How to plan an awards ceremony: Your 7-step guide to hosting a memorable event

Celebrate the successes of hard-working employees with an awards ceremony! Here's how to plan one in seven simple steps.

Updated on 08 September 2022 • Written By Ellie Donnell

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How to plan an awards ceremony: Your 7-step guide to hosting a memorable event

Looking to host an awards ceremony but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place. Awards ceremonies can be complicated things to plan, with lots of spinning plates and a fair few people to organise. That’s why we’ve put together an easy-to-follow guide on how to host an awards ceremony. We’ve broken the process down into seven digestible steps, with lots of pointers and tips along the way, to keep things as simple as possible and avoid any unnecessary stress. No one wants to be panicking over a last-minute canape debacle!  


First thing's first: why host an awards ceremony in the first place? Well, they’re a really lovely way to recognise hard-working employees at your company or to shine a light on leading industry professionals. We live in a fast-paced world, so taking the time to pause and recognise people’s abilities and achievements is really important. It also helps to boost morale and gives employees something to work towards. 

From a company perspective, awards ceremonies offer a number of attractive benefits. Sure, they help to improve employee satisfaction, but they can also be a fantastic platform to boost the profile of your company, whether that’s to sponsors, press or future applicants. They also provide lots of branding opportunities and are a great way to promote the company to people in attendance. 

Typically, awards ceremonies are large-scale events and there’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning one, from picking a venue and deciding on the guest list to choosing speakers, selecting entertainment, managing promotional activity and, crucially, ordering the award itself. Remember, awards ceremonies are exciting, positive and celebratory events, so it’s important to set the right tone and ensure that everyone feels valued (yes, even the people who haven’t won an award). Keep on reading to find out how to execute a stellar awards ceremony. 

Virtual vs in-person? 

Here’s the first conundrum: should you host your awards ceremony virtually or in person? This wasn’t really an issue just a few years ago, but ever since the pandemic and the rise in remote working, hybrid and virtual events have become much more commonplace. Of course, there are pros and cons to digital vs physical events; the next step is to narrow down which type is right for you.  

A relatively new phenomenon in the world of events, hosting a get-together digitally can be a great way to encourage attendance. Virtual events have very few barriers: they don’t require guests to travel to a venue, are cheap to produce, save a lot of time for both the planners and the attendees and offer a huge amount of flexibility. Besides, nearly everyone has a phone or laptop at home these days! As a result, they can be very appealing and are likely to encourage better attendance.  

Of course, there is nothing quite like in-person interaction at an event. With virtual events, you lose the buzz and atmosphere you get from a huge number of people in one room, they can feel slightly less special for everyone sitting at home and there is far less social interaction, which is where physical events really come into their own.  

There is a happy medium, though: hybrid events. Partially in-person and partially online, they're a great way to host a spectacular event while offering guests the opportunity to attend digitally if they can’t make it in person. Check out our guide to planning a hybrid event if you think this option might be right for you.  

How to plan an awards ceremony

We’ve put together a concise 7-step guide for planning an awards ceremony, including all the things you need to consider to ensure it goes off without a hitch.  

1. Write a plan 

This step isn’t necessarily unique to planning an awards ceremony, and is true of pretty much any type of event you’re looking to host. Before launching into logistics, write yourself a detailed brief outlining everything you need to do between now and your event, from booking a venue to organising entertainment, putting together a guest list (and inviting them!), choosing key speakers and, of course, ordering the award (or awards) itself.  

It can help to create a timeline at this point with key deadlines, so you know when you need to get everything done by. It might be a good idea to start with the date of the awards ceremony - or at least pick a date during the planning stages - and work backwards. That way, you can see how much time you have to play with and manage your time and workload accordingly.  

2. Set a budget 

Before you go ahead and start booking things, make sure you set a budget so you know exactly how much money you have to play with. Awards ceremonies can be expensive affairs and it’s easy to let things get out of hand if you’re not careful. If you already have the money tucked away and ready to go – good for you! You can start booking.  

However, you might want to consider working with a sponsor to help fund the event. A bigger budget immediately opens up more options and allows you to plan a more lavish event. Bear in mind that the process of securing a sponsor can be quite lengthy, from striking up initial conversations to signing the contract, so think about doing this early if you can. 

Another way to help fund your event is by making it ticketed. This doesn't necessarily have to cover the entire cost of the event, but could go a long way towards taking care of the food, drink and entertainment, for example. 

Take a look at the list below for all the main elements your budget will need to cover:  

  • Food and drink
  • Venue 
  • Entertainment 
  • Master of Ceremony and speakers
  • Decorations 
  • Marketing or PR
  • Physical award
  • Photographer 

3. Compile a guest list 

Next, you’ll need to consider who to invite. Obviously, your guest list is going to include the main nominees as well as everyone at the company (for business awards) or relevant industry people (for industry awards). However, if you want to get clever about your guest list, think about inviting relevant people who will help to promote your event. A section should be dedicated to media invites, including any writers, journalists and publications you want to write about your event afterwards. Social media plays a huge role when it comes to brand perception too, so consider inviting a few influencers who will be able to drum up excitement about the ceremony and maybe even post live from the event.  

