Choosing and Using a Meeting Theme

By Lain Ehmann

With everything you have on your plate, you might think a theme for a sales meeting is one of those extras, like fruit baskets in the hotel rooms and custom-designed badge holders. It’s nice to have a theme, but definitely unnecessary. Not so, says Leigh Marie Lunn, account manager for Nashville-based Gish, Sherwood and Friends. A theme can help attendees enjoy an event by setting expectations and help them retain pertinent information long after the event is over. A theme also can help the planner focus, says Lunn. Here are her thoughts on choosing and using a theme.

1. Fit the theme to the corporate culture. A staid, conservative financial institution probably wouldn’t want to invite its top clients to a caveman-themed event – unless they’re trying to show a different side of themselves. Likewise, a cutting-edge graphics design agency might want to avoid a theme that is too stuffy or out of step with the image it wants to convey.

2. Match the theme to the occasion. When choosing a theme, think about the message of the meeting, who’s coming and what you want attendees to take away with them. Is it strictly internal, or will external vendors or customers be there? Are you celebrating a great year or gearing up for a tough season? All these factors should influence your choice.

3. Carry the theme through every element of event planning and execution. From travel to the hotel to the agenda and leisure-time activities, the theme should help drive your choices, says Lunn. “It helps focus you,” she says.

4. Keep the theme in line with meeting focus. Just because you need a theme doesn’t mean you must decorate the meeting room in palm trees and flamingos and make your CEO wear a grass skirt and lei. A theme might be something such as teamwork for a company that’s recently gone through a merger, or expanding our horizons for a group looking to move into a new market. “It doesn’t need to be over the top,” says Lunn.

5. Sum up the theme in a tagline or simple phrase. Not only does this exercise ensure you’ve got a theme, it also helps with retention for attendees. Maybe everyone won’t remember the sales manager’s two-hour speech, but they will recall her repetition of the theme: Breaking Out of the Box.

6.Convey the theme to presenters and attendees beforehand. Letting speakers know your theme allows them time to incorporate it into their presentation. Promoting the theme to attendees let’s them know what you have in mind and shows you’ve put some thought into the meeting, says Lunn. “You’ll build some excitement,” she says.

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