A Fresh Take on Award Ceremonies: How to Engage Attendees Throughout

Written by Paige Dawson

Recently, I penned a blog on insights from 24 Women in Technology winners. I attended the annual Dallas Business Journal event to support a friend and client, Dr. Patricia Connolly of SMC Squared. (Read about her here…she is a rock star.)

In today’s blog, I’ll share my event execution takeaways from that same event…some great ideas to add into your next event program. Over my 25-year career, the number of events, luncheons, receptions, seminars, conferences, etc. that I’ve attended well hits the several thousand range. As event production and management fall into our agency wheelhouse as well, I’m constantly watching and making note of what works and doesn’t from an attendee perspective.

This year’s Dallas Business Journal event for the Women in Technology Awards was one of the best produced awards events that I’ve attended in years. In fact, the DBJ’s Women in Business luncheon last year was probably the second best one—and an entirely different format…so DBJ is really upping the game for event quality and variety.

The Typical Scene

Dozens of round tables with full meal table settings for lunch or dinner and servers about for plated meal service.

Emcee welcome and judges, sponsors, dignitary host of name recognition and courtesy audience claps.

Possibly a keynote speaker.

One winner announced; audience claps; emcee reads bio; winner accepts award with thank you laundry list of names; audience claps; winner stands for photo on stage; exits.

REPEAT winner sequence, again and again and again.

Emcee closes, crowd leaves, takes goody bag, etc.

A Fresh Take

In this recent event, DBJ turned that event process upside down and with great results.

Pre- & Post-Event Smart Networking Time: To combat the known enemy (aka Dallas rush hour traffic) the event held both pre- (4-5 pm) and post- (6-7 pm) event networking reception time with food and drink service. The pre-time provided nice casual chats before the event commenced while the post-time allowed for more personal congratulations chats and intros. (And, I’m positive the valet and parking attendants felt some relief from the pace change.)

Presentation Approach: To break up the monotony of recognizing 24 women for the same award category, along with 3 main sponsors, DBJ did its advance planning work and natural skill for content curation.

  • Before the event, the DBJ staff conducted a custom photo shoot with the winners to provide for a consistent look for the print publication as well as the event large screen sharing. Concurrently, the winners were asked to complete a short, written Q&A on various points that were shaped into the print editorial as well as the introduction text. These questions provide the emcees with fabulous, first-person answers into their background, advice, tips, little known facts, etc. The content shared the diversity of these women as well as some commonalities.
  • As each winner was announced to the stage, the large screens displayed the professional photos while the emcee shared the key background and reasons for her selection.
  • Last year’s DBJ Women in Business awards took a similar approach to pre-event content curation. In that case the honorees were recorded on custom video shoots and key segments were used for the introduction of each winner in her own words. Same result…interesting, varied, engaging and surprising….and for all: time efficient.
  • In this event the sponsors played a key role that was a more subtle and content-driven way to engage. At each one-third mark of the event the emcee announced one sponsor to come forward for a quick intro video (i.e. pretty commercial) and 30-second stage welcome/thanks. The sponsor then tag teamed with DBJ to announce the winners while the two other sponsors posed for the photo opp with the winner. A fast, seamless way to introduce sponsors, break up the speaking roles, and move the process along. Thanks to Bravo Tech, CIBC and UTD for sponsoring this year’s awards.
  • To change the dynamic of a typical (aka boring to most attendees) thank you speech by winners, the emcee set the tone by saying that as each winner approached the microphone they would share their one piece of wisdom or advice that they would give to their younger self–and in under 30 seconds. Yes, a bit akin to a pageant interview question…I grant you that but the answers were fascinating and varied…and then common. (Read a summary in my earlier blog post on those take-away points.)
  • Even with the fresher format, DBJ was smart and knew that the audience needed a few more surprises to stay alert. About halfway through one-third winner group, the emcee shook it up by sharing quick “fun facts” from the earlier Q&A submission. For instance: What one app on the winner’s phone are they ashamed to say they use? What’s the best purchase under $100 that they have made in the past six months? What’s the worst career advice they have received? The answers provided the levity and chuckles you’d expect.

And, our evening parting gifts were just as smart—digital phone related items with the sponsor logos on them (after all it’s all about women in technology). One sponsor provided a ring stand and another a phone sanitizer wand. What was nice about this ending is that instead of bags to hand out or monitor, along with paper that would be tossed in the garbage, the attendees simply could pick up a gift or two from the goody table and baskets by the exit. It was honor system so I’m sure that some took none, some took more, and it worked out in the end.

I’m eager to see how the DBJ and other organizations up their games the rest of this year and beyond.

Oh…and for those of you running charity events, I picked up a great idea from this Spring’s Can Do Luncheon that benefited the Wilkinson Center. The attendees who purchased the table centerpiece as a donation item received “priority valet service.” I can promise no flowers were left as navigating valet with 300+ attendees is a game indeed.

About Paige Dawson

With expertise in marketing, business strategy and public relations, as well as ‘in the trenches’ experience as a business owner, Paige Dawson brings a unique blend of talent to clients. As president and founder of MPD Ventures Company, Paige works with executives and entrepreneurs throughout the country to develop key messages, marketing strategies and measurable campaigns, driven by client business goals. She has extensive experience providing counsel for professional service firms, technology companies, associations and nonprofits.