How to run a virtual awards ceremony

by | Mar 30, 2020 | Articles

The show must go on. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we continue to recognise the achievements around us. Recognition is a powerful way for our society to continue forward, even when it feels like it’s at a standstill. 

And not only does it help society and our industries, it helps us as people. Put simply, it feels good to be recognised for our hard work and contributions. It helps us stay positive, engaged and motivated.  

If you’re not sure how to continue your awards program remotely, without physical events, you’re not alone. But don’t worry – we’re here to help (we have an entire ebook on the topic!). And it’s completely possible to continue forward with your awards gala or ceremony, without the physical event. You can keep your program’s momentum and embrace this era of digital experiences by running your gala event virtually. Here’s how.

The value of going virtual 

Running a virtual event is not only possible, it can also be lucrative. Just think of the typical event planning overhead that you’ll significantly reduce if not banish altogether:

  • No conference space or large event space rental 
  • No catering or menu stress
  • No physical marketing collateral like brochures, tables rentals, event signage, etc
  • No transportation or accommodation costs

Without the expensive overhead, you can consider lowering the entry or ticket cost, and thereby, increase participation from program participants (entrants, judges and program organisers) and possible sponsors. 

It might also be easier for guest speakers or presenters to accept your gala invitation. Now, they can avoid the inconveniences of travel and accommodation. 

Event setup: Tools of the virtual trade

So now that we know there are real benefits to moving your awards gala to a virtual production, how will you actually do it? Sure, you know a little about working remotely. By now, you’ve probably attended a virtual meeting or video chat and you know how to work from home. But, an actual physical event? Yes, you can do it! And there is a lot of effective and proven technology to help you succeed.

Maybe the best news? Very little physical event setup is required! Most virtual events are just that – completely virtual, hosted online. You could, of course, recreate a stage in your home or office and record video there. (Tip: Use a green screen! That way you can add in winner announcements and awards program photos and snapshots behind the speaker!). 

Most of your setup will involve choosing the technology you’ll need to host the event. Here are some recommendations:

A virtual conferencing tool
There are many of these on the market. You could set up something quick and affordable like Zoom or Google Hangouts where you can invite all your program participants and choose the host(s) who will make the announcements. It’s possible to create break-out rooms with Zoom, where the host can divide the group up to hear specific speakers or awards announcements in specific categories or chapters. If you do this, be sure to provide a clear path back to the original group.  

Or, if you have the available budget (with all that money you saved on a physical event space), there are also a host of advanced event planning tools built for virtual events, such as Whova, Run The World, and Hopin – all which facilitate live online events.

Social media live-streaming
Live-streaming an event on social media is a great way to create excitement and build your online brand during your live event. You can choose a platform like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Periscope and Twitch are also popular live-streaming services. Or, you can choose to “simulcast,” or live-stream on various social channels at the same time, with a tool like Switchboard or Vimeo. And don’t forget to promote your live event beforehand, so your community knows where to follow along in real-time (more on this below).

Once you’ve chosen the technology to support your live event, be sure to take several practice runs. Invite program managers to be judges, speakers, viewers and participants to test every aspect of your virtual event. 

Ideas for virtual event engagement

  • Influencer involvement – Invite the influencers of your industry to your virtual awards gala to give a speech or present an award.
  • Attendee participation – Make sure your attendees are engaged. You could break them into groups and place them in virtual breakout rooms, as mentioned above, to discuss a topic or listen to a particular speaker, or even do something fun and crazy like a virtual karaoke contest! Provide information and an agenda on each session/breakout room in advance so your attendees can decide which sessions to participate.
  • Participant networking – Virtual events provide opportunities for interested participants to connect via chat or exchange contact information with other participants for future collaborations.
  • Live-stream engagement – If you live-stream your event, your viewers can submit questions or comments. Be sure to let them know that comments and emojis are welcome. 🙂
  • Involve the winners – Consider notifying your finalists before the live event, and let them know how to accept the award live during the event. This can be done through a virtual conferencing tool like the ones mentioned above. It can also be as simple as a recorded, live-streamed Facetime call! If you have all the finalists waiting for the winner announcements, it will create an environment much like a real event, with added suspense perfect for live viewers and participants! 

Include your sponsors

Just because your event is now virtual doesn’t mean you can’t include your sponsors. It’s important to include them in the event and provide value for them. Here are some ideas:

  • Provide sponsor visibility. In Award Force, you can provide high visibility sponsor placements in content blocks on the Gallery, which you can screenshare during the event. The event apps mentioned above can also provide sponsor placements and features.
  • Offer sponsors access to your awards gala virtual attendees. Provide avenues for your sponsors to offer their product or services via email or messaging during the live event.
  • Invite sponsor participation in the event. Maybe it’s an award announcement, maybe it’s a product or service announcement to highlight their organisation.

Promoting your virtual event

Now that you’ve planned your virtual awards gala and chosen the technology to support it, it’s time to promote! This is especially important if you want viewers for a live, virtual or live-streamed event.

Much of the promotion will be the same as before. You’ll need to send invitations, set ticket costs (if it’s a paid event), and showcase your sponsors and judges. Be sure to send out multiple reminders about the upcoming event, especially one week, one day, and even one hour before the event. 

Let your participants know what to expect. If you have guest speakers, be sure to profile them in advance and let them know exactly what time they will speak. Provide all the information and technology requirements your participants need. 

The virtual ending

Your awards program and its many talented participants deserve a celebration – and a virtual gala gives them just that. You’ll be able to engage your community, celebrate your finalists and winners, and showcase your sponsors and behind-the-scenes heroes like judges and program managers. 

Not only will you have new data on what your audience found most engaging in your event, but you’ll also have a whole new library of video to power your program marketing for years to come. 

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