How to Emcee a Great Awards Ceremony

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Award ceremonies are a great way to recognize people for outstanding achievement or length of service. Organizations come to rely on them to appreciate people and celebrate success.  

I emcee several award ceremonies a year and have seen some good ones and bad ones. If the awards are meaningful and the function is kept short, they will have an impact. Everybody thrives on approval and recognition, however, not everybody wants to be recognized in public.

Tragically, recognizing a bunch of people in front of a group can turn into a dull routine, perhaps because of its mandatory nature. The boredom may be doing more harm than good to your event and overall morale.

 If your award ceremony involves sixty mind-numbing minutes of rote reading off names in an impersonal way, award winners won't feel honored.

We have to dissect the disadvantages to company awards ceremonies to see how we can improve. Here are the pitfalls to most award ceremonies:

  • It could be demoralizing to give someone a ribbon for 25 years of service
  • Some in the audience may feel excluded
  • It can create competitive jealousy, as some in the audience may feel they deserve the award ( i.e., Performance Excellence)
  • You may be recognizing people for qualities they are expected to exhibit within the scope of the job. For instance, one conference presented a Safety Award. What does this mean? Everyone else is engaging in unsafe practices? What are the criteria? Not killing someone?
  • It can create a sense of entitlement and become expectected
  • Awards ceremonies are important, and people have come to expect them. The challenge is making them engaging and fun without creating unhealthy competition or entitlement.

Some of the best award ceremonies come personalized to the organization's achievements and individuals contribution. Done well, they will bring a group together around shared purpose and mission. When we celebrate our success as a group, we see our value in a more significant way. It motivates us to see the value in others and contribute to the team.

Steps to a Great Awards Ceremony

Open the ceremony in a high energy tone and briefly outline the awards you will be presenting.

Start by Celebrating Group Success

An awards ceremony should start with recognizing overall achievement and specific group milestones. Also, remind the audience of their overall mission and value. The more personal you are, the more lasting its value. 

Look for group performance achievements and highlight them, personalize the message by sprinkling in unique stories. For instance, if the group goes above and beyond to serve a customer, use this story to show specific examples of purpose.

Audiences resonate with stories, they are memorable and motivate people to grow. Keep the award ceremony light by adding some twists of humor; the laughter will help to bond the room.

I suggest you only give out a handful of awards. However, if this is the only forum to recognize mass groups of people, do this by reading off names and having those people come to the front of the room. 

Next, recognize this group for their value and contribution. Be as specific as possible and highlight group success. Keep it fun, light and quick.

The goal is to help people feel good about what they have accomplished without making other people feel bad ( or bored). I've seen organization spice this up by having fun mascots or chants to cheer people.

Recognize Specific Achievement

Every award ceremony involves several awards to specific people. I have seen safety awards, medals of honor, length of service awards.

To make specific awards meaningful, it helps to talk up the award, and explain what it takes to win it and make this award something others want to reach. Great achievements are ones that people feel honored to receive. 

Present the award by drawing on the great qualities of the people who win them. Give specific examples of achievement or challenging obstacles they have overcome. I find that it helps to tell some humorous stories to bond the room around the achievements. Lightly ( carefully) poking fun at someone can make people feel closer to them and release tension in the room.

The best award ceremonies are short, high energy, personalized and funny. You want people to continue to aim for success and celebrate the achievement. 

Need some ideas to make your awards ceremony fun?

Some examples of great fun awards here

Hire a funny motivational speaker or comedian to emcee the awards


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