclusion

A theme doesn’t have to be ‘in your face’, it can be subtleties that tie your event together but they need to be thought out and considerations made before choosing. Remember to always consider the purpose or your event and potentially the brand you are trying to highlight so that you can weave these in seamlessly for a fantastic user experience and a lot of fun planning.

Related Reading on Event Theming

5 Things A Theme Can Do For Your Next Association Conference
25 Event Themes That Ooze Style
26 Ideas For A Unicorn Inspired Event Theme
15 Ways Event Planners Can Brainstorm New Ideas
9 Great Green Menu Themes

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