Leaders, especially those within Scouting and the Order of the Arrow, spend a great deal of their time planning events. Leaders at all levels of our organization can expect to be involved in event planning at some point during their term. Whether you are a patrol leader planning a fun patrol outing, a district volunteer responsible for planning the annual district Camporee, or a lodge officer leading a team to plan the annual banquet, there is never a shortage of events that need planning. Planning an event is a challenge in and of itself. Planning a high-quality, successful event requires an additional level of skill and teamwork.
Take a moment to think back to some of the most successful, efficient, and fun events that you have attended in Scouting. What made them so successful and memorable? It is likely that these events all had one thing in common; a quality event theme.
What is a theme and why is it important?
A theme is the big idea that drives the overall tone, structure, and goals of the event. Theming is fundamental to the conceptualization and delivery of every successful event. It sets the tone for the entire experience and is the first impression that people will have of the event, even long before the event takes place. It also helps to drive audience engagement around the event.
Most importantly, a theme should convey a message. This could be your organization’s overall mission and purpose, a short-term initiative, or a call to action. It should be fresh, appealing, and on-brand. The event theme will drive all planning decisions, from the pre-event promotions to the decorations to the activities.
How to Select a Quality Event Theme
The concept of a theme is pretty basic and easy to understand, but selecting a quality theme to represent your event can be a real challenge, especially if you are working with a large team.
Let’s break selecting a theme down into some key steps.
Step 1: Define the event goals and purpose.
Each member of the team will have a different idea or direction for the event’s theme. The first thing that needs to be accomplished is to establish the intent of the overall message. What is the takeaway from the event? What do you want your attendees to remember after they leave? A clear message and intent are key to developing an effective theme.
Step 2: Ensure your theme is relevant to your target audience.
Identify your target audience and their values, age, backgrounds, etc. Find a creative way to tell the message that will resonate with them. Make sure the theme is inclusive and appealing to your audience. For example, if your key audience is young people, an event focused on 1970 TV shows is probably not an appealing theme to an audience who likely hasn’t watched 1970s television.
Step 3: Review your theme in relation to your organization’s values, branding, and purpose.
Understand what your organization stands for and choose an event theme that reflects those values (such as brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service). Draw concepts or associations from your brand’s logo or colors. An event theme that incorporates your overarching mission is a great way to reinforce your organization’s overall goals and build brand recognition.
Step 4: Look to current trends, news, or popular culture for ideas.
One of the challenges that you may experience is how to develop a theme that conveys your organization or event’s message but is still fun and engaging for your audience, especially if your audience is young people (like in Scouting and the OA). This is where referencing popular culture, current trends, or historical events can be beneficial. Many event themes have pop culture references such as those from movies or tv shows (i.e. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Survivor, etc.). Others may reference historical events or periods in time (i.e. the Roaring 20s, 1980s, world travelers, pirates, etc.). Avoid references to cultures, political or religious belief systems. These are often more divisive and work against your organization’s mission, rather than for it.
These types of themes can be a lot of fun, but it is important to bring them together with your organization’s purpose.
Step 5: Keep it simple.
A good theme should be inherent in every aspect of your event. Keeping it simple also prevents miscommunication of the overall event message.
Step 6: Integrate the theme into every touch point before, during, and after the event.
A theme unifies objectives and provides focus for the event, as well as setting the tone for presentations, training, activities, etc. Incorporate the theme into your pre-event communications, programs, signs, and event-related memorabilia or merchandise. Your theme should identify the event and the organization clearly.
Step 7: Don’t forget about branding.
The colors, lighting, fonts, and language you use for your event can have a major impact on emotions and how your audience feels. Think about the kind of emotion you want your event to evoke. Cool colors such as blues and purples can create a feeling of professionalism, whereas warm, bright colors such as orange, pink, or red can create a sense of courage and energy.
As previously mentioned, a theme based on pop culture can be a great way to bridge the gap between generations and convey your event’s message. Let’s use an Order of the Arrow event and Star Wars as an example. Star Wars is very popular across all generations, but how do we connect it to the OA’s mission and purpose?
Think back to the Ordeal and how the OA candidate’s journey is similar to that of the “hero’s journey.” The overall story portrayed throughout Star Wars is the hero’s journey. You can use those comparisons to build out a powerful event theme that will help portray your message to more people.
A theme is a complete thought, like a call to action. Take the 2022 Section G16 Conclave theme for example. “The Oregon Trail” is not a theme. It does not convey a message by itself. “Keeping on the Scouting Trail,” on the other hand, contains a message for participants to get out there and keep Scouting and it makes it easy to incorporate Oregon Trail, pioneer, or hiking-related undertones to the event.
For OA events, ceremony quotes are a great place for inspiration. Many NOACs and conclaves have utilized quotes from the Ordeal ceremony in their event themes. Quotes such as “Who among you now is ready,” “These high places are within you,” “Kindle the flame from within,” and “Those who choose you, need you” are all great themes.
Whether a one-day training workshop or a week-long conference, every successful event centers around a quality theme. Yes, the process can be time-consuming and challenging, but taking a little extra time to select a quality theme will set your event up for success in the end.
Now go out and plan some amazing events this year!