How To Run A Successful Awards Presentation

How To Run A Successful Awards Presentation

At least it hadn't rained. As the planner mailed the post-presentation questionnaires to the award recipients, he mentally clicked off everything that had gone wrong. While the courtyard looked beautiful, it had smelled like bug spray, giving everyone a headache. The noisy health fair nearby had set a bad tone from the start. Two presenters had appeared late and forgotten their notes. The microphones constantly screeched with feedback, and why couldn't management learn to pronounce people's names?

He knew the recipients were upset. This was supposed to have been their moment in the spotlight, the culmination of months of hard work. Instead of glowing with achievement, they had all departed growling with disappointment. Walking out of the office, the planner wondered how many of the top performers would soon be with the competition.

An effective award presentation can create greater feelings of loyalty and even improve productivity among a company's employees. And a bad experience achieves just the opposite. Nothing confirms an employee's worst fears about his organization more than a shoddy presentation. The circumstances don't have to be catastrophic to be disastrous; mediocrity is just as unmotivating.

Visibly showing people that you value their work and effort, and doing so in front of peers, is key in retaining top people. This is an invaluable opportunity to define, communicate and reinforce key aspects of outstanding performance. Also, it gives management a textbook example to show employees how individual excellence affects the company overall.

How an effective presentation is handled reflects a company's vision, goals and culture. Clearly, the amount of effort put into the launch of a program should be equally devoted to its closing. The award presentation is the last impression the participants have of the program. In truth, the incentive isn't really over until the participants receive their rewards.

Award presentations usually fall into two categories:

1. Informal, small gatherings - smaller ceremonies can be for everything from on-the spot recognition to service awards

2. Larger, public affairs - recognizing people and anniversaries in a more grand style creates an impact that is likely to increase performance even more.

If you don't believe you have time to pull together even the most informal gathering, remember . . . it will take much longer to train your top people's replacements.

This step-by-step guide provides a thorough understanding of what is necessary to run a successful professional presentation. From a small gathering to a large gala, this how to e-book addresses the details that can make the difference between thrilled award recipients and disgruntled employees.

Before the Presentation

Much of the foundation for a good awards presentation is laid before anyone takes the stage. Determining the budget, who will present the awards as well as when and where the ceremony will occur make up the initial concerns.


When you're first planning your presentation program, decide which of the three budget lines - administration, promotion and award - will cover the presentation. The best policy is to include all elements of the celebration in the award category. This approach confirms that the presentation is an important part of the award itself.

For sales incentives, usually the ceremony is part of a larger event. Any extra expenses for the award presentation are easily lumped in the dinner/party costs. If the award ceremony is part of a company day, probably a percentage of the award budget will be directed to this event.

For small, casual gatherings, it's harder to plan for extra costs because these are such informal affairs. One effective method is to allocate a certain monetary amount to each award. For instance, managers commemorating a five-year anniversary are given $100 to use for the celebration.


Whether a small celebration or elaborate affair, at least one member of upper management should attend. This provides a sense of prestige to the event. Some experts suggest the recipient's highest-level supervisor actually present the award since he knows the most about his accomplishments.

Also, peers should be invited to the ceremony. Co-workers, after all, understand better than anyone the value of a fellow employee's dedication and hard work. Plus the power of peer recognition at times rivals even the most impressive awards.


Service, corporate anniversary and safety presentations

An informal gathering of peers is a popular way to present service awards. Schedule the ceremony as close to the official date as possible to make it more meaningful. Also, a celebration earlier in the day decreases the possibility of presenters and co-workers becoming sidetracked and unable to attend. Morning presentations also avoid any lunchroom conflicts or aromas.

Often safety, corporate anniversary and service award presentations are included in company day festivities. This gives upper management a valuable opportunity to increase the visibility of the recipients as well as the awards themselves.
When award presentations are part of a companywide event, push for them to be scheduled earlier in the proceedings. This will help you avoid rushing through the ceremony and making the recipients feel like afterthoughts.

