Guide to Planning an Awards Ceremony

    Planning an awards ceremony can be a large project, but the benefits can be quite significant.  While most events have the same basic components, how they’re put together will make your occasion special.

    The first step toward planning an awards ceremony is deciding the purpose and goals of your event.  Who would you like to acknowledge and for what?  Is it a more casual function or a more formal gala?  Answering these questions can help guide your choice.  Once you’ve determined your goals for the event, you can begin the planning process.

    Planning Your Event

    Below are different components to consider when planning an event.  They are just general guidelines; it’s up to you and your team to decide what’s right for your organization.


    The first place to start is with your budget.  How much can you allocate to the location?  Food?  Your speaker(s)?  Awards?  Once a spending plan has been determined, you can proceed with planning the function.

    Date and Time

    This may already be predetermined, such as the end of a conference or the end of a sales cycle.  If your event is a smaller affair, a Monday morning pep talk with a small awards ceremony in the office may be appropriate. However, a larger annual awards gala will require planning and securing a date months ahead of time.  The important thing is to confirm a date and time and communicate it to the guests and other VIPs so that they can be present for the ceremony.


    For a smaller, less formal event, a meeting at the office may be appropriate.  For larger galas or end-of-year recognition, hosting dinner, a speaker, and an awards ceremony makes a wonderful event, especially for larger companies.  For this type of affair, hotel ballrooms, large convention spaces, and other large venues are terrific choices. Reserve your venue early, as many popular spots get quickly booked, especially during the holidays or summer wedding season.  Reserve your location at least one to two months in advance.

    Guest List

    The first people to invite are nominees and award recipients, plus a guest if appropriate.  VIPs, corporate managers, and other important people in the organization should be included next on the list.  Send invitations to your guests in plenty of time before the event.

    Ordering Awards

    If possible, order your awards at least a month prior to your event. This allows plenty of time for your order to be produced and shipped, with time to spare for any changes.  A little planning will help you stay on budget and minimize stress.  You’ll also save on shipping and rush order fees.  If you are presenting a number of awards, ordering a few extras may be helpful for any last minute changes.

    It is important to word the text on the awards carefully.  For ideas, visit our Engraving Information Page.  Also, it may seem obvious, but double-check the spelling of the names of your winners.  This small detail makes a big difference in how the recipient feels about their much-deserved award!


    It’s not necessary to provide food at an awards ceremony, but it is nice to include it.  Be mindful of your budget when deciding on the menu.  Many locations offer full service staff, linens, centerpieces, and catering services; check with your venue for options. One important detail with food is presentation.  Whether you are serving tea and cookies or a formal dinner, it should look and taste amazing. Have attendees communicate any special dietary needs or food allergies before the event.  This information should be given to the caterer so that they can plan accordingly.

    Most evening gala events begin with a cocktail hour, including appetizers.  After that, many will host a sit-down dinner, followed by dessert.  The program begins either during dessert or shortly after.  By starting the awards ceremony after dinner, the presenters and program do not compete with the meal.

    If you are short on time and would like to serve a meal, such as at a luncheon, attendees can eat as the program is occurring.  However, food can be distracting during the program and there is less conversation among guests.


    No matter the size of the affair, it's important to be organized and have a schedule of the timing of the different components of the event. Most recognition ceremonies have the awards portion at the end of the event.  This allows suspense to mount and excitement to build during the evening.  Also, most ceremonies start with the smaller, less glamorous awards first, with the larger, more impactful awards at the end of the celebration.


    If you choose to hand out programs, they should include a schedule of events.  Also, it’s nice to list all of the nominees, what award they’re nominated for, and what they’ve contributed to the organization.   If there’s a Lifetime Achievement Award, a bio about the person can be published in the program.

    Master of Ceremonies

    The Master of Ceremonies is the announcer who keeps the program running, thanks planners and sponsors and introduces speakers.  This person can also present awards, or can introduce the person/people who will be presenting awards.


    It adds interest to include a speaker. This person can be someone from within the organization or an outside expert.  Keep in mind that speakers from outside the organization may require a fee.  Be sure to view the speaker in action before your event to ensure that they’re engaging and entertaining to the audience.

    Tips for Presenting Awards

    The awards are best presented by the sales manager or a higher-level executive, such as a VP or CEO. Recognition is more meaningful from the leaders of the company. When presenting the award, emphasize the importance of the selected metric and how much the recipient excelled above and beyond it and why that’s important to the company.

    Regardless of who presents the awards, the person presenting should practice saying the recipient’s name prior to the event.  People appreciate having their names pronounced correctly, especially when receiving special recognition.  This will hopefully prevent awkward  moments during the ceremony.

    Audio/Visual Needs

    Many award ceremonies have music during the event, along with photos or videos of your organization or the awards recipients in action.  Be sure to include multimedia needs in your time line and budget if you plan to go that route.


    Hire a photographer or videographer to capture positive recognition during your celebration.  Not only will the recipients appreciate the photographs after the fact, but pictures make great PR for web sites, news releases, and other marketing materials.


    Themes are a great way to have fun with your event, let the personality of your organization shine through, and really make a lasting impression.  Many party supply stores and web sites sell great props for themed events.


    These can be as simple or as extravagant as your time and budget allows.  Many groups use the standard décor from the venue, but if you have a special theme for your ceremony, decorations can really make the event come alive.  Be creative!  Some festive decorations include balloons, banners, or flowers.

    Table centerpieces can double duty as a decoration or as a game for guests.  Consider including trivia cards about your organization or about the award nominees on the table, with answers to questions on the back.  The only limit is your imagination.

    Overall Planning

    Above are general things to consider when planning a corporate recognition ceremony.  Task lists with time lines for completion help keep details for the event organized.  Completing something each day makes the process more manageable and less overwhelming.   Consider forming a committee to help with planning, as this divides the work and brings more ideas to the project.

    Not only is an awards celebration a perfect venue for recognizing and rewarding outstanding performers, but it is also an opportunity to deliver key messages company wide.  Seize the opportunity to let your organization shine at your special celebration.

    Cheers! Jessica

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