Let’s face it Sunshine, your awards banquet has seen better days. Basically, it sucks and everyone knows it. You have been pedaling the same boring food, the same crappy venue, the same suckity, suck-fest for years and quietly, even you would rather go grocery shopping than sit at that table up front, sipping that crap that passes for wine. Deep down, you know that the only reason anyone attends is because they have to be there.
Look, we both know it doesn’t have to be that way. Awards events can actually be fun. Really.
How do you make the mother of all bad events fun again? Well, the easiest way is to look at a formula that works. Let me put it this way: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you need some “grand theft event.”
So, who do you steal a format from? Who has the magic recipe that you need to bring your event back from the dead? Why MTV of course! MTV has the mackdaddy of all awards shows — the VMAs (Video Music Awards). The VMAs still kick ass, they are fun and they are a visual spectacle. What most planners may not realize is that even though it’s a star-studded spectacular that takes place at some of the hottest U.S. spots, the VMAs do not have a huge budget.
First, a little history on cool.
MTV’s Video Music Awards started in 1984 as an alternative to the Grammys. We should all thank God that they quickly devolved because that was a recipe for boring. Nobody cares who wins a VMA. Millions tune in to see the celebrity antics and controversy the event’s attendees, presenters and nominees consistently generate. It’s sheer glitz, glamour and fun. In fact, the awards are so secondary to the show’s success that I cannot name a single category. What I can tell you is that it is popular, hip and cool. The VMAs are everything you wish your awards event was.
The good news is, it can be. You just need to get creative.
So, how could a night that might feature a drunken rant from a trainwreck like Courtney Love be a good role model for your association’s awards ceremony? How can an event famous for the staged Britney/Christina/Madonna tongue kiss be a catalyst for the most successful sales banquet you have ever held?
Just look at the six things that MTV does well and copy, copy, copy.
Step No. 1: Get a host
Most awards events do not have a host. When they do, it is usually Sally from human resources or the association’s executive director. I hate to tell you this, but they are a really bad choice. You can ratchet things up a notch by actually hiring some talent. You do not need to go all A-list to have a good time; you can find quality entertainers locally that will sit down with you to tailor their act to your industry or group. Make sure that they are funny, quick on their feet and good with one-liners. I work with a group that uses one of their local TV sportscasters as their MC. Because this is a sales event populated by jocks, this man leaves the audience rolling with laughter.
Step No. 2: Get better booze
OK, OK … I know that this is 2011, not 1973, and I am not advocating getting your attendees all liquored up so they act like Whitney Houston or take a stage dive. What I am talking about is the perception that your awards event is actually something important. Think about it: Your awards show may become the highlight of someone’s career. This may be their one shot at greatness, and you — in an effort to save a couple hundred dollars — are cutting corners by serving draft beer and box wine? Shame on you! That is not gonna cut it. You think P-Diddy or Katy Perry would waste a New York minute sipping that swill? Even if you are tight on budget, spring for Heinekens and a decent wine. Wanna go all in? Pop for a vodka luge or have a full bar with top-shelf libations. Here is a bonus tip: When serving soda, serve it ice-cold in the glass bottle; your event will look like a commercial.
Step No. 3: Amp up the music
Seriously Sparkles, where did you get the soundtrack for your event? Your retired, polka-loving neighbor’s garage sale? I don’t care how old your audience is, no one really likes the music you have been piping in. Go current, go eclectic and go mainstream. You only need three elements for music at an awards event – Walk In, Dinner and Winner Walk Away — so make it count. The genre could be house, country or rock music, just make it interesting and worthy of a winner. You do not want the ambiance in the room to smack of singles night at the old folks home, even if your event is at the old folks home.
Step No. 4: Get all black-tie
This is one element that has been largely forgotten across America, and it really hurts the ol’ awards ego. Do you think that J-Lo would show up at your awards event if she had to look at that mustard-stained tie your husband is sporting? She wouldn’t even get out of her tinted-windowed car. In this day and age, announcing that something is black tie might only get 50 percent of the audience to wear top hat and tails, but the rest will take the hint and dress better than average. Here is a little tip for companies honoring sales associates: Spring for the tux rental and have the local tux guy come in and measure the entire sales staff. A night out in this fashion is less expensive than an incentive trip and will have them talking for weeks.
Step No. 5: Hire paparazzi
How is Mary ever going to display her realtor of the freaking year award if the only person who got a picture of the special moment was Roger, who took it with a disposable camera from Walgreens? Seriously, you are spending thousands on the venue, the food and the booze, and you are too cheap to pop a couple hundred on a professional photographer? No wonder everyone hates your event! Go hire a pro with the right equipment. Before you pooh-pooh this idea as a giant waste of money, think of all the other places that you can use this amazing imagery. These pictures will look good on your website, in a press release, around the office and especially on your conference room wall where your potential clients will see your staff’s accomplishments… everyone loves a winner Sparky, so be a winner.
Step No. 6: Get décor that is decorative
If you are using white table linens in a drab ballroom, you are setting yourself up for an evening of snooze. You need to get your funk on if you want people to act like this event is worth their time. Look at the VMAs; they look like a rainbow exploded. Your budget need not fall off a cliff to get it done, you simply need to think circle when others think square. Use brightly colored table linens, low lighting and candles. Get rid of the flower centerpieces and opt for something creative and off-kilter. Don’t have enough money for a stage set? Use your company’s trade show booth as a backdrop.
I cannot tell you what will specifically work for your unique situation, but I can tell you what definitely won’t. What won’t work is what you are currently doing. You need to get out of your rut if you want to get your annual event off of life support.
Don’t be afraid! The worst thing that could happen is that people actually have fun this year (and maybe you get a pat on the back). Even if this year’s event crashes like a Moldovian airliner, at least people will be talking ….