Naturally, you’re going to have a lot of invites to send, which can take a lot of time and money. We suggest making the more sustainable choice and opting to send digital invites, which are less likely to get lost in the post and are easy for guests to RSVP to. Take a look at these best paperless invitations on the web right now for some inspiration.  

4. Who’s hosting? 

This is an important element to your event and has a huge impact on how engaging your awards ceremony will be. Firstly, who will be the master of ceremonies at your event? This is the person who hosts the entire ceremony, keeps everyone engaged and provides narrative and structure. Ideally, you want this person to be charismatic, clear and knowledgeable – they're the glue that will hold the event together.  

Your host is the person who will present at the event, but make sure to recruit one or more industry speakers too. This could be a celebrity, industry expert, someone who has won the award before or is closely linked to the award. A big name will help encourage attendance, so you can always mention their name in the invitation if you like.

Finally, think about who will be presenting each award. Will it be your main host, or will you recruit a different speaker to present each award? If it’s the latter, remember to give yourself plenty of time to reach out and confirm their availability.  

5. Choose a venue 

The venue is, arguably, one of the most important parts of planning an awards ceremony. They tend to be large scale affairs, which means you need somewhere spacious enough to accommodate your guest list, and one that’s equipped with all the facilities you need to ensure it runs smoothly.  

AV equipment 
AV (audio visual) equipment refers to any equipment relating to sound visuals: things like projectors, microphones, mixing desks and the like. It would be impossible to host an awards ceremony without it and at the very least you will need a microphone, projector and Wi-Fi!  

A major part of an awards ceremony is presenting the award (go figure), so there will need to be a stage, or some sort of focal point, at the venue you hire. Ideally, it needs to be big enough to accommodate a pulpit, with enough space for photographers to take photos of each winner. 

Branding capabilities  
This part isn’t mandatory, but hiring a space that allows for branding opportunities can help promote your business, and any sponsors you’re working with.  

Transport links 
It might seem straight-forward, but ensuring your venue is near to a major station makes it much easier for your guests to travel to and from the event and, again, makes attendance more appealing. If the venue has a car park on site - even better! 

We don’t have any doubts about your research skills, but if you’re struggling to narrow down the perfect venue, remember that SquareMeal offers a free concierge service to help you find the right venue for your event.  

6. The Award 

This is the entire reason you’ve gathered everyone in the first place: to deliver an award! Presenting winners with a physical trophy gives the award extra gravitas, not only because it looks good, but because it means your well-deserving recipients have something to take home and keep forever.  

The first step is designing the award. This includes the overall look and feel, but also choosing whether to personalise them with the name of the recipient and their special achievement. This part isn’t mandatory, but it can be a really nice touch and shows you’ve really considered their achievement with an indelible mark. Naturally, if you have a judging panel picking winners live on the day, you won’t be able to personalise the award. 

The next thing to think about is ordering it in advance. Don’t leave this too close to the wire, or you’ll end up with nothing to present on the day. As soon as you’ve picked your winners, you can make a start on the design and get them ordered in good time.  

7. Entertainment 

Now, we’re not saying that awards ceremonies are boring, but if you have a lot of people to get through, the process of announcing winners, presenting awards and listening to speeches can get a little repetitive. Awards ceremonies are supposed to be fun, celebratory events, and that’s where your entertainment comes in.  

Food and drink are essential and at the very least your ceremony should include a glass of sparkling and a couple of canapes. Encourage conversation and mingling with a drinks reception to kick things off, which will break the ice and put everyone in good spirits. Of course, a sit-down dinner will add another level of prestige to your event, and gives everyone something to look forward to once the awards have been announced.  

Other forms of entertainment could include live music, a magician, performers, stand-up comedy, games, a raffle or a light show.

Best venues for award ceremonies in London 

To help with your search, we’ve included a few of our top venue recommendations for hosting an awards ceremony. Don’t forget to check out our entire list of the best venues for award ceremonies, too.  

Kia Oval, Vauxhall

175-year-old cricketing ground Kia Oval hosts 2,000 events each year, putting it firmly in the lead as one of the most experienced events venues in London. Its largest space is the England Suite which can hold up to 650 people, with pitch views, large floor-to-ceiling windows and a club-level balcony perfect for pre- or post-ceremony drinks.  
Book now: Kia Oval 

The London Library, St. James's

This literary institution is well-suited to industry awards, with its rich heritage, grand spaces and impressive collection of books and periodicals (over a million). We recommend the Reading Room, which boasts views across St James’s Squares, double-height, book-lined walls and impressive iron balustrades. This room is able to hold 200 standing, or 100 seated, and is a popular choice for major events.  
Book now: The London Library 

Worried about something going wrong? Check out our ultimate contingency guide for event planners to ensure everything runs smoothly.

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