As Sally Fields famously said in her Oscar acceptance speech, “You like me, you really like me!” That sentiment is at the heart of all awards ceremonies: Receiving recognition for your hard work and contributions in a room full of your peers is not only emotional, but truly gratifying.  

But not all award ceremonies can or should be as slick and glamorous as the Oscars. Whether you’re recognising staff for their achievements, giving accolades to talented artists, or simply saying “thank you” to community members, let these 20 award ceremony ideas inspire you.

First thing’s first: What’s an award ceremony and why should you host one?

Before getting into specifics, it’s worth defining what an awards ceremony is. An awards ceremony is a formal-to-semi-formal event during which trophies are given to honour achievements in a particular field. They can be stand-alone events, or part of a larger conference or summit, and are often compared to gala events.

Hosting an awards ceremony generates exposure for you and your clients in a number of ways. PR coverage through industry publications, direct contact with influencers, increased brand awareness, and the networking opportunities at the event itself. It also creates word of mouth buzz as those nominated and receiving awards will naturally want to share through their own channels. It spreads the message organically and naturally, giving your clients and sponsors widespread coverage.

20 award ceremony ideas

Your guests have come for a show, so be sure to give them one. Simply reading out a long list of award winners’ names and watching as they have their photo taken can be a little tedious for non-winners. These award ceremony ideas explore how you can combine music, video, and light to create a real spectacle.

Awards ceremony idea #1: Skip the stage

If you’re working with a smaller number of guests, consider skipping the traditional stage set up. This allows for a more personal, and memorable experience. You can opt for a table at the centre of the action, and add personal touches like place cards in lieu of name tags.

Awards ceremony idea #2: Bring in a visual artist

Keep guests talking with a large scale art piece or mural that ties the ceremony together. It can serve not only as a conversation piece but also as a prize for one lucky attendee or winner.

Awards ceremony idea #3: Make space and time for networking

Yes, honouring special guests is important, but many people attend award shows to mix and mingle. Tweak the layout of the reception, bars, and seating to provide more room for guests to manoeuvre and chat. Provide conversation starters to kick off their conversations!

Awards ceremony idea #4: Engage the crowd

It’s easy to lose attendees attention with the ubiquity of smartphones, so it’s important to keep everyone especially those not nominated engaged throughout. Award show specific trivia encourages audience participation, or you can run an interactive competition throughout the event that gives attendees an incentive to stay tuned in. 

Awards ceremony idea #5: Add a festival component

Borrowing from popular festivals doesn’t have to mean bringing in live music. Consider this: What’s one detail your favourite festival executes well? Is it their unique location, or a special VIP area? Translate that element to your ceremony and venue for an impressive touch.

Awards ceremony idea #6: Try a new technology

From a virtual or augmented reality component, to “reflection mapping”, which uses mirrors, light, and sculptural form to dramatic effect, there are a lot of flashy options to wow attendees. If there’s been a new tech that’s caught your eye recently, try it out at your awards ceremony for an extra shot of pizzaz.

Awards ceremony idea #7: Keep the crowd guessing

If you plan to make your awards show annual, make sure to change things up every year. Whether you change the location, categories, or theme, try to keep it fresh. For example, you could create a unique theme each year for your annual award show that would inspire the decor and dress code for the event. 

Awards ceremony idea #8: Keep the stage clean

Don’t muddy up the stage with competing colours, signage, or anything that could distract attendees from the purpose of why they’re there: to honour the winners. If guests can’t see what’s happening on stage, you’ve already lost them. Use screens to keep the program accessible, and incorporate them in a way that grabs their eye and keeps it there.

Awards ceremony idea #9: Offer an award as a sponsorship opportunity

Bring in a sponsor who aligns with your goals and let them name an awards category that’s related to their brand. For example, if you’re honouring innovations in tech, teaming up with local thought leaders in the tech industry has the added bonus of giving your award more legitimacy.

Awards ceremony idea #10: Livestream the show

Livestreaming an awards ceremony can be an event in and of itself, and a way to get guests unable to attend involved. Livestreaming is already a popular method for watching huge entertainment awards like the Oscars, and if you’re able to include hosts for separate livestreaming coverage and commentary, it becomes a different and more fun experience for viewers at home.

Awards ceremony idea #11: A special honour for someone exceptional

While it’s always nice to get as many people involved as possible, consider a way to single out an individual. Whether it be with a Lifetime Achievement award or another special shout out, spend extra time shining the spotlight on someone who really deserves it.

Awards ceremony idea #12: Hire a comedian to host a roast

Comedians can poke fun at the many facets of working life — including awards ceremonies themselves. Look out specifically for someone who specialises in corporate gigs or who has experience in hosting to make sure your comedian doesn’t cross the line into the offensive.

Awards ceremony idea #13: Combine the awards show with another event

Whether it’s another event you plan to host or an established industry staple, combining your awards ceremony with another occasion can boost attendance rates. Since guests are already planning to go to the main attraction, attending your awards ceremony will be a no-brainer.

Awards ceremony idea #14: Hire a special keynote speaker

In addition to having a great host, awards ceremonies are excellent places to showcase unique speakers. Be sure to choose someone who represents your event brand and is recognisable to your guests.

Awards ceremony idea #15: Feed your guests

Did you hear that Melissa McCarthy snuck in extra sandwiches to the Oscars last year? Sometimes offering — or not offering — a meal is incentive enough to push guests over the edge. You can even theme your dinner to the awards show itself. For example, if you’re honouring the fitness industry, you’ll want to have healthy options.

Awards ceremony idea #16: Educate your audience

This one might not sound as splashy, but awards shows can teach their audience something they may not of known before. Dedicate a section of programming to highlight an important aspect of your industry, like the technical awards at the AACTA Awards. Or, use the opportunity to award someone for social impact to drive awareness and inspire action among attendees. It’s a chance to use your platform for something bigger.

Awards ceremony idea #17: Offer amazing swag, not just to the winners

Think about some cool, on brand swag bags to giveaway for all attendees. This will help connect guests to the event and raise brand awareness about your company.

Awards ceremony idea #18: Make entry into the awards show easy

Ensure those who wish to be considered for an award have an easy time with the submission process by streamlining it as much as possible. Start with your submission page, whether you have a fun explainer video or text, have the criteria for each category prominently displayed, and not hidden behind a drop-down menu.

Awards ceremony idea #19: Invest in real trophies

Formal pieces of paper look nice on a wall, but real trophies make super cool office decorations and can be a point of pride. Besides, what else are shelves for?

Awards ceremony idea #20: Roll out the red carpet — literally

Rent and roll out an actual red carpet to welcome all attendees or just the winners. Take it one step further and hire a photographer for “press” photos that people will love to post on social media.

Ready for your awards show?

Inspired to reward exceptional members of your community? Set up your awards show on Eventbrite today.