How to plan a virtual awards gala in 2021

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Articles

The year 2020 will certainly go down as a memorable one– when many awards programs went virtual because of the global pandemic. As physical events became impossible across much of the globe, the events industry moved quickly to virtual events, and that included awards programs.

At Award Force, we moved fast too. As a 100% remote organisation with staff and clients around the world, we knew we had some insights to share with organisations who may not have had much experience with remote work and virtual programming, so we quickly created a few helpful resources on how to keep the recognition going. Those are still some of our most popular articles and can be viewed here:

But now, as programs ramp back up, some are still finding it necessary or even advantageous to continue virtually, especially with their awards gala and ceremony. For example, it can increase participation for programs with a large geographic community. It can also help land keynote speakers and attract judges who might not ordinarily commit to a physical event. Or, it might be a great opportunity to save costs before returning to full physical events in the future. 

No matter the reason, hosting a virtual awards gala can provide recognition for your awards winners and finalists and shine a light on your program and organisation––a win-win for all.

Here are some tips on how to plan it successfully. 

Power the awards gala with the right event tech

The right technology tools can make or break your virtual awards gala, so it’s important to set yourself up for success. Here are a few tools to consider when running a virtual awards event.

A video conferencing tool

It’s easier than you think to run a virtual event with a virtual conferencing tool like Zoom or Skype. These platforms allow you to invite large groups to a video call where you can:

  • Share the screen or give a presentation, perfect for winner announcements
  • Feature guest speakers
  • Offer break-out rooms for networking and small group conferencing
  • Enable security and password-protected conference rooms
  • And more

An awards management system

An awards management platform has countless benefits to help you manage and grow your awards program, whether it includes virtual awards events or not. For example, Award Force offers an unparalleled awards management experience that will save you time and stress throughout the awards management lifecycle. But, for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus specifically on the benefits of using it for a virtual awards gala.

Here’s how Award Force can help:

Awards gallery in Award Force
  • A beautiful online gallery– Award Force provides an online gallery feature to help share your entries publicly. You can share all entries, or all finalists, or just the winners. It’s up to you!
  • Sponsorship visibility– If you have awards program sponsors you want to include at your awards gala, you can easily feature them throughout the Award Force platform with unique and valuable visibility to reach your entrants and judges. Home page and footer placements as well as category specific sponsorship options give your sponsor plenty of exposure. 
  • A centralised platform to share judges’ comments and scores– Make it easy for your event hosts to share pertinent information about your awards entries, finalists and judges. Event hosts can read comments or scores directly from the platform to share with the community during award announcements. 
Judges comments in Award Force
  • Easy sharing of finalists, entries, multimedia and more– The Award Force platform helps you keep track of all your program’s data and submissions in one place, which makes it simple to share multimedia from submissions, read off names of entrants, entries and collaborators and more, without stress.

Social media

Social media becomes increasingly important during a virtual event to drum up participation, awareness and excitement for your awards announcements and winners. 

Live-streaming an event on social media is a great way to engage your audience. Most of the social media platforms offer live streaming, and you can even “simulcast” or live-stream on multiple platforms at the same time. Don’t forget to promote your live event in advance so your community knows where to follow along in real-time, and be sure to take a few practice runs to test it out before the actual event. 

Make your awards gala interactive

One of the most important aspects of a physical event is the interactions. And a virtual event is no different. But how can you make your virtual gala interactive for your audience and participants? Here are some ideas:

Create breakout rooms for networking

It’s important to engage all your participants, and make sure they all get some value out of it, even if they are not a finalist. Consider offering break-out rooms with special guest speakers or where participants can network with other attendees. 

Involve the winners + finalists

Consider notifying your finalists before the live event, and provide them with instructions on how they can accept the award during the event (and even invite their friends and colleagues). Live virtual winner announcements can be done through one of the event platforms listed above, or can even be done through a social media live streaming tool. If you create the excitement of a real event, it will add entertainment and even suspense perfect for live streamers!  

Invite industry influencers

Invite the VIPs in your industry to give a speech or present an award, and promote any headliners through pre-event marketing and communications to drum up excitement and interest in the event.

Include your sponsors 

Providing value to your sponsors should go beyond the visibility in the submission and judging experience. And the awards gala is typically an ideal opportunity to highlight these important members of your community and program. But how can you continue to provide them value for a virtual event? Here are some ideas:

  • Use the Award Force platform for visibility. As we mentioned above, it’s easy to use Award Force to provide high visibility sponsor placements that your program participants can see throughout the submission and judging experience. And, during the gala, you can screenshare parts of the platform to showcase these important sponsors.
  • Provide access to your gala attendees. Consider offering your sponsors an opportunity to email your gala attendees so they can offer their product or services via email or messaging during the live event.
  • Invite sponsors to participate in the gala. Maybe they can read out an award announcement or do a quick presentation or announcement about their product or service.

Plan, practice and promote your live virtual event

Once you plan out your virtual awards gala, it’s important to do a few practice run-throughs to make sure the technology, live streaming and awards announcements run smoothly. You don’t want your live event to be remembered for its technical hiccups rather than the recognition your awardees deserve.

And then it’s important to promote your event–to make sure your awards community knows it’s happening and how they can attend and participate. Consider the following tips: 

  • Send invitations and set ticket costs (if it’s a paid event) well in advance of the awards gala.
Award Force broadcast function
  • Send multiple email blasts to remind entrants and program participants about the awards event. (You can do this easily through the Award Force broadcast feature!)
  • Showcase any special guests and sponsors for the event to help drum up excitement (and make sure they share the news too!).
  • Promote the gala across social media and don’t forget to remind people regularly before the event. 

Let your event participants know what to expect. Provide all the information and technology requirements they need and make sure any guest speakers or hosts test the technology in advance of the event.

The show will go on

A virtual awards gala is a fantastic way to keep recognition at the forefront of your awards program, a way to remind your community that recognising excellence in your industry and community remains at the heart of your awards program. 

 With the right tools and technology, a virtual awards event can be fun, engaging and even more accessible to your awards community. 

Learn how you can use Award Force to power your entire awards program–– from planning and submissions to judging and the final awards gala. Watch our demo videos, take a self-guided tour or book a call to learn more.

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