Over the years we’ve helped stage hundreds, if not thousands, of award ceremonies. Along the way we’ve tried all sorts of things and learnt quite a bit about what works, what doesn’t and how to deal with some of the inherent problems of creating a fantastic event that is enjoyed by guests, winners and sponsors alike.
There are a few things that crop up regularly when working with a new customer or an event manager that has less experience of award shows. I thought it would be useful to list a few of the ‘Tricks’ that help improve an event and also a few of the ‘Trips’ that we regularly have to dodge.
1. Energy and Pace
The thing about award presentations is that they aren’t much fun if you’re not the winner! Well, perhaps that isn’t absolutely true but you have to consider that there is a range of people in the audience and the proceedings need to move at a good pace to keep them engaged. At the beginning, there will most likely be a good bunch of the audience who are waiting in anticipation and will be enthusiastically involved with the presentation. As the evening progresses and more of the nominees find out that they are not the winner it can become more difficult to maintain the energy and atmosphere. The risk is that as people disengage they will talk amongst themselves, the chatter in the room increases and all of this detracts from what’s happening on stage.
A good host is essential to maintaining the pace and ensuring that things stay on track. A rehearsal with the host and all the other elements is absolutely crucial so they understand the format and can keep things running smoothly
Be realistic about the amount of time each award will take and the overall length of the awards section. Every element such as nominee videos, sponsors introduction, photographs onstage, questions or acceptance speeches will add time. Depending on the number of awards categories there are you need to make a plan for what can be allowed and what needs to be cut so that it can be finished within an acceptable amount of time. If you’ve worked it out beforehand and know it fits your host will have the best possible chance of navigating the audience through it with great enthusiasm.
2. ….and the winner is….
When writing the script for the host or whoever announces the winner consider how the audience will react and take care of the order in which things are said.
If you say something along the lines of “this award goes to Joe Blogs for his outstanding effort in transforming the way in which….” what will happen is that as soon as they read the Joe Blogs bit the audience will erupt into applause and anything said after that will be lost.
The better way to phrase it would be to say something like “the winner of this award has been selected for the outstanding effort in transforming… The award goes to Joe Blogs” That way the winner is the punch line and the applause, music and all the associated razamataz can come in on cue to create a fabulous atmosphere.
3. I’d like to thank…
We’ve all watched the Oscars at some point and seen the stars thanking their colleagues, their family and pretty much everyone else. The best acceptance speeches are witty or emotional and add some insight into the winner’s life that the audience can engage with. Just bear in mind that most of these people have spent their lives in front of cameras or on stage and so are comfortable speaking to large audiences.
When the winner of Plumber of the Year, Customer Service Champion or Apprentice Rising Star comes to the stage to collect their award you can’t expect them to be comfortable giving an acceptance speech. If they have just had a champagne reception, a three-course dinner and a bottle of wine you might not want them to either!
If you would like to hear a few words from the winner then allow the host to ask them questions. It is much easier to respond to questions than make a speech but it also allows the host to be in control of the situation so they can help if needed or bring it to a close if it is going on too long.
4. Feel the vibe
Sometimes we get asked for a track of music for a specific award that has been chosen as the lyrics, or sometimes the song title is particularly appropriate. In these situations firstly consider if the feel of the music is right. Does it have the right vibe? Is it uplifting and does it create the right atmosphere? It doesn’t matter how appropriate the lyrics are, the feel of it needs to be right first.
Also, consider that in many situations there will only be a very short section of the music played and it needs to instantly engage with the audience so that it can add to the overall celebratory atmosphere.
5. Inter-course Awards
Er.. I’m talking about having sections of awards between courses during an awards dinner.
This is often seen as a way of breaking up the evening and a solution if you are concerned that there are too many awards to do in one go. I would agree that it is a good solution if it prevents the audience from becoming disengaged because it is dragging on too long. Before you commit to doing it this way there are a couple of things that you should consider.
When we write a schedule we normally put specific times for each course and it does rather give the impression that things happen instantly. In reality, the dinner service is more of a continuous process. By the time starters have been served to the last table the first table will be cleared and soon moving on to mains. This process goes on throughout the evening and allows a relatively small number of waiting staff to serve several courses to a large number of guests.
If you introduce awards between the courses it means that there are chunks of time where the waiting staff cannot be serving or collecting as it would be disruptive to the presentation. The result is that overall the dinner service and awards will take longer. Ultimately this will mean that the final awards will finish later so you need to consider if this is OK and leaves sufficient time for everything else.
Check with your catering team. Some venues or caterers allow a maximum amount of time for dinner service and extending it beyond this can sometimes cost more due to increased staff costs. If you discuss it in detail beforehand and come up with a realistic plan you will have the best chance of staying on track and having an enjoyable evening.
6. Enthusiasm and Clarity
It is common for the sponsors to want to do their bit. That’s fair enough, they should definitely get their exposure and involving them in the presentation is a good way to do this. Often they get to announce the winner which is a great part for them. It might only be one line they have to say and they can read it from a card but I cannot emphasise enough how important that line is. It’s the punch line, the crescendo, the climax of the award! Basically, it needs to be done right and too many times we have seen it thrown away because it is mumbled or not said into a microphone.
It isn’t necessarily realistic to expect the sponsors to turn up before the event to rehearse, but they can be briefed with emphasis on speaking clearly, with enthusiasm and using the microphones. It also works best if you insist on the full line of text. Rather than just reading out the winner’s name make sure they say ‘the winner of the XYZ award is XXX’. It’s like taking a run up! By the time they get to say the name they should have got the hang on talking, settled their nerves and be able to say it with maximum gusto!
7. Make way for the band
You can’t beat a live band for a bit of post-awards dancing but it can be a challenge to make them appear out of thin air! If you book a five-piece band to play following the awards it is likely that they are going to have a fair bit of kit – things like guitar amps, keyboards, drum kit, microphone stands etc. They will also need to setup and sound-check before the guests arrive.
Often you would want a band to start playing straight after the conclusion of the awards so they need to be setup and ready to go. The problem is that you don’t necessarily want all their clobber on stage throughout the evening as it would take up a fair bit of space and won’t look good either.
Where space allows consider having a separate band stand that changes the focus from one end of the room to the other once the awards presentations have finished. This also helps with the dance floor space. If you have the band on the main stage you end up using the area with the best views for the dancefloor. Your prime real estate doesn’t get used until the very end!
It’s not always possible but having a separate focal point within the space is a great way of mixing things up and can help the flow of the event.
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