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Conference-Theme Checklist

When planning a conference, you need to be able to distill the main topic down into a more concise theme – one that will shape the structure of your meeting.


When planning a conference, you need to be able to distill the main topic down into a more concise theme – one that will shape the structure of your meeting. By Kellie Smith, March 03, 2011

Kellie Smith

Kellie Smith

The Value of a Theme

A well-thought-out theme aligns content and provides context for a endees:

  • Unifies everyone’s focus and efforts, from event organizers to speakers;
  • Provides big-picture context for what attendees can expect to get out of the conference;
  • Strengthens the objectives of the conference;
  • Connects sessions together and supports marketing and promotion.

Where to Begin

  • Understand Your Objectives: What do you want to achieve with this conference? Who do you want to reach? What do you want your a endees to walk away with?
  • Brainstorm Ideas: Use your concept as a starting point and ask yourself which aspects of that concept interest you the most / you’ve been asked about / you feel are relevant; write them down and look at which key themes start to emerge. Then look at what you can cover the best.
  • Know Your Capabilities: Are you a reliable source on the conference topic? Are you qualified to put together the agenda? Make sure you can speak to the theme: if your client or organization can’t lend credence to the topic, a endees won’t buy into it.
  • Do Your Research: Know what’s going on in the market. Are other events organized on the topics you’re considering? What will set it apart from the other conferences? Has your topic been overplayed in the market? Does your theme have a compelling message that diff ers from others on the same topic?

Developing the Theme

Once you’ve established a theme, it’s time to consider the details.

  • Support Your Theme: Consider your agenda and see how your theme can tie-in. Keep your theme succinct — it will be easier for your audience to remember it.
  • Consider Outside Elements: Is there anything seasonal or a hot topic you can include? The Olympics? ‘Going green’? Careful, though; if you’re thinking about this, chances are others are as well and you want to set your conference apart. Utilize these hot topics in a unique but compelling way.
  • Entertainment & Decor: Though not always necessary, consider how you can appropriately leverage the theme throughout other conference elements: Food and beverage? Decor? Entertainment? Can you have some fun with it?

Reinforce the Message

A strong theme will reinforce its message at every touchpoint and resonate with your target audience.

  • Be Clear, Concise & Consistent: While each session doesn’t have to mirror the theme exactly, it should at least embody the spirit of the messaging. Otherwise, a session will be disconnected and runs the risk of leaving your audience disengaged.
  • Educate Your Speakers: You may have an idea for a great speaker, but be sure to ask yourself if they are a good fi t with the conference. Reach out to your speakers to ensure they truly understand the theme. Don’t be afraid to ask them to incorporate some of the language of your message into their presentation.
  • Branding: Leverage the theme in your branding by developing a logo and branded materials (website, promotional pieces, ads, etc.) It sets your conference apart visually and emphasizes targeted thinking.

Know Your Audience

  • Always have a clear sense of your conference objectives, but never lose sight of your attendees. Consider the theme from their perspective and ask yourself, are you narrowing your audience because the theme is too niche?
  • Will attendees buy into the theme and its intent?
  • Are you creating an environment where your audience and clients can interact and engage?
  • Ensure your conference in bringing compelling and value-added content to your audience.

— Guest columnist Kellie Smith is general manager of conferences and events for Marketing Magazine. E-mail: Kellie.Smith@rci.rogers.com. Twitter: @KellieSmith



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