What makes a great awards ceremony?

Blog Thought leadership
winners hug under a spotlight in the centre of an event crowd while guests seated at tables applaud.
As an events agency, we’ve seen our fair share of awards shows having worked behind the scenes on The British Independent Film Awards for 14 years. Industry leaders from micebook, EVCOM, BIFA and miaList weigh in on the secret to a memorable awards ceremony and we share ten ideas to elevate your awards event. 

Awards shows can be a powerful tool to motivate and recognise employees and community members. This is your chance to say thank you to your employees, recognise talent and hard work, so it’s important to make the night feel special, by putting the attendee experience first.

Whether its an internal employee appreciation event or a major public event, awards ceremonies can often fall flat in this area. While you want to celebrate the winners, the whole event should be an engaging and exciting experience throughout for winners and non-winners alike.

So what is the secret to a memorable awards show?

We asked four industry leaders to provide their perspectives.

Director of the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA), Amy Gustin shares that it’s important to shine the spotlight on the work that’s being celebrated:

The key is probably taking the nominees and their work seriously but not taking ourselves too seriously. Putting the work front and centre, and presenting it in the best possible way is what everyone is really there to see, giving it a platform in the room and beyond. 

We find that it’s also really important to make sure those working on the show are incredibly passionate about what they do too, so everyone is always striving for the best possible version.”

CEO of micebook, Chetan Shah, shares the secret to the success, where the shortlist process takes centre stage.

The credibility of the judges, judging criteria and judging process. Because then if you win, it really is merited and should be valued for being the best of the best.”

Chief Executive of The Meetings Industry Association (mia), Kerrin MacPhie, gives an insight into how the annual miaList achieves record-breaking entries annually.

We continue to evolve the miaList each year – whether that’s the categories, judging process or the various activities we put in place to build the excitement before a name is even revealed. 

Across every industry you can find a wide range of awards to enter, so it’s essential that organisers demonstrate why their awards are credible from start to finish. Often that’s done by having an esteemed judging panel, a clear and valid entry process or a sparkling ceremony where the detail isn’t left to chance. 

EVCOM’s Executive Director, Claire Fennelow, focuses on the fun side of EVCOM’s annual industry awards:

Keep it brief, keep it friendly, keep it fun. Ensure everyone has a good time – win or lose. And most of all, create photo opportunities as everyone wants to share the experience.”

How to make an awards show more engaging?

An engaging awards show needs to include more than just reading out the winners on the night. 

One idea to keep your guests entertained and engaged is to have a challenge or networking activity such as a raffle or a surprise award that attendees can vote for on the night via an event app or site. 

It is also key to have a charismatic host to lead the agenda. A professional emcee will be an expert in keeping an audience’s attention whereas a public figure or well known comedian will get more people to your event. 

Tip: Make sure to interview these beforehand to make sure they are the right fit for the event.

Keep focus on the stage

A stage is the focal point of your event so its important this has the wow factor’ to keep attendees eyes front and centre. 

This can be from a stunning stage design or with engaging on-screen visuals and animations. 

The larger the event is, it can be harder for people to see the stage so you should considering multiple screens around the stage and the room. 

Why you should consider live streaming the show

Broadcasting means you can reach a much larger audience than the capacity of the venue may allow. The people who couldn’t make it on the night can still have a great experience with online interactivity such as voting and networking hubs. 

An online element is also great for gaining data insights such as the number of views, live reactions and social media interaction.

How to utilise social media for events

Speaking of social media, create excitement and get more people talking about your awards event with elements that guests will want to share online. 

A red carpet element with a branded backdrop and photographers goes a long way to making the attendees and the event feel special. 

As Claire Fennelow suggested, interactive photo opportunities such as a photo booth or filter incentivise guests to share their pictures online and create a buzz. E!‘s slow motion Glambot went viral on Tik Tok after they used it to capture celebrities’ looks on their awards show red carpets.

Don’t forget to use an event specific hashtag which you can look at after the event to collect marketing material. You can incentivise guests to use this hashtag such as having a prize for the best picture of the night.

Make attendees feel special 

The key to a successful event is making your guests feel special as these are the people who are being celebrated. 

The theme for the 2023 micebook awards was Our People’, shining the spotlight on event professionals with BTS photos guests sent in beforehand. 

Consider having a special category that reflects the purpose of the event, the culture within your company, or a cause your employees are passionate about. 

Allow guests to choose food options beforehand 

Is it true that the food is the most memorable part of an event? 

Part of putting your guests first is pre-event communication to offer a more personalised experience and this includes inclusive menu choices.

A key element that awards events often get wrong is providing a lavish three course gala dinner with champagne … that many guests will be disappointed by. This is because you haven’t been inclusive to those who are alcohol-free or meat-free. By putting a portion of your catering budget aside for equally special alternatives on the menu, you create the same experience for all of your guests.

Make space and time for networking 

What are the guests getting from your event? Many guests will attend awards shows to meet new people or catch up with industry friends. To enable these all important connections, consider adapting the agenda to include networking activities and an after party or tweaking the layout of seating and additional spaces.

Change the theme or format annually

And after all that, your registration numbers for next year will be soaring and you need to create something just as memorable.

Kerrin also adds Preparation is key. Even though our annual miaList has only just taken place, planning for next year’s ceremony is never far away. So, it’s pivotal that organisers allow themselves ample time to not only ensure availability with preferred venues and entertainers, but to engage sponsors early on and provide prospective entrants with a clear picture of timelines to be pencilled in their calendars.

This is where delegate feedback is important as you can see what worked and what didn’t, allowing your event to evolve. An idea to plan each year more show stopping than the last is to create a new theme that will guide the venue styling and immerse guests into a fun evening. 

A lot goes into planning a good awards ceremony, but don’t worry — our team are experts in events from creation to management. Get in touch if you would like our help to plan an event to remember.