Another approach is to mimic the Academy Awards ceremony. The Oscars always begin and end with a big award. This grabs people's attention at the start and makes them stay until the end. Also it's a good way to bookend your company event.

There are a few negatives to including safety and service awards with companywide activities. Most importantly, employees recognize double tasking when they see it. They know salespeople are getting a separate celebration. The best way to combat this second-best sentiment is to make their moments in the spotlight as memorable as possible.

If the ceremony is part of a separate luncheon, present the awards at the beginning. Again, you won't be crunched for time, but also your odds of attracting upper management increase. These people won't sit through a meal with you; but they will show up if you promise they only have to allocate 20 minutes of their schedule at the beginning of your event.

Sales presentations

Presentations honoring salespeople usually occur on the final night of an incentive program trip or during a special event devoted to them. As above, consider scheduling the award ceremony at the beginning of the festivities, perhaps with music and dancing at the end.

First of all, you truly have people's attention at the beginning; later in the party it's much harder to accomplish. Second, this allows you to avoid problems with alcohol. There is no diplomatic way to tell a presenter he's drinking too much, so just avoid the issue.


The budget greatly determines where a presentation will occur. Ceremonies for salespeople usually have larger budgets and are held off site, whether at a local venue or during a travel incentive.

Smaller budgets, such as those for service and safety awards, require on-site celebrations. With small gatherings, conduct the presentation in a conference room or surprise the person in their supervisor's office. If possible take the group out to lunch and present the award at the restaurant.

When the award ceremony is part of a larger company event, make sure the venue fulfills the presentation's needs. For instance, an amusement park is a great place for a companywide party. Unless the park offers a theater or stage area that can accommodate all employees, however, it's not appropriate for an award presentation.


Now that you've determined when, where and who is attending your event, as well as how to pay for it, here are a few important details that should be addressed before the presentation.

Create excitement in the office. Write a story about each winner and what he or she did to win the award for the employee newsletter or a companywide email.

Notify top customers. If your company has just reached a safety milestone, for instance, this could improve a client's perception of the organization. Ask top salespeople and service award recipients if they want to spread the word of their accomplishments among clients.

Prepare brief notes for members of upper management who are unfamiliar with the recipients. Personalized praise enriches the experience and helps people feel they are not just one of many. Also, it is far more interesting for the audience.

Include information on any unusual names or pronunciations, as well as personal preferences. You don't want Stefan annoyed because he was called "Steven" during his big moment.

Create a printed program for the award presentation ceremony listing all the recipients and their accomplishments. This is a great keepsake and one of the little touches that can really make a difference.

Wrap the awards and include a handwritten note. Even if it is a gift certificate, wrap it. An unwrapped award gives the impression you couldn't be bothered.

Arrange for a photographer to take pictures of each winner receiving the award. Give him a complete list of the recipients and specify any special circumstances. If you choose to use a company employee in order to save money, see samples of his work beforehand.

Make copies of all multimedia elements and keep them separate from the originals. If computers or projectors are used, arrange for a backup to be available.

Do a complete rehearsal of the presentation. The lighting, multimedia, equipment and order of the rehearsal must be exactly as they will be during the event.

The Presentation Itself

Large or small, the primary goal of any award presentation is the same: to ensure the recipients feel valued by and committed to the organization. The body of the presentation should address the following issues:


Ask everyone to silence their cell phones and pagers.

Explain exactly why everyone is there and who will be honored. If several people will be recognized for different accomplishments, provide a general overview.

Give a brief explanation of what each person did to earn his or her award. Make it clear this is not a gift. For service awards, talk about their accomplishments during their tenure. Cite the impressive numbers for salespeople. Personal anecdotes reaffirm an emotional attachment to the company and co-workers. Don't go into information overload, but the more specifics, the better.

Tie achievements to corporate values and goals. Connecting individual performance to a company's success helps people see the big picture. For example, if reaching a safety goal saved the company an estimated amount of money, mention it.

Balance time spent discussing company culture and goals with the individual's achievements. Don't make the recipient and those in the audience feel as if the ceremony is just the hook to get people in a room to hear the company mantra. After all, this is the employee's moment to shine.

