Envelope Angst

One of the most common event types we are called upon to do is the awards show. Sooner or later, virtually every organization decides to roll out the hotel's red carpet, fire up the old follow spots, and stage their own academy awards. It's a great theme, if it's done well. Unfortunately, it will be compared by the attendees to REAL awards shows, which are among the slickest productions in the world. So doing it well is mandatory.

If the client is receptive, there's a lot we can do to help them have a successful awards show. Mostly, it involves helping them avoid the most common pitfalls, which are:

(Drumroll please)

1. Everybody already knows who the winners are.
In most companies, the winners are pretty well known in advance. The salesperson with the highest totals, or the rep with the most new clients, are known company wide. This makes the awards show a real sleep inducer.

2. Everybody wins.
Another common pitfall of the awards show is the awards list as long as your arm. The HR department gets involved and decides that it would be bad for morale if everybody didn't win something - so we create awards for things like "best cubicle" or "most considerate parking in the garage." This makes the presentation of the awards last until 1am, steals the moment from the real winners, and actually embarrasses the winner of the Best Penmanship Award.

3. Lack of real rehearsals.
It's tough to get most organizations to really rehearse for meetings. But awards shows are SHOWS, which require TIMING. Most awards shows follow a formula that goes like this. Presenter goes to podium, reads award category. This is followed by video or graphics about the award or the winner, which is followed by an audio sting and the announcement of the winner. The winner is picked up by the lighting crew with a follow spot, goes to podium, says a few words of thanks, and the process begins again. It's a formula that works, but it totally depends on smooth timing and crew coordination, which totally depends on rehearsal.

4. Lame awards show emulation.
The worst awards shows I've seen are attempts at direct ripoffs of the Emmys or Academy Awards, including fake names of the presenters and fake gold statuettes. One even had a "walk of fame" with fake gold stars done in tinfoil, which shredded as the attendees walked over them. The operative word here is "fake." Unless we want to make the awards a joke (which in some circumstances we may) it is better not to attempt a direct emulation of a major awards show. Note that it can be a great show if you do have the time and budget, and that many large organizations do this type of show quite well. It just isn't for the faint of heart.

So, besides helping them avoid the "four deadly sins of awards shows", what can we do to help the client have a great show experience?

1. From the very start, emphasize that this type of show requires coordination. Don't let them underestimate how different this is than their typical corporate meeting. You don't want to be the one left holding the bag for the failure. Insist on real rehearsals, and enough crew to make the cues work.

2. Explain to the client how awards shows really work, and help them get qualified production talent to make it work. This requires coordination. If your company has an experienced production group, go for it. If not, and if the client doesn't, help them get some. The average corporate or organizational "production" department, which may be an offshoot of meeting planning, graphics or IT, may be overwhelmed by something this theatrical. Basically, if they haven't produced anything that requires this kind of "tightness" before, get them some help.

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Less is more. Help tighten up the script, eliminating superfluous cues, speeches, and awards. Keep it fast-paced. The excitement of an awards banquet comes from keeping it moving. Pacing also helps cover the errors that do happen.

4. Help gather materials. If you watch the major awards shows, much of the excitement-producing pace comes from short video and audio clips that are used to add suspense about the winners. Many shows try to skip this part, by going directly from the reading of the awards category to the opening of the envelope. This comes off as very "grade school awards" and should be avoided. If we don't want to actually show the achievements of the winners, or don't have the materials to do so, maybe we shouldn't be having an awards show in the first place.

5. Don't hang back on sets or lighting. These are the elements that the real awards shows use to create atmosphere. Awards shows are as flashy as shows get, and trying to do them in a room full of pipe and drape really doesn't cut it. Sets don't HAVE to be expensive, but they need to be imaginative and well-lit to pull this one off.

But the biggest thing is honesty. This is a type of event where you'll have to provide experience and guidance, and nobody wins if you try to avoid real critical input. If the client hasn't done this type of show before, they CAN'T know what to expect. Be part of the team. These type of shows can actually be a lot of fun for both our team and the clients if we work together and do things right.

I think this is such an art form that there should be an awards show for awards shows.

May I have the envelope, please?