When broaching the subject of award ceremonies, Chef Andrew Walker is clearly unimpressed. “Award ceremonies should be about celebrating success and should be great networking opportunities to meet and mingle within your industry. But they have been obscured over the years into ugly, formulaic, repetitive events that have lost all credibility.” And we can understand where he’s coming from. What do people remember about the most recent BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards – the triumphant teens or TOWIE’s Gemma Collins falling down a trap door?
But where have they all gone wrong? “The award ceremony scenario is something we are all familiar with and for me it brings to mind old school ‘end-of-year’ events where you’re nominated for something but you never win,” says Andrew. “They are awkward affairs where we are expected to be gracious in defeat, plastering on a smile whilst applauding the winner. They are no longer genuine celebrations of success, they feel fake and forced and this is where we need to reassess how we approach these types of event.”
After all, these type of ceremonies are notoriously long-winded, and Chef Andrew has a number of no-no’s on his list for award ceremony events, “First of all, they are never ending! They go on and on and on. Second on the list is the cheesy music. There is always a trumpeting riff of success for the winning candidate, or a chorus of ‘na-na-na-na-nas’ as the winner takes to the stage. It’s X-factor showbiz and feels very corny.”
And it’s not just the music we need to think about, “It’s the attitude as a whole to the ‘award ceremony’ event that we need to reassess. We need to move away from the self-indulgent style of awards event, move away from the over-the-top, pompous expectations of ballerinas dancing amongst laser beams in order to impress our guests. We need to break away from this air of elitism.” So extravagance isn’t always the way to go.
It sounds like we need to re-focus and remember the reason we are coming together for these events. “The whole point of these ceremonies is to celebrate the success of an industry and applaud every contribution, every aspect of accomplishment - the success of individuals, businesses, charities and communities. We want to host immersive events that are powerful and popular, and inclusive of everyone’s success. We attend against our will because the lavish and ridiculous entertainment and old soap-star guest speakers (what was his name again?) have become the focus of the event, when in reality the guest speakers and musicians should complement the event itself.”
So we need to banish the hypocrisy surrounding award ceremonies and remember why we are inviting people to celebrate together. “Imagine if we created an awards ceremony that truly and genuinely celebrated success? We’d all want to go. We wouldn’t want to ‘get out’ of it – we’d actually look forward to it,“ says Chef Andrew.
To shake things up, Andrew recommends an approach that has been adopted by The Brit Awards. “We need award ceremonies to be inclusive, and to do that we need to bring the stage to heart of the event. We need to set up for a theatre in the round. We can’t feel connected and immersed within an event if we need binoculars to know what’s happening on stage!” So having a centralised stage ensures everyone has a good view and can properly tune-in to the evening’s events – simple but effective!
“We also need innovation and engagement,” says Chef Andrew. We’ve seen technology and AI send everyone crazy from the moment Pokémon GO stepped on the scene, and brands and businesses are now wanting to offer delegates an immersive experience that is personalised and interactive. Andrew has witnessed this executed well, “I’ve seen drones whirring round the room displaying personalised messages and it can be very impressive”. But as with many things within the world of events, it is only worth doing if you are going to do it properly. “It is the same with lighting,” explains Andrew. “It is a very effective way to set the right tone for an event. It depends on how big a buck you’re willing to spend, but you can create amazing spaces through the use of light, to see the colours of the food on the plate and to create the right ambience. Not the flashing disco lights with sound effects or a dim room where you can barely see your knife and fork. We chefs put a lot of effort into the presentation of a dish. We want our guests to experience it with all of their senses, not just the smell and taste.”
And according to Andrew, there are ways of using food to accentuate and add to this immersive event experience. “We can use food to amplify brand values and reinforce messages,” says the chef. Different dishes served up to guests can provide a flavour for different award categories, “what if an award for ‘innovation’ could see delegates consume their meal with the latest dining utensils, perhaps titanium tongs, whilst the ‘best newcomer’ could see delegates consume a course that has been prepared and cooked by apprentice chefs.” This holistic approach to an award ceremony should encourage a feeling of community and a celebration of success for all those invited. It should inspire those who attend to strive for greatness, not just for themselves but for their peers, their colleagues, their successors. And this attention to detail, this thoughtfulness, can be witnessed and experienced by the guests.
We should be aware that our audiences are changing too, and people are after a much more personalised experience. Perhaps this could suggest a fresh outlook upon guest speakers? Rather than one long speech, what if the winners of each award nominated their own guest speaker? Perhaps someone from within their business who inspired them and spurred them on? Immediately a speech would feel more personal and tailored to the event in question.
Remember – consider the reason for your awards ceremony event and gain an understanding of what is the point of the event in its essence. Who is the audience? What matters to them? What engages with them? Then let the creative juices flow, “Creativity is the new secret to making award ceremonies great again,” says Chef Andrew Walker. Now that’s what we call food for thought!
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