HOW TO PICK AN EVENT THEME TO CREATE A SUCCESSFUL GALA!

Award-winning event planners walk you through how to pick an event theme.

Tap into our creative process to choose a winning event theme for your .

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

Picking the perfect theme for your next event can be a lot of fun. It can also be an exhausting process, especially if a committee of people are involved in the decision making process. Too many cooks can truly spoil the broth!

During the past decade, as the event planner for dozens of events, I’ve discovered there are a lot of elements that go into choosing the right event theme. I’m going to take you through the process I use when choosing the perfect event theme for a client.

From looking at what’s going on with other events in your local market, to tapping into the zeitgeist of pop culture (and everything in between), you’ll discover the perfect process to create a fun theme to ensure the success of your events. So, what makes a great theme? Here are some tried and true rules to follow!

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

FIRST, IS THIS THE KIND OF EVENT THAT ACTUALLY NEEDS A THEME?

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to keep in mind are your event goals when deciding on the right theme. An effective theme will not only make a lasting impression on your guests, it will also contribute to the goals of your event. A theme can also be a powerful tool to help communicate the purpose of the event and your organization’s mission. If the event’s goal is raise awareness of the organization’s mission, a catchy or specific theme may not be needed or even be appropriate. An event of that type can speak for itself.

In addition, if you are planning outdoor events such as a golf outing, walk or run, an event theme is really unnecessary and could be confusing. So the first question I always ask when choosing an event theme is, does this event actually need a theme? It seems elementary, but it can save you a lot of time and headache. Because often, the answer is “no.”

Before deciding on your party theme, you also need to determine what type of event you want to have. Is it a dinner? A cocktail reception? A luncheon? A well-chosen theme is a great way to weave key messages into your annual gala dinner or fundraising events. But there are some key decisions that need to be made before an event theme is chosen.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

THE THEME SHOULD ALWAYS REFLECT THE ORGANIZATION’S BRAND …

Themes work great for organizations that are trying to establish a signature event or for those who are trying to refresh an already established event. They are a great way to create a brand around your gathering. A good theme will also work in tandem with the brand image of the organization. The theme can also be extremely helpful in creating your color palette for your invitation, choosing your color schemes, organization the event structure, selecting design elements, establishing the dress code, determining what type of live music you need to hire, and helping you to create a memorable event and a memorable experience for guests. All of these choices can also affect the event budget, so you want to have clear understanding of how much money you have to spend on all of these elements, prior to brainstorming event ideas. 

NEXT, LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF THE EVENT AND PAST THEMES

You need to look at your organization’s past events, your target audience, and potential attendees. If you are planning an established event that has been held for several years, one important thing you need to look at before you decide on the theme is the event’s history. Has there previously even been a theme? You can get this information from various sources including the organization’s staff, prior event committee members, or past co-chairs. You don’t want to repeat similar themes in close proximity to one another. You want your event to feel fresh!

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

If this is a first-time event, the theme choices can obviously be endless. However, I would recommend you look at the age range of the people you anticipate will attended the event. You want to make your event theme appealing to your potential attendees. Also, the theme should be something to which they connect. A futuristic theme or Star Wars theme might sound fun, but it probably won’t appeal to those who aren’t fans of the movie. It’s best to stick to broad themes, like the Roaring 20s, which have broad appeal.

ALSO LOOK AT WHAT THEMES OTHER ORGANIZATIONS HAVE CHOSEN

Event themes, like fashion, are cyclical and trendy. Similar to not wanting to show up in the same dress as someone at the same party, you don’t want to choose a theme that everyone is using that same year. It will make it impossibly hard for your event to stand out as distinct. In addition, you’ll inevitably suffer from comparisons to the other events using your theme. This is another topic on which you need to do your research. How? Look at the local lifestyle publications in your area that cover nonprofit events. Typically they have coverage of recent events and they often also publish photos. You can begin to see what gala themes that are trending and get inspired by their decor, as well as know what to avoid!

Another great source to see what event themes are hot is BizBash. This online resource is one I’ve turned to for many, many years. While their focus is mainly corporate events, they highlight events throughout the U.S. There are some really great, really inspirational ideas on their site. However, most of the events have budgets that are far greater than my nonprofit clients. But you can still find some really cool ideas by perusing this site.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

LOOK AT THE EVENT VENUE AND ITS UNIQUE FEATURES

Before you decide your event’s theme, there is a lot of background work that needs to be done. This includes setting your budget, deciding on your date and choosing the right venue. I discuss all of the steps needed to plan a successful event here. After you’ve done all the homework, you will have a clear vision that will allow you to decide on an appropriate theme. While you are brainstorming ideas, one of the things you need to consider are the unique features of your chosen event space. Are there any outstanding architectural features within your venue that lend itself to a particular theme?