Describe the award. If the reward possesses significance to the company, explain it. If it is an impressive merchandise or travel award, a brief description creates just the right amount of envy among the recipient's peers. Hopefully, the award will inspire others to improve their performance.

Display pictures of the recipients on a large screen when their name is read, if appropriate. Regardless of the other multimedia elements, seeing their picture on the big screen will give the winner a thrill.


Go overboard with multimedia. It's an award presentation, not an action movie.

Discuss inadequacies or past mistakes. The goal may be to show how much the recipient has learned and progressed, but it could be embarrassing. Even if the goal is to be humorous, what is funny to one person is humiliating to another.

Allow several co-workers to speak. If you want to include peers for a larger presentation, consider videotaping segments and then presenting the best contributions during the ceremony. With smaller, informal gatherings, co-workers may present examples of the recipient's personal qualities and work achievements. This approach promotes a warmth and sincerity that can go a long way toward building an effective work group. However, make it clear this is an award presentation, not a roast.

Use too much industry jargon in companywide events. Odds are everyone will not understand the acronyms and unique lingo. People will either feel left out or simply become bored and tune out the proceedings.

Discard all sense of decorum in a quest for fun. It is perfectly acceptable to have a degree of fun during the presentation. However, leave the real partying until after the official ceremony.


Team or group awards

Whenever possible, briefly explain each person's role in the achievement. Ideally keep it to one or two sentences. As above, make sure it's clear how the group's accomplishments benefit the company overall. If the unit is simply too large for individual summaries, break it down into smaller teamwork presentations and discuss how each contributed.

Catalog award programs

The goal is to avoid any letdown since the recipients won't be collecting their award during the presentation. Give them a certificate with a picture of the award they've chosen as well as the date when they can expect it to be delivered.
With the desktop publishing technology available today, it's simple to create a picture of the recipient holding the merchandise award. The same can be done for travel incentives.

If the participants haven't chosen their awards yet, give them a packet providing all the information during the presentation. For instance, the folder should include a copy of the catalog, toll-free help numbers, Web site addresses, any expiration dates or deadlines, etc. If the program features a strong online component, create an introduction on the Web site welcoming the winners.

Short-term sales programs

Recognizing winners of short-term incentives helps increase visibility and interest in the overall program. Small, informal gatherings are appropriate, or you can do everything online. When a participant reaches a certain number of points the Web site could be programmed to run a clever multimedia presentation honoring his achievement and announcing the reward.

Post-Presentation Details

Smart planners survey participants after an incentive to find out how they can make improvements for successive programs. This policy should include the presentation as well.

Talk with recipients about the awards presentation. Get a sense for how they felt during their shining moment. If one-on-one conversations are not possible, distribute a post-program survey by email or regular mail, if anonymity is preferred.

Send recipients the official photos taken during the award presentation in a frame. Include information on how to get reprints.

Print photos of top performers taken during a travel incentive or posing with their merchandise award in the company newsletter. Photos should also be posted on the company's Web site.

Confirm the awards arrived at winners' homes or offices if it's a catalog program.

Notify the local press of the award presentation. Also, contact trade publications that cover your industry. It may trigger a story idea or become part of an article in development.

The press release should explain the recipients' special accomplishments as well as the incentive program and its benefits. If the event celebrated a corporate anniversary, relate significant events in the company's history. Enclose photos with captions, if appropriate, and be sure to include a media contact.


Hotel ballrooms usually come with all the bells and whistles needed for a successful award presentation. But what if you must use the company's boring, all-purpose area and your budget covers the awards and little else? It may never look like Carnegie Hall, but keep these points in mind when working with a raw space.

1. Stage

For a group of 25 people or more, use a platform or podium to raise the presenter and recipients two or more feet off the floor. When a stage isn't possible, arrange the seating so everyone faces the presentation.

Cover the background wall with a curtain or drape of some kind. A plain concrete wall evokes memories of high school assembly. Some speaking coaches also suggest telling presenters the color of the background. This way they won't wear a gray suit that would blend in with a gray curtain.

