How to Create an Awesome Virtual Awards Ceremony

How to Create a Virtual Awards Ceremony


Virtual Awards Ceremony?  Just one of many changes 2020 has gifted business.  The question is, does you employee recognition policy lack regardless of the pandemic?  Don’t feel bad if it does, 83% of businesses in the United States are doing a poor job of employee recognition. 

Especially now with work from home being standardized, it’s safe to say that the majority of the workforce is uncertain about what to do to recognize employees and maintain productivity. 

We all have so many questions like “how can we keep our staff motivated?”, “how can we avoid losing our top performers?”, “How can we promote trust and productivity across teams?”, and “is my coworker wearing pajama bottoms on our zoom meeting?”.  There is just a lack of proper employee recognition. We are here to clarify all of that.  Well…except the pajama thing.  Some mysteries will remain unsolved.

There are many articles like this one from that explain why implementing an employee recognition program could be an incredibly effective (and surprisingly inexpensive) way for you to retain employees and increase job satisfaction. 

Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, has even conducted research showing that building trust and purpose in the workplace can increase alignment with company values by 70%, reduce sick days by 13%, and reduce employee turnover by half!

So, it is no wonder that companies want to create a recognition culture, but the majority don’t know how.  Being in the awards industry, we have seen a lot of great (and eye-gougingly horrendous) ways people are recognizing remote employees, which is why we have compiled this step-by-step guide to help you create (and rock) your virtual awards ceremony.

What is a virtual award ceremony and why should you have one?

An awards ceremony is a space to publicly recognize the achievements and hard work of teams and individuals.  But why is this so important, you ask?

Publicly and regularly acknowledging your employees and co-workers creates a culture of participation and thought leadership.  This helps implement your company’s core values, connect teams, and makes people feel good about their work and contributions. 

When done correctly and frequently, the results are clear.  Creating a culture of recognition improves turnover, increases employee generated revenue, boosts productivity, and drives a sense of purpose.  These types of programs also help consolidate your companies core values, which is important when 61% of employees don’t even know their companies mission statement.

Creating trust and purpose in the workspace doesn’t only improve the quality of work, it improves our quality of life.  And there is a clear reason for this.

The effect of employee recognition

The psychology of Recognition

Psychologists have found that your employee’s desire for recognition often exceeds their desire for money.  This has solid evidence to back it up and is deeply rooted in human psychology.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the highest levels of human needs are the need to belong, to be loved, and to have a sense purpose which are feeling that can be linked to one single, yet potent, brain chemical: Oxytocin.

Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for feelings of trust, bonding, and love.  While hugging is a widely known source of oxytocin (not to be done in the workplace, according to…pretty much all mainstream society), simply recognizing your co-workers and employees can have this same blissful effect.

This chemical is crucial in social bonding (including developing the bond between mothers and children), as well as our overall sense of happiness and ability to cope with stress.

It’s no wonder this chemical is important in the workforce.  Higher feelings of trust, increased happiness, and lower levels of stress are a sure way to create an awesome work environment.  Longer paid vacations and a company credit card wouldn’t hurt (hoping my boss reads this).

Don’t just take our word for it.  Companies like Whole Foods, Lenovo, SAS institute, and more have all created a culture that fosters trust and purpose.  The names of the companies speak for themselves.

One article from has shown that people respond just as strongly to recognition as they do for money.  Looking back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this makes sense.  Money is associated with safety, yet the sense of belonging and fulfillment are higher in the hierarchy than safety according to this widely accepted model.  Many people may prefer recognition and a sense of appreciation more than a raise in salary or bonuses, which is why companies that implement a recognition culture in their workplace can see up to 46% reduction in voluntary turnover.

Recognition vs Awards

Recognition doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of an award.  It’s like the square thing; all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.  All awards are a form of recognition, but recognition doesn’t have to be an award (although a physical representation of recognition will continue to provide that boost of affirmation long term). 

Recognition is something that should be done frequently, while awards should be used to “Gamify – to make a game of” recognition in your company to create some friendly competition and drive your company’s values.  Significant awards should be given less often, but still frequently enough so you are rewarding hard work while the work is still fresh.

Now that you know what an awards ceremony is and why it matters, let’s dive into creating your virtual ceremony.

How to create a virtual awards ceremony in 7(ish) steps

Step 1 – Define the Nominees, Winners, and Awards

  1. Choose your awards.

    The most successful awards programs offer a nomination award, and a winner’s award.  We recently helped plan and furnish an awards ceremony for the Unites States Youth Soccer Association (USYS), and they gifted individual plaques to each nominee and crystal awards or acrylic awards to winners. 

Others prefer something more practical.  Sometimes a personalized gift (like a water bottle, mug, or hat) is an awesome way to go for nominees.

  1. Collect the nominations (Survey Monkey). 

    The key to making awards programs effective is making the criteria public and clear for everyone to understand.  This needs to be as “democratic” as possible, meaning that each team member should understand the criteria for nomination and have the potential to be nominated. 

Make sure you define this clearly and create an easy way for your teams to nominate candidates.We suggest doing an email survey like the ones Survey Monkey allows you to easily create and send to your staff.This will allow you to send the nomination criteria, allow employees to cast a vote, and then measure the results in one platform, making your life easier.

  1. Publicize the nominations and send nomination awards

    It is important that the nominations are made public.  A great way to do this is through a company “Newsletter” sent out to every employee of the company, or even publicly on your company’s website or blog.  Regardless this information should be seen by all. 

