Effective and Memorable Award Presentations

    August 14, 2003

A lot of otherwise exceptional recognition opportunities come undone at the point of delivery. Organizations devote time, money, and effort to recognizing employee achievement, yet when it comes to presenting the award, the potential to add meaning and impact goes unfulfilled. For example, a top engineer receives an achievement award for technical excellence, which is presented to him by the CEO at a quarterly managers’ luncheon.

The CEO knows little or nothing about the person and, as the award is presented, has to read the recipient’s name from the plaque as he meets him for the first time. Is this recognition? Yes. Is it meaningful recognition? Probably not. Executives attuned to the power of recognition know that moments like these are ripe with potential for creating a lasting impact — and not just for the employee being honored, but for everyone present as well. How can executives make the most of situations like these? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your next award presentation:

Do Your Homework.

To make a memorable awards presentation you’ve got to do some homework. Find out about the individual being honored and the achievement attained. Did the employee personally go down to the factory floor and help others in the machine shop mill a new part? Did he or she take the initiative to assemble an internal focus group to think through an idea or refine a process? When the prototype budget was exhausted, did he or she continue the efforts at home in the garage? What obstacles were overcome against all odds? Doing homework to find out specifics about the individual, the circumstances, and the obstacles encountered provide the data upon that you can build powerful award recognition. Specifics become data points that add credibility to the award and the celebration.

Personalize your Praise.

The best forms of recognition are personalized to the individual being honored and his or her achievement. Stories add flair to the occasion; they inspire others to learn from and want to emulate the person being honored. If you give out plaques, for example, share stories about the person being honored that give everyone insight into the value of the award. Have the president of your company meet with those individuals being honored at a luncheon prior to the awards ceremony so that they have a social context and not just a presentation. In addition to helping to personalize the award, this also provides a more intimate social context to the occasion. Consider a personal note to the individual being honored or a card signed by everyone in the employee’s work group to create an added memento of the occasion.

Provide a Context.

An important way to add value to any recognition award is to provide a larger context for the achievement. For example, tie the recognition to the organization’s values, the company’s strategic objectives, or the sense of teamwork you have been trying to build over the past year. How does the person or achievement represent the organization’s values? Did the achievement personify the importance of innovation, customer responsiveness, or other key organizational objectives? Will this achievement translate into a new product line, more appreciative clients, ongoing cost savings, or other significant goals? By explicitly making the connection to larger objectives, you add value to the award and the person being honored. You might say something like, "We’re able to have this great celebration because we once again had a great year and we could not have done it without the dedication and commitment of the people in this room." This will give the award a broader significance that both reflects on the past as well as looks to the future. Recognition is for the person being honored, but it is for everyone else as well, so take the time to create meaning that everyone can relate to.

Share Your Feelings.

When presenting awards, emphasize your personal feelings about the achievements. By showing emotion, executives provide energy and meaning to the occasion. Tell people how you feel about their accomplishments. For example, "John, I’m proud of the job you’ve done. You deserve this award. You inspire us and remind us that with well-placed effort, our goals are obtainable." Or, "Sally, we all know what you’ve sacrificed to receive this award, and we appreciate what you have done for us and the organization. I can honestly say I’m proud you’re a member of our team and we all owe you a debt of gratitude for your hard work." If you express your positive feelings in an honest and sincere way, it adds power to the moment that everyone present can feel.

Have Fun & Create a Spirit of Celebration.

The best award celebrations are events that garner excitement and anticipation. We also know that the same recognition activities used over and over tend to lose their punch with each use, so consider doing something different that creates a buzz. Plan to have your executive team serve dinner or perform skits that recreate highlights of the year’s successes. Use a game show theme for the celebration. Set up a casino night for the awards celebration or a charity event for everyone to volunteer to work on a special project or go on a field trip of some type that gets everyone excited. I know one upper manager who made up certificates of achievement and then read the achievement to the group and had the group try to guess who was receiving each certificate. This turned a staid and traditional recognition activity into a fun game that everyone enjoyed. These principles hold true whether you are presenting an award at an end-of-the-year awards banquet or at a department staff meeting. A little forethought and planning can help you maximize the opportunity that exists to make an award presentation both effective and memorable. The effort you make will have an impact that creates a return that lasts well into the future – and long after the awards presentation has passed.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.