A couple of weeks ago I attended the Vital Voices Annual Global Leadership Awards Ceremony where six exceptional women from around the world were honored for their work of accelerating peace and prosperity in their communities.
From a presentation perspective, awards ceremonies can be challenging -- too many unrehearsed speeches, too many boring accolades, too few stories. Not surprising to anyone familiar with Vital Voices, this event had none of those.
Here's what worked to make the two hour event move seamlessly:
1. There were stories aplenty. Every presenter shared stories about Vital Voices' work, about themselves, about the challenges and accomplishments of women across the globe. These stories were further supported by stunning video which took us inside the lives and communities of the courageous women honorees. And while you may not be able to include video in your awards presentations, you can always include stories -- a way for the audience to feel and experience the subject matter on a more personal, emotional level.
2. There were two emcees, actress Sally Field and Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown, who brought a conversational tone to the structure of the evening. Field comes across as extremely personable and although they were both clearly scripted, their dialogue and repartee engaged the audience and made it seem like you were in a much more intimate venue than the 2350 seat Opera Hall at the Kennedy Center. The role of an emcee is to create context and add color and variety to break up the standard format of presenting awards; Field and Brown carried this task off admirably.
3. It is the norm at many awards presentations to leave the "best for last" and bring out the real star power to present the last award. For this event, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first speaker. And although that may have been to accommodate her schedule, the audience rose to give her a standing ovation, further energizing an already excited crowd. Clinton, long a brilliant presenter, set the tone as she spoke passionately about women's rights and sent a special message of support to Aung San Suu Kyi, honored as the 2011 Vital Voices Global Trailblazer.
4. Everyone was scripted and frequently this is a recipe for boredom as many presenters don't read that well, particularly if they haven't familiarized themselves with the scripted remarks prior to the event. However, every presenter at this event, from Diane von Furstenberg to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to Ambassador Melanne Verveer to Cokie Roberts had clearly rehearsed their remarks and made their words sound sincere and enthusiastic. [The one painful exception was Wolf Blitzer -- dare I point out the only male presenter -- who sounded as if he had never set eyes on these words before as he woodenly delivered his remarks.]
5. Perhaps the most striking lesson of all can be found in the honorees' acceptance speeches. Typically an honoree or award winner gets up and mumbles a few thank yous or reads robotically from notes [think painful Academy Award acceptance speeches]. But the six women who were honored were articulate, passionate, rehearsed but not stilted and gave their remarks without notes or script. By the way...did I mention that English was not the native language for any of them? Yet they stood on the stage* of the Kennedy Center in front of 2300 people to beautifully and eloquently offer their thanks.
* Aung San Suu Kyi, reluctant to leave Burma for fear of being refused re-entry, accepted via this video: