"They wait. Wait to be entertained. Wait to be amazed. Wait to be astounded and surprised. If you always give them what they expect, they soon come to expect very little. A good theme can help you reduce waiting time."
I've seen gifted executives reduced to spastic fury over the issue, "What's our meeting theme going to be!" Differences over using You Make the Difference, or The Difference Is You have provoked episodes of felonious assault.
Doctoral dissertations are being written about themes. They go by titles such as "Anaphoristic Binding Theory," and "Conceptual Chromatic Algorithms." (That should make your day.) While you're reading up on polymorphic paradigms, here are some questions:
Does your theme…
* ...work before, during, and after the meeting? Pre- and post-meeting theme development is often overlooked.
* …provide a foundation you can build on? You don't need something that sounds good, and then just lies around on name badges and wall banners.
* …compliment speeches and presentations? Pretty obvious. But working themes into content, without sounding redundant or patronizing, has been known to require some thought.
* ...intrigue and provoke? Some themes telegraph their punch and never go the distance, e.g. Go for the Gold! Try for a name that takes some time to pay off. Let your audience do a little work for it.
It's the Audience, Stupid!
A theme, by itself, doesn't mean much. It gains value in three ways:
1. The experiences audience members invest to interpret it.
2. How convincingly you develop it during the meeting.
3. How well it amplifies your core concepts.
If you spend months planning The Challenge of Change, it's easy to forget people may not arrive prepared for a cosmic transformation.
One reason? Audiences don't listen. They wait. Wait to be entertained. Wait to be amazed. Wait to be astounded and surprised. If you always give them what they expect, they soon come to expect very little. A good theme can help you reduce waiting time.
Theme as Symbol (or, what's a meta for?)
Good, bad, or brilliant no theme is neutral. They have cause and effect. Or, quite often, cause and defect.
The Retrograde Reveal
To find a word or phrase that compresses your big idea, it helps to have a big idea. If you haven't got one, try backing into it. Imagine what you'd like your audience to say as they leave the meeting. Move up to the closing speech. Keep going in reverse until you get to the opening keynote. (Make notes.)
One of my favorites is the no-theme-at-all retrofit meeting. Awards are given after the meeting to those who come up with the best themes. Audio-cassettes or CDs can be sent out. You can put streaming audio/video on your website, along with a feedback questionnaire and entry form.
I had a client who setup an 800 number. Callers got a seven minute meeting synposis, followed by: "Press 1 if you really understand what all this means."
Clustering: The Concept Creator1
In the center of a big pad write down the first word that comes to mind when you think about your meeting. Trust spontaneity. Then, put down another word prompted by the first word. Connect them up with lines and circles. Pretty soon you'll have a sort of free-association keyword collage. It may be a Freudian mess, but it could also be your meeting.