And the Winner Is – The Art of Presenting Awards: Practical Tips and Techniques

While participating in sports as a young person growing up I was a member of several teams that were presented with awards of recognition but was never the recipient of an individual award. Awards were based on proficiency and results. I displayed neither. Elementary and secondary school weren’t any different. Apparently there wasn’t an annual award presented for showing up.

This left me unprepared for my first experience as a presenter of an award of recognition. I was serving as the Student Council President in my second year of training as a nurse in a community college when I was called upon to present a silver gavel to the President of the college as a token of appreciation for his many years of service. When it was my turn to speak and make the presentation… the cameras recording the moment for prosperity… I panicked and uttered the words “I’m so scared up here!” Things got a little black as I recall. I’m pretty sure that I remained standing during the ordeal and I’m not sure how the President ever got his gavel. In a strange twist of fate, the President took is own life a few short weeks later. I don’t think that my mishandling of the ceremony had had anything to do with it, or so my therapist convinced me.

Award presentation ceremonies aren’t life and death situations nor will they be effective without advance preparation and your self-confidence to put on a good show. Think showmanship. Think about some of the award presentation ceremonies that you have seen in the past as to what worked and what didn’t.

I believe that two of the biggest mistakes that amateur or inexperienced emcees make are that they are unprepared and/or make the ceremony about themselves rather than the award recipient. Humour and jokes can be a powerful tool when used effectively but when they are used to make you the star of the show, they are not. It’s not about you! Your job is to entertain and inform your audience and convince them that the award that you are presenting at that moment and the person that is receiving the award is of great importance.

Being an effective emcee is an art. Like a giant iceberg with much of its bulk hidden beneath the waters, much of what happens in an award presentation ceremony is done behind the scenes before the spotlight shines on you.

Here are some steps to take to ensure your next award presentation is handled professionally.

Logistics: (things that you need to know in advance)

• Do the nominees know in advance if they have won a specific award or just of their nomination?
• Does the agenda allow time for the winners to deliver an acceptance speech? If so, how long are they allowed?
• If there are multiple awards to be presented, do you know the total time allotted in the agenda?
• What is the size of the awards? Will they be placed on a nearby table or perhaps hidden within the lectern/podium? Will you be able to lift them or will you require an assistant?

Research questions:

• What is the award being presented for?
• Does the award/trophy have a name?
• What were the criteria for winning the award?
• Are there any notable past winners that should be mentioned?
• What did the recipient of the award do to win the award? Examples: specific accomplishments or achievements.
• How was the winner chosen and perhaps from how many if the number is known?
• Does the winner get to keep the award forever or for a period of time?
• Is there a sponsor for the particular award? Are you expected to do a promotional plug for them as well or will they be expected to speak?

Preparation: Creating your script

You should incorporate the answers to your research questions into your speaker’s notes. Answer the questions of who, what, why, when, where and how. Your role is to create excitement about the award being presented even if it is an award that in your mind is a big whoop-dee-doo. (i.e. not really very important at all.)

Your notes should be written for the spoken word, not the written. Short sentences. Simple words. Lots of adjectives. They should be appropriate ones though and not too flowery. You should be enthusiastic and motivational in your presentation, yet at the same time, sincere. You can read your notes at the time of the presentation if you really have to to control your nervousness however, you will seem to be more polished and professional if you have committed much of your content to memory and only refer to your notes for specific details that you want to ensure are delivered correctly.

Presenting the Award:

Its show time! All eyes are on you. It’s time to raise some excitement. Its time to make a special person feel like they are the most important person in the world, at least for the next few moments. You have your script. If it is a trophy, plaque or an object of some kind, this would be a good time to show it to the audience.

Start by introducing the background of the award, why it is so important and provide examples of what the winner has done to achieve the award. By now, if the nominees for the award haven’t been told in advance that they have won, they will likely recognize their achievements being broadcasted. Now is time to announce the winner. Your voice can be an effective tool by increasing your speaking speed, your pitch and your volume as you build your audience into a frenzy of anticipation. Well, maybe in your mind! Your role at this point is to act as a cheerleader and lead the applause as you announce the winner and invite them up to you to receive their award.

If you have a co-presenter, it would be prudent to give a brief intro of them before you started your delivery. They might be the sponsor of the award. Having a previous winner of the award pass it on to the next winner can be quite exciting.

If you are the sole presenter of the award, step away from the lectern/podium to allow room to present the award and shake the recipient’s hand. Think photo op. Hopefully you have remembered to dress in your finest. While shaking the winner’s hand I always offer them a few words of private congratulations while looking them in the eyes and shaking their hand. The process is very much like following the steps in a dance routine. Announce, shake their hand, look them in the eyes, congratulate them, step back, lead congratulations applause and lead the applause as they return to their seat. Repeat for the next winner.

Bridging between awards and recipients is essential to your performance. Remember… its not about you. You could give a brief personal example of how you have seen that the recipient has earned the award assuming that you know them. Or you could give a brief overview of why you believe the award is important as you set up the next award to be delivered. The key word is “brief.” Repeat the process.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

1. What happens if you announce the winner of an award and they are not present to accept it? One solution might be to ask the audience if there is anyone else from the individual’s family or organization, if they are part of one, who would like to accept the award on their behalf. Perhaps if you are aware in advance of the reason that they are unable to attend an alternative action would be to call upon a leader in the hosting organization to accept the award in the absent winner’s behalf.

2. If you are presenting awards of achievement and they are not there to accept, do not give the award to someone with the directions of “Just give it to them next time that you see them.” I have known of awards that have taken a year or more to get to their recipient. By the time that it did, the significance of the award had diminished.

3. You are presenting awards and notice that the award that you are giving isn’t the one that is supposed to be next or there is a spelling mistake on the engraving. What do you do? I go with the principal of the “show must go on!” I would present the award and when the opportunity arises I would mention to the recipient that there was a slight problem but not to worry about it and we would solve it after the ceremony.

4. Photo ops can add a lively dimension to your ceremonies but what can you do when they take up too much time or are disruptive? As the emcee, you are in charge of the proceedings. If you want to restrict the time allowed for each photo op, you can do so. There is nothing wrong with advising that the winner will be available for a photo opportunity upon conclusion of the formal ceremonies. You should offer your services for representing the award at that time. Don’t forget to smile!

5. What can be done about an award recipient whose acceptance speech never seems to end? If they are the one paying you, you might want to let them run on a little. If they aren’t, and you are on a tight schedule, you may need to intervene. Often standing right beside the speaker can give them the hint that it is time to relinquish the spotlight. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you have t be forceful and interject with something along the lines of “in order to keep us on track to allow our other winners to speak, I’m going to have to cut you off… I would then lead the applause and hopefully the speaker will get the hint.