Running an Awards Dinner

Run a great awards event for your audience.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #32

Today we'll explore the Ten Rules of Running an Awards, Acknowledgment, or Fund-raising Dinner.

I love people. I love to thank people, especially people who do great things. In this episode, I plan to thank the 50 most important people of my life. I'll pause after each person so you can applaud, and _really_ make them feel loved.

Ick. Ick ick ick ick ick. I like being a social do-gooder. I give money to non-profits who do great stuff like ship finger-nail cleaning utensils to people in third-world countries. (Hey, their pitch was persuasive. The wet, clingy ensemble worn by the person with the clipboard had NOTHING to do with it.) Then they invite me to their annual awards dinner. In one brief hour my moist do-gooder is all but forgotten, and my mission becomes escape—as fast as I can, without collateral damage.

Planning an awards dinner is tricky. A perfect awards dinner is the balance between making your honorees feel good without boring everyone else to tears. I surveyed people sleeping through a recent non-profit dinner and discovered that honestly, not even the people being honored wanted to sit through other peoples' names being read out. Many would happily forgo their own honor in exchange for forgoing everyone else's.

This research inspired Stever's Ten Laws of Awards Dinners, which you can also download from the website.

  1. People are hungry—let them eat first, otherwise you're just the obstacle between them and dinner. That's a dangerous place to be, especially if you were so unwise as to give them forks and knives.
  2. They ate before you started talking. They're digesting. Keep it short or be VERY entertaining. This isn't about you; it's about your audience. You may not like it, but that's the truth of it. We love you. We really do love you. Now say something funny or get off the stage and let us talk.
  3. No one wants to clap for 400 people. Give everyone a list of honorees. Say, "Turn to page 5 in your program. We will now clap in recognition of those people." Strike up a Gospel Choir, sing a song, and clap. If you read 400 names and clap for each one, people will kill you. Remember, they have knives. For purposes of this rule, 400 means "any number greater than 3."
  4. No one wants to listen to an acceptance speech unless it says something relevant to the listeners. Talk about Brad and Angelina's recent visit to headquarters; gossip sells. Or talk about the difference you're making in the world. Your audience of donors can feel the moral righteousness of doing good while actually doing nothing but writing out a check.
  5. Don't discuss cute events from 20 years ago. Test your stories first, please. Professional story-tellers can get away with telling stories. Your story about the banana and hair cream incident was only funny if you were there. Sure, use a quick anecdote to make a point, but beware of telling stories you expect to stand on their own.
  6. No one cares what you did last year unless you make it relevant to the audience. If last year you said you'd develop a gizmo that turns poverty-stricken abandoned kittens into Michael Jackson look-a-likes, then by all means, update us on progress. But don't tell us about your internal reorg unless we care. Put the details in writing in the annual report. That way, we can throw it right into the trash without fear of offending you.
  7. Never say someone is "a great person." Be specific. "Bernice transformed our culture by turning the office into an Amazon jungle. She painted all the wastebaskets to look like flesh-eating venus fly traps. And despite the occasional tropical parasite, we love it!"
  8. If you must thank someone, thank them, don't be third person about it. It's way powerful to let the audience watch you thank someone. It's boring as heck to tell the audience a story about thanking someone. "I'd like to thank Jane..." OK. "You'd LIKE to? Are you asking my permission?" She may be Jane, but I'm not Tarzan, though I understand my manly-man muscles may have fooled you for a moment. If you'd like to thank Jane, say, "Jane, thank you." We'll watch. With the invention of webcams, voyeurism is very "in."
  9. Don't cry on stage. We're not your therapist. Jeez. What else can I say? Just don't do it.
  10. If you aren't authentic, people will see right through you. So be authentic! Relax. There's nothing worse than someone trying to be someone they're not. Be yourself on stage and have fun with it. For years, I tried to be what I thought a Harvard MBA was supposed to be. My tendency to jump up and down and say "Yippee!" gave me away. Be authentic. That way, if people see through you, they simply see YOU.
  11. (Bonus rule) If all else fails, pay people to pay attention. Let them win something at a few random points in the show. It's like dog training; the chance of a treat keeps them engaged and paying attention. You can even try this one at home on the spouse or kids. Give 'em an M&M every time they do your bidding. ... It could work.

All of these rules amount to one thing: plan your event so your audience has a great time. Don't make them suffer through endless stuff they don't care about. Constantly ask, "how can we make this the best night ever for the audience?" Remember: less is more. And besides, they have knives.

This is Stever Robbins. Send questions about how to Work Less and Do More, or inquire about my keynote speeches and workshops, by e-mailing getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


- http://www.steverrobbins.com/getitdoneguy/32-running-an-awards-dinner.htm - Ten Rules of Awards Dinners

- http://www.twitter.com/getitdoneguy - Follow Stever on Twitter

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.