Secrets of a Successful Awards Ceremony

Awards Ceremony

The excitement and hype of an awards ceremony can result in some infamous moments, whether it’s Kanye storming the stage, Gwyneth’s tears, Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie with Hollywood A-listers or Will Smith…well, let’s just leave it there.  While you should expect a little less drama from your corporate awards ceremony, it still needs to be memorable for all the right reasons.

 A well-executed awards ceremony can be a key highlight of the company calendar.  A chance to put your glad rags on and celebrate individual success, team wins, and hard work.    But before you start googling venues and canapés, spend a little time thinking about the overall goals and objectives for your event.

Sarah, without a shadow of a doubt is what any client needs when staging an awards ceremony regardless of guest numbers, objective or location. Knowing Sarah is on board and an extension to your team is invaluable.” 

Odell Dair, JLT, London

Planning your awards ceremony

Start by asking yourself why you’re holding the event and what outcomes you want to achieve. Is it an internal awards’ do for employees, or a wider industry event?  Reward and recognition are usually at the heart of most internal awards ceremonies so consider how it will play a role in your wider employee engagement strategy for the year.

If the event has been held in the past, what has worked well, what traditions should continue and what elements could do with a refresh to reflect the direction the company is going in?  If there is one key message you need to convey, think how this can be incorporated into the fabric of the awards ceremony, from the strapline to the smaller details.

Put together a brief and a budget to refer back to at every stage of planning and consider bringing in an experienced event organiser – like us lovely folk at Octopus – to maximise every penny and add some creative flair. 

The awards were really head and shoulders above previous years so huge congratulations.” 

 Louise Birt, Commercial Director, Cornerstone, Oxfordshire

Set the tone for a brilliant awards ceremony

As Kirsty and Phil didn’t quite say, it’s all about ‘venue, venue, venue’.  The venue sets the tone for your awards ceremony.  Select one that suits the demographics and needs of your attendees and is convenient for the majority of people to travel to.  If needed, ensure accommodation is available on site or close by, consider accessibility including wheelchair access and if the venue has a hearing loop. 

Consider any restrictions that beautiful historic buildings may bring with them (like a red wine ban!) and what type of AV support and catering the venue offers in-house.  Depending on the time of year and the day of the week, the most popular venues often get booked up far in advance.  Typically, spring and autumn are the most popular seasons for awards ceremonies and the early bird catches the worm.

Once you’ve chosen the venue, decide on a theme and how this can be woven through every aspect of the event to leave a lasting impression – from the invitations to the menu, marketing collateral, décor and style of awards.  If the venue already has strong design credentials, there’s less need to invest heavily in theming, you can let the surroundings do the talking!   Lighting is worth a mention as it can completely change the look, feel and atmosphere of a room so choose carefully and consider the wider context of your event.  We know of one event in Amsterdam where the client chose red lighting as the main theme – perhaps ill-advised in hindsight!  If the room has natural daylight, this may cause challenges with a lighting scheme during light summer evenings.

An awards ceremony is all about acknowledging people’s achievements so the host of the awards is critical to its success. Their job is to create a relaxed atmosphere and generate excitement around the nominees and winners.  Proceed with caution if hiring a comedian who might be tempted to make jokes at the expense of the audience or your organisation, as this can devalue the event and can make everyone feel uncomfortable. Always remember that the objective isn’t to stage a raucous stand-up show, your awards ceremony is a big investment and should be an authentic, inclusive celebration of talent. 

Just wanted to send you a quick line to say thanks ever so much for having me as your awards host last night. What a night. You knocked it out the park! Well done. Everyone had a blast, and it was so professionally put together. Flawless. You made my job SO easy. I am truly grateful.

Neal Veglio, Radio DJ/Awards Host

The Dazzle is in the Detail

Now you’ve pinned down the key elements, it’s time to turn your attention to the details. This is either the fun part or the stressful bit, depending on your point of view.  Events require a huge amount of work behind the scenes so pre-event and onsite event management are equally important.  At Octopus, we can plan and organise the event and run it on the night for you, so talk to us about our experience and how we can support you.

Some key considerations are:

The stage set and room layout:  Allow plenty of time to design and arrange the seating plan, whether it’s banquet or theatre style.  Consider how award winners will make their way to the stage and where the post-award photos will be taken.  

Catering:  Food and drink can make or break an event so incorporate menu tasting into the planning stages.  I’m sure we can all remember an evening where the food didn’t match up to the surroundings!  Your guests should feel special and valued at an awards ceremony and great catering is a good way to communicate that.  We sometimes have the opportunity of working with the pastry chefs onsite to design branded desserts for the guests which is a nice touch.  If you are working with an outside caterer, consider using one that sources local ingredients from sustainable producers. It’s also important to think about where the nominees and winners will get their celebratory drinks from – will it be table service, a bar or both?

Entertainment:  Research and secure your entertainment well in advance with the theme and goals of the awards ceremony in mind.  Talk to us about wow factor ideas and how to create an impact that gets people talking positively about the event, long after it’s over.  Over the years, Octopus have used singing waiters, amazing magicians, and even a Celtic drumming troupe at an event up in Scotland!

Sponsorship:  Decide whether sponsorship is a suitable revenue stream for your event. If you’re having more than one sponsor, check they’re not direct competitors and make sure you’re clear on what sponsors will expect in return for their investment. 

Music:  The background music is vital to the storytelling and atmosphere at your awards ceremony so make sure you check that the venue has the relevant licences to play music.    You’ll need suitable music for guests to enter the room and take their seats, the ‘award stings’ (as winners collect their awards) and music for the celebrations afterwards.  We’re passionate about music at Octopus so please chat to us about ideas – we’ve got lots of them and we know what works firsthand.   We can also entertain you with a few industry horror stories of when music at awards ceremonies goes wrong – let’s just say, we know of one poor winner who had to make their way to the stage to a famous song by the Baha Men… Epic fail!  

Photography & Videography:  We’ve got a little black book of fantastic event photographers and videographers and we’d always recommend using a supplier who has existing experience in capturing awards events.

Script: Afraid to say you can’t write it the day before!  In essence, a great awards ceremony is a great story – with a beginning, middle, and end. Done well, it should flow effortlessly, building tension and excitement to draw the audience in.   Don’t forget to factor in a thorough run-through and rehearsal with the host.   We’ve got some great tips on managing the all-important envelopes and physical awards too!

“…it was such a great awards event…. and the positive feedback continues to come in!  Thank you also for all of your help, we couldn’t have done it without you – both the support before the event and on the night”

 Jane Smith, Head of Engagement, Inclusion, and Experience, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

How to maximise the value of your awards ceremony

The nominees and award winners themselves will inevitably feel excited and honoured, but don’t forget everyone else present at the event.   Depending on the type of awards ceremony, you might have other guests, plus ones, clients, suppliers, prospects, or press in attendance so consider how to make the event inclusive for everyone and hold their attention.  Leave a lasting impression with memorable touches like personalised gifts or sustainable goody bags, brilliant entertainment, amazing catering (with all dietary requirements covered), and excellent service.

Your ultimate goal is to ensure that every person in the room leaves with the warm glow of having been part of a fantastic, unique, and celebratory event.

Get in touch today to talk about your organisation’s awards ceremonies. 

There’s no obligation, a discovery call with Octopus is a chance to talk about your goals and how we can use our extensive event management experience to help you achieve them. 

Sarah Hopgood, Founder and MD, Octopus Events
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