Fashion designer Michael Kors once said, "I've always thought of accessories as the exclamation point of a woman's outfit." At meetings, themes serve the same exclamatory purpose. Like a stunning pair of earrings, a spectacular hat or a gentleman's bold pocket square, a theme is a pop of color that gives an event character and personality.
But anyone who went to their prom knows that not all themes are created equal. While a good theme can make an event, a bad one can just as easily break it.
The difference between the two? The words of another famous fashion designer, Coco Chanel, come to mind. "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off," she once said of fashion accessories. But themed meetings and events are different. Instead of taking things off, planners should pile them on. Because what ultimately makes a theme successful is commitment: To carry their theme over the finish line, planners must go all in to create an experience that's fun instead of flat.
Summer is the perfect time for planners to exercise their thematic muscles. The season allows events to step outside the box physically -- reaching beyond the confines of four walls -- making it easier for planners to step outside the box creatively, too.
Try one of the following five outdoor event themes to set up the perfect backdrop to a memorable summer meeting.
In communities across the country, the highlight of summer is the state or county fair. Meeting planners can capture that excitement by planning a fair- or festival-themed event that has all the hallmarks of a summer carnival, suggest Shutterfly and Social Tables. Start with décor: Think tents and picnic tables. Then, consider activities: pig races, petting zoos, rodeos and pony rides are all "fair" game. So are carnival games like ring toss and balloon pop. How about amusement rides? Maybe a Ferris wheel, for example, or a carousel. And don't forget the food, including wacky creations like rainbow grilled cheese, deep-fried Oreo cookies and totchos (a cross between tater tots and nachos).
For many people, a tried-and-true summer tradition from childhood is summer camp. You can tap into these nostalgic memories by planning a camp-themed event, according to Social Tables. Start with props like real or artificial pine trees, tents and benches, it suggests. A faux bear would be a nice -- and Instagrammable -- touch, too. (Just think of the selfies.) Activities like archery, capture-the-flag and tug-of-war will add an element of competition, and maybe you could even arrange to set up a zip line. Crafting also is a big part of camp; making birdhouses and jewelry can be fun, or you could try more "adult" crafts like DIY beer koozies or a cocktail-creation table. Serve beverages in tin cups and food on melamine dinnerware. And speaking of eats: How about upscale takes on classic summer camp fare, like fancy trail mix with upscale ingredients like Dutch chocolate and organic macadamia nuts; gourmet hot dogs, like a chorizo dog served with chimichurri and smoky red relish; and boozy popsicles? Of course, the day should end with campfires, s'mores and songs.
Drive-in movie theaters are hard to come by these days, but you can recreate this retro recreation at your next event, suggests EventMB. If there's a drive-in theater in your meeting destination, hosting the event there will give you a head start. After all, there's already a movie screen. Thanks to inflatable and pop-up screens, however, you also can also easily hold the event in a park or poolside at a resort. Line the lawn with blankets and pillows. Pop plenty of popcorn. Hire vendors to circulate around the event with classic movie theater snacks and candies. If you're showing a classic or well-known film, you could even display props and posters from the movie, EventMB says. And if you really want to impress? Consider renting a fleet of classic cars or convertibles into which guests can pile for the show. To keep business objectives in mind, Social Tables says, the evening could start with a "movie" of an executive speech or presentation.
If you want to know how to throw an outdoor party on a hot summer night, look no further than the Middle East and Africa, where humankind has been hosting social gatherings in the desert for millennia. To rock a Moroccan motif, you need to lean into bold colors, sensuous seating and exotic flavors, suggests Zohar Productions, a planner of Moroccan-themed parties. Gold furnishings and tableware are a good foundation, as are tents and billowy aerial drapes in shades of red, orange, pink, purple and blue. Lanterns create the right vibe alongside low seating arrangements -- think short, Ottoman-style tables with stools, pillows and cushions, all layered on top of decorative Persian rugs. Potted palms, wooden screens and golden elephants complete the look. You could even bring in sand to create an artificial desert or dunes. With the right precautions, disclaimers and protections, camel rides and hookah pipes give attendees something unique to do and buzz about, according to Creations in Cuisine Catering. If your lawyers won't allow them, artificial versions can still be amusing, serving as a fun photo op for attendees to share on social media. Belly dancers are another lovely entertainment touch, says Creations in Cuisine, which recommends an authentic menu with choices like hummus and lamb. And, of course, baklava for dessert.
Holidays in July
When a heat wave hits, you can cool your meeting down by hosting "Holidays in July." Imagine a traditional winter party, but with a sun-kissed twist. Instead of Christmas trees, for instance, decorate palm trees. Instead of hot cocoa, serve a frozen version that eats like a milkshake, suggests Southern Living magazine. You can serve chilled eggnog, too, peppermint ice cream or frozen margaritas in shades of red and green. Another idea from Southern Living is making wreaths out of cocktail umbrellas. Or, take Buzzfeed's advice and build "sandmen" -- snowmen made with sand. Ask your band to play holiday favorites, but with a Jimmy Buffet sound; think "Jingle Bells" played with Caribbean steel drums, for example. For activities, you can give traditional summer games a festive twist -- instead of volleyball, for instance, the crafting gurus at Pat Catan's suggest setting up a "jollyball" court with a net that's bedazzled in holiday lights. Or you can give winter activities a summer makeover: Instead of a snowball fight, Buzzfeed suggests a water balloon fight with white balloons. An artificial snow machine could really take things over the top. Finally, every holiday party needs photos with Santa. Instead of his usual red suit, however, your Santa should take photos with attendees dressed for the beach or a luau.