Themes can be a great unifying tool for providing a framework for your presentation and increasing recall. They can also be a hodgepodge of unrelated ideas awkwardly forced into a structure. Here are some ways to make sure your theme works to support your message — not detract from it.
Do keep it short. A theme is different than a catchphrase or quote. It should be a powerful one or two words that provides the opportunity for great visual expression and interpretation.
Do incorporate your theme in your design. Use your theme to provide direction for what template you use, colors, photos, and fonts, as well as any supporting materials.
Do consider takeaways. Many themes lend themselves to interesting takeaways, whether it's a mousepad, power stick, or customized pen with your theme on it. Just be sure they're reflective of the quality of your product or service.
Don't do what's popular in your industry. If you've seen a theme done in your industry, chances are your prospect has as well. Don't risk going in to a presentation and being the second golf-related theme she has seen that day.
Don't use your prospect's business. One salesperson was working on a presentation for Disney and came up with the idea to use "It's a small world" as a theme. Out of the thousands of vendors that sell to Disney, they have probably heard their own themes reflected back to them numerous times. Don't go for the obvious because odds are someone else has thought of it as well.
Don't do a canned theme. That includes anything from PowerPoint or a stock slide design that you've found on the web. Your theme should be custom to the prospect and her situation.
Don't use stock photos. Like a canned design, stock photos can make your prospect feel like your presentation is generic and could be addressed to anyone. Use real photos with real people if possible.
Don't go full theme park. Remember, a theme is there to provide a memorable framework to hold your message together. Don't let it overcome your message by going too far overboard. One sales team who used a theme of "Take flight" dressed up like flight attendants and pilots, served mini-peanuts and drinks, and used an intercom to introduce team members. Although you have to give them an "A+" for creativity and execution, a debriefing with the executives in the room revealed that they found it a bit cheesy.