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Give your event a theme

John Fisher shows how to attract more delegates

Imagine a world where people have no names. It would be very confusing for everyone. It also suggests that individuals are not very important. But as we know, individuals do have their own personality with a unique contribution to make. Being different can change groups of people and even nations by the sheer force of that difference. Personal charisma can even change history.

So why do we still endure the most boring of event names and then expect delegates to get enthusiastic about attending them? Please come to the ‘17th Annual Sprocket Manufacturers’ Conference, 2016’ or would you rather attend ‘Futurize your Enterprise…find ways to make your business perform better in 2016’.

You might say that your delegates are pretty long-in-the-tooth and always attend your event anyway. But you can still focus their minds on a specific issue, relevant to the industry’s issues, rather than provide no compelling reason for them to attend this year in particular.

Themes are a useful discipline, as both the organisers and the speakers need something to cluster around.
Asking the financial director to report on ‘finances’ can result in a dull and irrelevant presentation. If the finance department were asked to show in what ways the organisation had changed its systems to ‘futurize the enterprise’ it suddenly becomes a very relevant presentation.

But what makes a good theme? After 30 years of running events, big and small, I would say…make it aspirational, keep it short and use rhymes or alliteration for it to be more memorable. Examples include Top Talk, Express to Success or Breaking the Barriers.

Use imperatives such as ‘go’, ‘create’, ‘make’, ‘achieve’ rather than passive words. Choose a phrase that is short and catchy rather than long and ponderous. Think slogan rather than university essay. ‘Be the Best’ is effective for a sales conference theme rather than ‘How we will improve our sales in 2016’.

Including the sponsor’s name adds to the memorability. ‘Better with Barclays’ for example combines all the elements you need for a good theme, whoever the audience at Barclays happens to be.

Even if you only have a few events a year that require a theme it is well worth collecting event slogans from other events in the industry, as they can often be adapted for your use. I have an alphabetical list of conference, incentive and event themes which provide a great creative brainstorming starter when the time comes to discuss a name for an event.

Brand alignment is something else you might consider. Any large organisation will have spent large amounts of marketing budget to promote a particular advertising slogan. It makes sense therefore to tap into this theme for the event. For example, let’s say the advertising slogan is ‘We try harder’. The event could be branded: ‘Trying Harder Triumphs’.

One small internal point to bear in mind is to avoid embarrassing acronyms. It is normal for event planners to make an acronym of the conference name for speed of internal communication. TOTY for the team of the year event is fine. But what if your event was called ‘Distributors’ Universal Manufacturer Briefing.’ The DUMB event is not an ideal marketing pitch aimed at getting people to attend!

In the final analysis, content is the main thing. Of course it is. But taking a few moments to think about an interesting theme to focus people’s minds on your event will pay dividends in terms of email awareness and actual attendance, even if your delegates have been coming to the same event for years. Complacency, being bland and making assumptions are the enemy of great event management.

Allow enough time to prepare . .
Istanbul is the place for events

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