On a call recently regarding a meeting theme for a non-profit corporate event, a member of the committee who doesn't typically work in the live event world asked, "What is the purpose of a theme? How does it manifest, and what is it intended to do?".
Admittedly, I was a little shocked at the question... but it made me realize that often we take for granted the purpose of a theme, and that it can be constructive to be reminded of it. When we take themes for granted is when we end up with cliches (i.e. The Power of One), meaningless turns of phrase (i.e. Fight to Win) or inspirational word salad (i.e. any of the themes generated by Gramercy Tech's funny-but-too-true theme generator, seen here).
Meeting themes are intended to do 5 important things:
BE THE CHORUS: The best part of nearly any pop song is the Chorus. It's the part that contains the hook, it is repeated multiple times, and the verses help support it and allow us to keep turning back to the chorus as a sort of homecoming.
BE STICKY: People won't remember two full days of content. They will remember one turn of phrase if it is unique, endowed with meaning, and is repeated often and in novel ways. That's what makes it stick.
DISTILL THE OBJECTIVE: If we understand that people can't remember all the content of a meeting, the theme that they do remember should have a distillation of the overall meeting objective baked into it. That way, when they remember the theme, they remember why they went, and what they are supposed to do now.
BE A FILTER: Inevitably, someone will want to come and deliver a speech at your beautifully themed meeting that is off-message. The theme, when agreed upon in a collaborative way, helps you filter what content should go on the stage, and what should hit the circular file. The strongest themes allow room for variation in presentations, while still maintaining the integrity and truth of your theme's intention.
ENDOW MEANING: Themes shouldn't just be pithy. They may start that way, but over the course of a full meeting experience, the content delivered should deepen the meaning of your theme at the outset. The best themes have layers like an onion that can be unpacked at the meeting, or even beyond in a post-communications campaign. Then, when people see or hear that theme, their bodies can't help but recall the deeper layers of meaning.
Now, with all of that said, IM Creative adds a #6... and that is the element of being BESPOKE.
Gone are the days when a production company can pull a theme off the shelf and sell it to any number of clients.
Clients: if you believe that the company that just pitched you a theme could have pitched that very same theme for someone else, THEY HAVE.
The whole point of these motivational sales events is to help attendees understand why the place they work is special. A recycled theme will never, ever accomplish that.
Themes aren't just taglines. They are a thesis statement. That thesis gets expanded upon, supported, and proven over the course of a meeting, and that's what makes them work.