Improve your Set Design on a Budget

Posted on: April 5th, 2018

When designing your general session, the ballroom is often just a blank canvas waiting to be painted. The challenge many of our clients face is that they want to “wow” their attendees, but can often only afford pipe and drape to dress up the stage. The good news is that there are solutions that can be implemented without breaking the budget. Themes, set pieces and minor lighting upgrades can be designed using a client’s branding, images, and colors to enhance the depth, dimension, and ambiance of the meeting, as well as create brand recognition. With some creative thinking, you can transform your set design from boring to exciting with minimal investment.


These newer LED digital signage towers give a lot of bang for the buck. They can be stand alone, or they can be networked together to display multiple images/videos or a single stretched image/video. They can be used for sponsorships, directional signage, or most importantly for our purposes here, as cost effective stage elements.


Lightboxes are custom illuminated graphics hung on a thin aluminum frame and can be used in a number of ways to enhance your set design and branding scheme of the meeting. These can be placed center stage, or used in multiples offset to either side of the stage to highlight a specific product, achievement, anniversary, or graphic of your choice.


One of the most cost effective stage enhancements is one that is often overlooked. By investing more in the content that is going to the general session screens, you can create and alter the ambiance of a room or the overall feel of your meeting. Cohesive color choices in your slides can enhance the branding of an event, or invite emotion into the content. The style in which this information is presented can also have a dramatic effect, whether it is by choosing a more interactive presentation software (Prezi, etc.) or creating a stimulating opening video, these small enhancements can have a big impact on your messaging.


Not quite a “Scenic” enhancement, but it will certainly help your audience to be more engaged in the presentations. Audiences are much more likely to pay attention to the content on-stage if they can feel the music and sounds that complement the messaging.


Simple and effective. LED lights can be dialed in to almost any branding scheme (no grayscale or brown) to create depth and dimension against almost any surface. While flat surfaces (drape, walls, fabric) are the most used elements to benefit from up-lighting, unique venue features, truss and the items mentioned below can incorporate up-lighting to great effect. This is also an inexpensive upgrade that will dramatically improve the look of any video recording.

Intelligent / Ambient Lighting

Much like the awards shows you see on TV, having lights move around the room in sync with music can create a celebratory environment. Intelligent and ambient lighting can reflect the mood of the event and increase the excitement level with your attendees. These lights can also be programmed to do specific movements, and incorporate patterns and images to make the room and your branding feel a little more immersive.


Custom lighting display that projects an image onto a surface. Company logos, branding images or text can be created to enhance brand recognition. Gobos can be created in black and white, or full color. Black and white gobos are an excellent option for thrifty branding upgrades.


Creating a “talk-show” or “fireside chat” scene on-stage can completely change the dynamic of a session and help engage your attendees. Leather chairs, coffee and cocktail tables, white leather couches are all great options to enhance the stage look and also your attendees’ experience by making them feel like they are part of the conversation.

Upgraded Podiums

Much of the meeting’s focus is placed on the presenter, so why not have the podium be something a little more exciting? Clear lucite helps a presenter be closer to the audience, acrylic white or ScyTower podiums allow for a surface to be lit with LEDs, or you can use an LCD podium to display custom logos and messages digitally.

Decorative Truss Towers

Plain truss on-stage may serve a purpose of supporting other set elements, but it can look industrial. By dressing truss with Moddim panels, you can create a fully custom stage look using modular panels on a budget. An old tried and true alternative is to dress white spandex “socks” and lighting them with LED lights from inside, you can create colorful displays out of a regular support beam. If industrial fits the theme of your meeting, plain truss with up-lights can also achieve a special effect.

Modular / Fabric Stage Sets

Pre designed and modular stage sets allow for easy setup and dramatic effect to improve the overall look of a stage. They can be used in conjunction with an events theme and help create stage depth and dimension. Acrylic panels, modular cubes, “monolith” displays and non-linear “sharkfins” or “leaves” are just a few of the elements to choose from that can be lit in any color, or be used as a display surface. As an extremely budget conscious option, stretched spandex between truss is a tried and true alternative.

For examples of the options listed above, check out the IMS Scenic Design Portal which allows you to search for custom designs based on the size of your meeting.

Article written by Jonathan Little, IMS National Account Manager.