Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How to choose a conference theme that motivates

Every conference needs a theme. Clients want something that conveys the key message simply and memorably. Here are seven tips to help you go about it.


Make it snappy

A conference theme needs to be catchy, and it needs to work well in spoken conversation. To test this, just see if it can be used as noun: “Are you going to the Total Performance conference in March?” That’s punchy – it rolls off the tongue. “Are you going to the Making sustained progress: building on success conference in June”? Not so nifty.

"Erm, I know we said make it punchy..."


Answer the brief

Somewhat surprisingly constraint is great for a brief. It demands focus. So make sure everyone’s clear about they want to communicate.

Keep it concrete

Conference themes are typically abstract: they mention things like strength and growth and success. They’re about building on this and striving for that. The trouble with abstract ideas is, they are harder to imagine, because there is nothing to imagine – they’re ideas, not things.

So try to make your theme concrete. One way is to describe a real situation. Why not imagine the world as it will be when your goal has been achieved? Microsoft’s mission statement when they were starting out, was a PC on every desk. Everyone can get that without having to think too much. It gives a clear focus to everything, which is what a theme is.

Consider a call to action

If it worked for him...
Often a good route to strong a theme involves rousing the audience to do something. Straplines often do this: “Just do it” or “Eat Fresh” (Subway). If a delegate spends eight hours seeing “Let’s drive growth together”, it might stay with them when they go back to work.

Know your audience 

If they’re sales professionals, they’re going to want it snappy and positive. If they’re academics, they might appreciate something longer and more complicated. (But, then again, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to keep it brief and accessible?) Find out exactly what kind of bums will be on the seats, and write for them.

Think Big

What’s thinking big? Paul Arden, former creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote a book called: It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be – and he subtitled it The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden.

Thinking big means you’re not a ‘Shelf Stacker’, but a ‘Stock Supervisor’; not a ‘Dishwasher’ but a ‘Director of Subaqueous Ceramics’. Conferences are usually about a company’s future ambitions or next year’s big plan to drive growth. Make sure the theme bigs it up.

Make it memorable – find an alluring promise

Why do some lines stick around for years and others get dropped?

Think: Never knowingly undersold (John Lewis have used this for decades) or The ultimate driving machine (BMW).

Not quite as legendary was one we wrote for BodenGood times, great clothes - which was used for eight years.

The strapline that replaced this one was Wear life out. It only lasted six months, probably because reminding customers of their mortality doesn't sell.
What gives these lines staying power? They make an alluring offer. Try and find a compelling benefit and create the theme around that.


Getting a conference theme just right isn’t easy but it could make the difference between a hit and a conference feeling a bit flat. It’s worth the effort to get it right.

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