For instance, does the venue have an art deco feel that would be great for a Gatsby theme? Is it a sleek modern space that could be transformed into a sophisticated, Miami-esque nightclub? Is the room filled with venetian details such as intricate gold leaf and lots of pre-existing draping? If that’s the case, think about a masquerade ball. Is there a dramatic entryway to your venue? This feature would perfectly lend itself to a to a black-tie gala with a Hollywood theme … guests could arrive by walking the red carpet. Is it a blank box? No worries. This will allow you to make the space completely your own through uplighting, draping and staging.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

My point is you need to look at the room and the overall venue with fresh eyes to explore its possibilities. If there are unique features in the space, lean into them. It can make a huge difference in your production budget, allowing you to shift and to spend those dollars on another aspect of the event. 

UNCOVER WHAT’S TRENDING IN POP CULTURE …

We also love to draw on popular culture to look for ideas for our themed events. This is by far my favorite part of the event planning process … tapping into social media and pop culture and trying to spot what’s becoming popular. You can do this a variety of ways.

My go-to is simple. I pick up a few fashion magazines and leaf through them. Yup. Good old fashioned magazines. As Miranda Priestly said in “The Devil Wears Prada,” fashion always leads. And truer words have never been said. As I am flipping the pages, I am for patterns and consistencies. Are the pages filled with red couture? Then obviously the color red is going to be trending. Am I seeing stars on the pages from certain movies or shows? Obviously this is a trend. Could I build a theme around this movie, musical or show? Probably! There is just something about flipping through an actual, printed magazine that I love.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

HOW I PUT THIS INTO PRACTICE …

That’s exactly how I came up with a tremendously successful gala themed around Moulin Rouge. Another example is Yellowstone, which has been tremendously popular these past few years. This could lend itself to a fantastic wild west theme, which could in turn be a tremendous immersive experience. Another one of our favorite and most successful events was themed around James Bond. The inspiration for this was the new Bond movie that was debuting in a few months. The theme was so broad, it made for a wonderful evening. The clothing, the music, the Vespar martini, the glamour … there was so much to work with around that theme. Everyone loved the evening and really embraced their James Bond style.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

This past fall, when I was brainstorming ideas for our client, Doorways, and their annual RED gala, it became evident to me that disco was trending and it was trending hard. How could we play with that theme? Well … we have interpreted it as, Retro RED: A Disco Ball. The theme will incorporate all of the fun elements of the disco era which are so popular right now and give people the opportunity to embrace a 70s vibe as well. We can’t wait to show you how it turns out.

DON’T BE MARRIED TO ONE THEME, COME UP WITH AT LEAST THREE OPTIONS

Like dating, you really shouldn’t fall in love with the first idea that you come up with, for a whole variety of reasons. Primarily, you are likely not acting alone when you are choosing the theme for a large, nonprofit event. There are committee members, co-chairs and staff that are all typically stakeholders in the success of the evening. They will offer pros and cons, as well as their personal opinions to the variety of theme ideas. And they should. The success of any event depends on an entire team of people and their collective contributions. So you’ll want to make sure everyone involved is comfortable with the theme and excited about it.

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

Typically I always present three themes to the decision makers. A great way to do this is to pull all of your event theme ideas together on a mood board. Here are examples of mood boards I recently put together for a client. We were presenting ideas that included a disco theme, a cabaret theme and a western theme for their annual gala. As I previously mentioned, the committee decided to go with the 70s disco theme. Here’s a hint … I usually end with my favorite gala theme idea. For whatever reason, I’ve found the last idea you present somehow has a leg up on the other two. I have no idea why … but it works nine times out of ten!  

how to pick an event theme, event theme ideas, type of event, themed events, event goals, party theme, event planner, pop culture, event goals, specific theme, right event theme

FINALLY, REALIZE A GOOD THEME CAN’T SAVE A POORLY PLANNED EVENT … 

One final note, a great theme does not guarantee a successful event. As I previously stated, there are so many factors go into creating the best theme to ensure guests will have a great time and your entire event will be a memorable.

LOOKING FOR OTHER GREAT ENTERTAINING IDEAS? 

You’ll find lots of great inspiration in these posts:

This 70s Fondue Party is a GREAT Winter Evening

Fantastic Ideas for Your Kentucky Derby Party

Throw a Masters Party That’s a Total Hole in One!

Did you find these ideas helpful? 

Share them on Instagram with the hashtag #makeeverydayanevent and tag @makeeverydayanevent.

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact us or leave a comment! 

Follow us on social media! You can find us on InstagramPinterest, and Facebook.

 

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *