Planning a theme

Themes aren’t always needed for events. But if your event does warrant a theme, it’s important that it resonates with the kind folks you’re catering to.

Some events don’t require a theme, but have an inherent one.

For example, I’ve planned cybersecurity summits and political events that in and of themselves are the theme. Try to be clever about a theme without over-doing it. Here area few examples:

When you think cybersecurity, the last thing you want to do is instill fear in attendees.

  • They’re already terrified about hackers, so steer clear from icons like locks, bars, and other things that will make attendees want to close down

  • Instead, consider the opposite: what things instill comfort and security?

  • I selected a clear, open venue with lots of light rather than a dark conference center so attendees would feel different at my conference than standard dark security summits.

I’ve planned political debates, conventions and galas.

  • One thing that brings people together more than overt political themes, red/white/blue stripes and stars, is the people and place themselves.

  • If I had a debate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I focused on the local flavors, bringing in elements of the city to my event and featuring local specialties and vendors.

When you have to come up with a theme

Other times, a theme isn’t as obvious and you as a planner are tasked with developing a theme. How do you create one that won’t feel cheesy or outdated? Here are a few ideas.

Consider seasons

  • They aren’t offensive, and you can use local, seasonal ingredients, florals and materials that will inspire memories in people.

  • Everyone can relate to a season, so if you’re hosting an event in the spring, play up the theme of rebirth and greenery. In the winter, focus on things that make people feel cozy and grateful since it’s a season of giving.

Go Retro

  • Similar to seasons, people love nostalgia. I find retro themes are often popular ways to get people to naturally reminisce and bond with each other.

  • Plus, it’s really fun to plan everything from the fonts on your signage to the food and beverages you’re serving around a certain era, be it the Gatsby 20’s, Madmen 50’s or hippie 60s. And there’s nothing like an 80’s cover band to get your guests on the dance floor!

Look At Current Events

  • Another great theme for an event, especially if you need to theme the content, is around whatever’s in the zeitgeist. Take cybersecurity, or women’s initiatives, or sustainability.


Here are a few additional tips to execute on the above themes

  • If focusing on an important theme that’s in the zeitgeist like sustainability, make sure you talk the talk.

    • Source local, sustainably farmed foods and use local brewers and wineries for your catering.

    • Use compostables and even consider partnering with an eco-friendly or LEEd certified venue.

  • Take inspiration from the seasons when hosting a dinner party.

    • For fall dinners, I love using leaves, buckeyes, and other found organics like persimmons, squash and gourds to decorate.

    • I also use organics as place settings - etching people’s names into pumpkins or persimmons.

    • You can also serve your first course in a hollowed out pumpkin shell to make a beautiful, festive presentation on your table.

  • I once hosted a retro pool party-themed reception that was hugely popular.

    • We hired synchronized swimmers, planted pink flamingos around the pool, and left 60’s style sunglasses on the high boy tables for guests to wear.

No matter what you do, make sure your theme is on-point.

You’d never want a theme that could offend any of your attendees or one that promotes stereotypes. Have any great theme ideas you’ve used recently? I’d love to hear!