2. Lighting

You only need two "stage" lights to cross-light the presenter effectively. Most of the light in the room should be focused on the presenter, with just a bit distributed over the audience. If the venue doesn't offer multiple lighting options, simply go for clarity.

3. Podium

The best presenters avoid lecterns, but the rest of us need them like a security blanket. Truthfully, it's much better to allow someone to fidget with his tie or play with a pen behind a podium than to leave such behavior exposed to the audience. Use an adjustable lectern if several presenters are scheduled.

4. Visuals

Project images high and large. The bottom of the screen should be at least six feet off the stage.

5. Seating

What is perfect for a dinner may not accommodate a presentation. Half-moon arrangements suit award ceremonies best since people don't have to fidget to see the action. If using theater-style seating, create several aisles instead of just one down the middle.

6. Acoustics

All-purpose areas aren't known for their acoustics. Carpets or tapestries of some kind will help dull the echo somewhat.

7. Equipment

Whether you're using an outside firm or the in-house staff, plan a full rehearsal to become familiar with the quirks of the space. The dry run should use live microphones in order to find the ideal positions to avoid feedback.


How much humor is appropriate?

The presentation should fit the accomplishment as well as the overall company culture. Since this is a significant honor for the recipients, err on the side of light-hearted humor rather than actually poking fun at others.

Theme parties and skits also walk a fine line. For instance, one company tried a 'from hell to heaven' premise. Many salespeople decided it really was hellish working at the company and left.

On the other hand, a company celebrating its 50th anniversary did a wonderful job depicting the organization through the decades with a series of skits. The performers used just enough humor to make the event enjoyable while still paying tribute to the company's accomplishments.

What is the best way to keep track of ideas for presentations?

Create a presenter's journal. Allocate a section of your day planner or electronic organizer for ideas and examples of effective presentations. Information can range from a good opening anecdote to clever, affordable decorations.

Should I cancel award presentations during business slumps?

Celebrations shouldn't be reserved only for the good times. A safety award, for instance, can pump up morale and give employees a sense of accomplishment despite the bad times. Sales awards honor people who have achieved some success despite the circumstances.

That said, timing is something to keep in mind. No presentation should be scheduled anywhere near a day filled with layoffs.

What if the recipient is shy?

In this case, attention may be more a punishment than a reward. Discuss the prospect of a public presentation with the winner. Arrange a special presentation only with his peers if he isn't comfortable beyond his immediate work group.

How do I ensure employees in satellite offices feel part of the festivities?
Technology can help bridge the gap. Broadcast the event live on the company's Web site and arrange for people in branch offices to watch it together. Also, the presentation can be videotaped and sent to the satellites.

Employees in branch offices may still feel left out. Whenever possible, directors from headquarters should participate in presentations for top performers in these off-site locations.

What about email?

Don't use it to notify recipients of their honor. Online communication is most effective for basic information after winners have been announced.
Considering how many emails people send and receive during an average day, the award notice could easily be lost. Also, since their achievement is something outside the norm, everything about the award experience should be as well.


The planner might as well have hired a clown to throw pies in their faces.
After hours of negotiating, cajoling and outright begging, he had convinced a popular, up-and-coming singer to present the awards to the company's top salespeople. Unfortunately, the thrill turned into a nightmare.

The singer showed up late, was dressed too casually and spent more time on his cell phone than on stage. But the ultimate insult carne when he refused to shake hands with each of the winners. He just mumbled each name and handed the plaque to the recipient.

All in all, a night the planner wished everyone would forget.

Celebrities can generate incredible buzz for an award presentation. When it works well, it is an experience your participants will never forget. Unfortunately, the same is true when circumstances go awry. Clearly, the risks are as high as the rewards. Fellow planners and suppliers, such as destination management companies, can offer advice about which performers behave professionally and who isn't worth the headache.

If you like the idea of a celebrity but can't afford the price tag or the risks, try an impersonator. A Billy Crystal look-alike hosting your next award presentation would surely create excitement among your top people.