How to Use a ‘Message Map’ to Create a Consistent Event Theme

As every experienced event marketer knows, there are a million moving pieces with every event. It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to take a moment at the outset to pause and think through how your event’s multiple keynotes, breakouts, and other pieces of content will coalesce to support your show’s overarching message. Indeed, the event theme can either be a triumph or a fail depending on how it’s carried through the event.

“You need to be able to deliver on that theme,” says Angel Micarelli, Creative Director, VP of Content at Cramer. “It’s not just window dressing—it’s the underpinning of everything you’re doing.”

Cramer helps its time-challenged clients develop and stick to a viable theme with what it calls a Message Map.

A Message Map is a document that gives event marketers an audience-centric blueprint against which every message in the show can be measured against.

Below is a snapshot of the Message Map’s five important steps to creating—and sticking to—an event theme.


1. Get Your Stakeholders Invested

In order for your theme to be validated and carried through your event, you need buy-in and support from your key stakeholders. If you can get them to be part of creating the theme, terrific. If not, try to get them on board quickly and then be sure to keep them informed as the show evolves. “They are the standard bearers so you have to get them all invested and aligned,” says Micarelli.

2. Give It Multiple Perspectives

In order to fully optimize your theme, you have to interpret it along multiple lines. For example, what will this theme mean to different attendee segments? What does it mean to different strategic lines, or product lines? “If ‘Insight’ is your theme, for instance, ask what insights are you bringing when you’re talking about products?” suggests Micarelli. “What are attendees walking away with and feeling like? Did it pay off on the promise you made them that they would have insights?”

3. Make Sure It’s All Connected

Look at each presentation as another piece of that articulation of the theme. How are you weaving that theme through? “It doesn’t always have to be explicit,” says Micarelli. The Message Map helps clients start from a macro view and then breaks down piece-by-piece into what the theme means among different audiences (executives, influencers, users), and what it means when each audience engages with the products.

“The Message Map helps you drill down but keep the big picture in mind so you never lose sight of it,” Micarelli says. “It guides you from a keynote in a general session all the way down to the breakout where you’re going through the features and benefits, and keeps you focused on the big picture all the way through.”

4. Carry It Through

User conference attendees engage across every physical and digital touch point so make sure your theme is clearly represented throughout all of your event communications (website, digital, signage, collateral) before, during, and after the event. The Message Map helps clients consider how attendees will engage with the theme and content “today, tomorrow and in the future” as a means to develop a compelling theme they can disseminate across every channel.

5. Develop a Set of Talking Points

As you plot out your presentations, develop a set of key talking points so you can clearly articulate the points you want to make about the theme and the content. “Building your talking points early on gives speakers a leg up because it very often forms the outline for their presentation,” says Micarelli. “It also builds a pool of language for them to draw from so if they want to have a consistent way to talk about the theme, it gives them a place to start.”