Associations enjoy giving awards, but all too often their ceremonies are lackluster, awkward, and even boring. Taking a page from Sunday’s Golden Globes, here are some pointers for creating a dazzling awards program.
On Sunday, the 74th Golden Globe Awards officially kicked off awards season with some record-breaking wins for musical La La Land and a lifetime achievement award for Meryl Streep. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association coproduced the star-studded, boozy affair, which since 1944 has recognized excellence in film and television.
But HFPA isn’t the only association that hosts an annual awards show. Lots of groups present awards to publicly recognize and promote the best and the brightest in their industries—and to bring in some nondues revenue for their association. But, to put it mildly: lots of associations don’t do them near as well as the Golden Globes.
Associations Now asked Louise Ristau, CAE, executive director of the Awards and Personalization Association, which is managed by Association Management Center, to offer some tips on creating successful awards program.
Keep the nomination process easy. Although the 90-some members of HFPA select the Golden Globe nominees and winners, most associations cull their own cast of industry stars from outside nominations. But many report frustration over getting too-few nominations.
“People are busy and when the nomination process is cumbersome, it can discourage people from nominating themselves or others,” Ristau said. She recommends keeping it simple, and making the qualifications clear. And she also recommends reviewing your award categories to make sure they’re appropriate. “Don’t hesitate to sunset a category if it’s no longer relevant.”
Get a good host. Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show host, anchored this year’s Golden Globes—his goofy, generous humor a sharp contrast to Ricky Gervais’ acerbic digs of years past. But whether fun-loving Fallon or caustic Gervais are at the helm, the Golden Globes are always entertaining.
The same can’t always be said for other associations’ award presentations. “Most associations can’t hire Jimmy Fallon to emcee their events, but whether you have a significant budget or are working with no budget, you can still have a memorable presentation,” Ristau said. “Identify a member who has charisma, who has a presence that can serve as a host. They may appreciate the opportunity to help out, and if they’re well-received, they might serve in that capacity for several years.”
Tap presenters who know the award winners. That moment when the Golden Globe winner comes hopping up to the stage, tears streaming, arms outstretched to the presenter is always a heartwarming one. And Ristau said that associations can follow suit by tapping presenters who know the award recipients and are involved in crafting the introduction comments about them. “They might have a story about that recipient from 10 years ago that the person writing the script doesn’t know about,” Ristau said. “When you can get personal and share the emotion behind the award, I think that’s important.”
Keep the ceremony short and sweet. The Golden Globes can afford to stretch out their awards for four hours, but most associations can’t. “Try to keep the actual presentations from 30 to 45 minutes tops.” Ristau said. “And you can use graphics, videos, photos—whatever your budget allows—[which] helps to add another dimension to the presentation to keep it interesting.”
Script and rehearse the rewards. Fallon didn’t come up with his stand-up on the spot—as a faltering teleprompter proved—and association professionals, who don’t have his presence or comedic prowess, shouldn’t wing it on stage either. Ristau recommends writing a script for the entire awards presentation. “Read it aloud to make sure that it sounds natural and doesn’t sound like an essay,” she said. “Throw in jokes but keep it brief.”
Rehearsing is key to a successful awards program too. “Schedule a half an hour with the hosts and presenters and the recipients—if they’re not surprise awards—to walk through the logistics,” Ristau said. In the rehearsal, you can iron out kinks like which side of the stage presenters and recipients will enter and exit from, whether recipients will have an opportunity to give a few comments, and if they’ll be a photo opp.
“The best presentations that I’ve seen are the ones where people laugh and cheer,” Ristau said. “When that happens, you know that you’ve honored the recipient well.”