Send your nomination awards to each recipient.  If you want to be really top-notch, you can record a personalized video for each recipient.  Loom makes it very easy to record videos across teams and send them via email directly through the platform, making a convenient way for you to personally congratulate the nominees.  We can feel the fuzzies already.

  1. Take a vote and Define winners.

    Once your nominees have been decided, send another survey to define the winners.  Depending on the type of awards categories you have, you may want to send the winners awards prior to the awards ceremony.  You can also send them after you have announced the winners.

If you do send the awards before the ceremony, a great idea is to record a personalized video (yes, again…it should only take 10 minutes or less) to congratulate them and let them know personally how important their contributions have been to you.  To go an extra mile, ask them to record an “acceptance speech” after receiving the award using Loom, which you can incorporate later into your presentation.

If you want to be extra cool, send a pin to all the employees.  People like that sort of thing.


Step 2: Define your platform

When it comes to the virtual space you choose, we recommend the Mazda approach: Zoom-Zoom.  Most of us at this point are familiar with this platform and Zoom allows you to share your screen, which will be important to show your intro and recorded videos.

Tip:  Make all participants videos disabled by default to avoid lagging.

Step 3: Send the virtual invites

Send out your meeting code, URL, or any other virtual address you have chosen for your awards.  Doing this early can increase participation while allowing you time to program the rest of the ceremony.  Just make sure you don’t change this later on. 

We typically like to use Constant Contact or Mailchimp for these invites because you can easily send the invite to your entire team and even re-send to non-openers and program automated reminders. 

Keep in mind, if you are running this like a webinar people tend to sign up at the last minute.  By programming automated reminders, you can be sure you reach your invitees multiple times and remind them only hours (or minutes, if you like living on the edge) before your ceremony.

Step 4: Hire a speaker (or funny employee), choose your equipment, and run through the presentation

The key thing to make your virtual awards ceremony successful is that it is engaging, forward moving, and concise.  Hiring a speaker for this purpose, or a really engaging and funny co-worker, is a great idea to help things move forward and stay entertaining.

We recommend you write a general script to follow, just to make sure things are concise and to the point.  The tone should be casual and uplifting.  It’s been a tough year and having someone light humored, authentic, and to the point will go a long way to your ceremony on track.

Another key component to think of is your equipment.  People can look past a slightly distracting background, but your audio needs to be on point.  Using an external microphone and not relying on your computer’s mic is highly recommended.  There are many microphones that connect directly to your computer or smart phone that will give you awesome results.

Consider your lighting.  Positioning yourself by a window if your ceremony will be during daytime is ideal.  If you’re conducting your ceremony in the evening or at night, consider a small lighting setup so you get nice, soft lighting.

Step 5: Create your virtual space and presentation layout

This is by far the most important part of your ceremony.  Being virtual brings the challenge of increased distractions, so you need to make sure your ceremony (and the virtual space hosting it) are top-notch and engaging.  Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Create an engaging opening video sequence

    Connect people right out of the gate with something that is eye-catching and entertaining.  Images that reflect your company and its values and connect people personally to the company (shots of the office spaces, entry ways, break room, etc.) are best, as they are familiar and, at this point, nostalgic.   Just make sure the shots are awesome.  Consider hiring a videographer.


  1. Create your presentation and add your videos

    You can even do this through PowerPoint.  Make sure the aesthetic is all cohesive and, again, visually engaging.  Remember, we are on goldfish-attention-span mode.


  1. Practice the presentation and have a trouble shooting plan

    As we all know, the digital space can be incredibly frustrating.  Have a backup plan in case the internet slows down to a seemingly drunken crawl, know how to troubleshoot lagging (again, make sure only your video is active), and move to plan B when things go south.

A good “Plan B” is to record your entire ceremony start to finish and send as a link immediately if anything goes wrong.  You can host the video on your website or YouTube, but have the link on-hand for quick delivery.  You can use this to send to those who were unable to attend afterwards, so it is worth the effort to record before going live.

Step 6: Plan a livestream (optional)

Livestreaming, as you can imagine, has grown in popularity along with all the other digital connective tissues (is it weird to anthropomorphize the internet?).  Livestreams are a great way to connect to your social media audience and showcases the values of your company, of which recognition is first and foremost, and will make you look like a general badass, if done well.

There are several livestreaming platforms, but LiveStream, facebook, Instagram and, of course, YouTube seem to be the heavy hitters.  You can even use to stream simultaneously across all the streaming platforms.  Whichever way you go, have your presentation locked-in a and a solid troubleshooting plan (along with a good A/V tech). 

Understand that promoting your livestream on social media requires some thoughtful and engaging campaigning if you really want it to be successful.  We have seen companies implement this well when they already have a livestream as part of their marketing process.

Step 7: Prepare for the ceremony and launch

Do a quick run through for good measure, check your background for anything out of place (like your pajama bottoms) and check your video, audio, and internet connection. 

If you have planned well, developed a contingency “Plan B”, and have practiced your presentation, all that’s left is to let the tears of joy cascade across the jubilant faces of your beloved and cherished workforce like a majestic waterfall of the likes only seen in surrealist paintings… or Yosemite.  Okay, that may be a little overkill.  Just run the ceremony, stick to the plan and it will go wonderfully.

Reach out to us if you have any questions about how to run your digital ceremony and what awards are best for your needs.  Wilson Trophy has provided recognition awards for 65 years and we specialize in making custom awards for national organizations, small businesses, and sports associations.  We can help you plan your ceremony start to finish and have a large selection of high-quality and affordable awards.

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Let us plan your ceremony for free!  Fill out the form below or give us a call and an awards expert will help you plan your ceremony, start to finish!