How to Revive the Boring Awards Ceremony

By Ashely Muntan, CMP, October 18, 2012

Association planners are often tasked with planning awards ceremonies at annual events where the above-and-beyond members are recognized. Awards ceremonies range in scale of grandeur, yet they’re all intended to recognize only a few. It can be challenging to keep an entire room interested, especially audience members who won’t be winning awards or don’t know anyone receiving honors. But planners have the opportunity to infuse genuine appreciation, recognition and celebration into a memorable event by simply integrating some new, fresh ideas into the tried-and-true closing night dinner and banquet. When brainstorming new ideas for an awards ceremony, remember the goal is to celebrate, recognize and motivate the audience, while making a lasting impression.

Reformatting the Ceremony Agenda

“Keep it short and sweet,” says Kristin King, senior account executive at Enterprise Events Group. “When planning a ceremony to recognize a large number of people, be sure to have a detailed plan that allows for a precise agenda flow without a lot of lag time,” says King, who helps clients plan recognition events. The agenda should also include an efficient meal service and adequate time for the award ceremony segment. One way to change up the standard ceremony is to have a guest speaker entertain during dinner and help segue the evening into the awards ceremony. The speaker should inspire the audience and give them takeaways, especially those who won’t be recognized. They won’t feel like they have to sit through an entire evening and get nothing out of it.

Celebratory champagne toasts are common at awards dinners, but a fun, memorable alternative is the use of confetti flicker sticks. “Keep the ceremony as engaging and fun as possible for the audience,” says King. Instead of the audience members clinking champagne glasses together for a toast, the flicker sticks can be used to create a shower of confetti throughout the banquet hall. Consider all the elements of an awards ceremony, from how you open it to the music that’s played for winners when they come on and off the stage. Or, change it up and create videos to recognize certain recipients. A few small changes to the agenda can make a big difference for attendees, especially those who attend year after year.

Recognizing More Honorees

If there’s a way to honor more people without extending the ceremony too much, consider doing it. For example, adding new and different award categories is an easy way to instill novelty into your ceremony. Or, when presenting an award winner, announce the complete list of category nominees prior to bringing the official winner to the stage.

Peer recognition is another growing trend, as people appreciate being recognized by their colleagues for their hard work. Peer recognition can occur prior to the event with voting by executive teams. Or, peers can vote for the winner of a “People’s Choice Award.” Also, if an award such as “Most Valuable Player” has been given in previous years, former winners can present the current year’s winner. Consider having someone who knows the winner on a personal level present the award to create an element of surprise. It can show you’ve put a lot of effort into recognizing the individual by finding a friend or long-time colleague who can present the award, rather than simply ordering a plaque with his or her name on it.

Dual-Purpose Keepsakes

Speaking of plaques, do away with them. Change things up and give recipients keepsakes that can be used as either a household item or desktop collector’s piece. For example, a hand blown glass vase can be used at home or sit on a desk as a recognition reminder. They can be customized to fit an organization or award ceremony’s colors or theme. Additionally, a base for the glass vase can be included with the award and winner’s name engraved. Giving keepsakes that are indigenous to the location of the event is also very popular.

When planning awards ceremonies, remember it’s your job to create a lasting impression and deliver recognition in a fun, celebratory manner for both winners and non-winners. When an audience is engaged and having fun, they leave feeling motivated for future success.

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Ashely Muntan, CMP, is an event marketing manager for Symantec Corporation. With more than 11 years in the industry, she project manages large events and takes pride in acting as the team’s storytelling champion.

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