What’s in a theme?

By Chris Boyle

If you attended the 2015 National OA Conference, you would be hard pressed to find someone who did not know the conference theme, It Starts With Us. This slogan represented a theme which radiated throughout the conference and sent a message to all of the guests and staff in attendance.

Have you ever wondered what goes into creating a conference theme? Are you thinking about incorporating a theme into your next lodge or section event? Here is how the NOAC thematics team created the message for the conference, and some ways you can apply that process yourself.

Creating the theme

The thematics team was led by 2015 National Vice Chief Donnie Stephens. The team had the huge undertaking of creating a theme that would resonate with NOAC’s 15,000 guests, staff and visitors.

To put NOAC in context, the team wanted to look at the different issues facing the organization so they sent out a survey to the OA’s top youth and adult leadership. The feedback from the survey indicated that the theme should focus on the future of the OA rather than its history. This data led the team to develop the thematic learning objective, or the message the conference should convey. That message was to create tomorrow with actions today.

Once the conference learning objective was set, it was necessary to develop a slogan that would encapsulate the theme. The theme team developed a number of ideas and shared them with the 2014-15 section chiefs, who selected It Starts With Us. The theme and slogan were unveiled at the 2014 National Planning Meeting in Westlake, TX, where youth leaders from around the nation gathered to begin conference planning.

When looking to create your own theme and slogan, talk to the people in your lodge or section, find an issue you would like to solve, decide what message you want to communicate to address the issue, and develop a slogan that easily reminds people of that message.

Incorporating your theme

Once you have the theme for your event, and a slogan to support it, it is time to make sure that the theme radiates in every aspect of the event. At NOAC, there was a thematic training session called The Secret to Ruling the World, which helped guests understand their place in the world and how they could make a difference. That was just one example of the theme in action: all of the nightly shows highlighted the theme, as did the speeches from BSA National President Dr. Robert Gates, National Chief Alex Call and National Vice Chief Donnie Stephens.

Another way the theme was conveyed was through the use of branding. A ripple was used as a unifying image of the conference, and it appeared on all of the different publications, PowerPoint slides of trainings and different signage throughout Michigan State Unviersity. Creating a visual identity for the event-helped guests associate the ripple with the theme, keeping it at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Branding your event doesn’t have to be complicated, it is just a way to have people visually associate words and pictures with your event in order to leave a more lasting impact. Pick something simple and iconic; a relevant, powerful image is more impactful than a complicated brand guide. The best way to integrate your theme is to have a theme that people can get behind, and make meaning of for them. The more excited they are about it, the more effective it will be.

Whether you’re planning a conference for 15,000, or a fellowship for 150, have a strong theme and incorporate it into every aspect of your event. This will add to the event’s impact. Guests left NOAC looking to create tomorrow with action today, which was focused via small acts of kindness with the #DareToDo campaign. Great event themes should likewise have a call to action — tackling a problem in the OA, or the world as a whole. Creating a theme will take your events to the next level, especially when that theme has impact beyond the event itself!

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