During my first visit as a guest at Downtown Toastmasters in California, I won a ribbon for my Table Topics answer. I was so excited, the ribbon could have been crumpled and stained, the presenter could have forgotten my name or even stepped on my foot. It wouldn't have mattered.
Being acknowledged by this group for my first attempt at a Table Topic was such an unexpected honor that I didn't notice or remember many of the details. Most of the time, this isn't the case.
More often, the way the award is presented is as important as the award itself. A sloppy presentation can reduce the award's otherwise positive impact. One Distinguished Toastmaster told me, "I have a stack of certificates that either aren't signed or don't have my name on the blank line. I also have been handed many awards and certificates face down, backward or upside down. And I have been given pins still wrapped in plastic. Tacky!"
I doubt if "tacky" is the impression the presenters of these awards had in mind.
Toastmasters isn't the only place were presentation matters. Employees all over the country have told me stories of receiving awards that were presented so poorly that these employees will never forget the presenter or think positively about the award. Two were particularly memorable:
A director in a network marketing company competed for the President's Circle Award. After a year of hard work, he won. He was the top sales producer for his region! At the annual conference, the president of the company presented him with a plaque. When he returned to his seat and looked at the plaque, he discovered that his name was misspelled.
A manager of a Fortune 500 company was called into his vice president's office where the VP yelled at him for 10 minutes straight. When the VP finished and the manager was heading out the door, the VP said, "Oh by the way, here is your 10-year anniversary pin. Congratulations."
At some point you will probably be called on, either at work or at Toastmasters, to formally recognize someone for a job well done. Assuming that you think recognition is important and that you would never tag it on as an afterthought like the Fortune 500 executive did, what can you do to make the award presentation meaningful and memorable?
Whether for a Toastmasters meeting or conference, or an awards ceremony at work, a formal award presentation requires some research. At the most fundamental level, if you don't know how to spell or pronounce the recipient's name, you will most likely ruin any recognition value the award has.
Want to make a memorable presentation that highlights the value of both the award and the recipient? According to Mark Perew, a new Distinguished Toastmaster in Founder's District's Club 1, "It's great to have the audience hear the criteria and how the recipient met those criteria." This requires research. You have to answer a few key questions:
Background information adds considerable value to the award, providing substance and helping to connect the audience to the recipient. It also demonstrates that the person receiving the award is valued. "It always feels better when the presenter knows something about you," says Barbara Hunt of a Toastmasters club in Missouri.
Years ago I received an award. I didn't know ahead of time that I had been selected. The person making the presentation began by reading the criteria for the award: consistent concern for customers, high level of product knowledge, and a willingness to go the extra mile to ensure excellence in customer service. Then, she read a lengthy client quote. At one point the quote became so specific, I recognized the client and realized I was the winner! It was a very special moment.
Fifteen years later the award still has significance for me. I know what the company valued and that someone put considerable effort into verifying that I had met their standards. The finely crafted presentation made the award meaningful.
Remember that the point of the presentation is to honor the recipient. Everything, including where you stand and how you hold the award, will add to or take away from that - whether or not it is perceived as an honor.
Think about where you will stand and where the recipient will stand. Past International Director Ginger Kane recommends holding the award in your left hand while shaking hands with the right. TI's Special Occasion manual's instructions for "Presenting an Award" recommends presenting the award with the hand closest to the recipient. In order to do both, stand to the right of the recipient.
Craig_Herrison says to think about creating a photo opportunity and making it easy for the audience to see the presentation. Make sure the award is right-side up and hold it so that it is visible. Hold the handshake for a few seconds.
There is a lot to remember when making a presentation. Don't forget the most important thing: sincerity. Don't get so caught up in your words and actions that you forget why you are up there in the first place. Keep your focus on honoring the recipient with a sincere award presentation.
Recently, at the Surf City Advanced club in California, I was able to see an example of a truly professional award presentation. Our Toastmaster at this meeting was Azra Simonetti. She told the group that we had a new Distinguished Toastmaster in our midst. She proudly showed us the plaque and said that a letter had accompanied it. She said that while the letter had an important message, she would let our new Distinguished Toastmaster read it for himself. She wanted to speak from the heart because she held this person in such high regard for his years of dedication, perseverance and delightful sense of humor.
She announced that our new Distinguished Toastmaster was Bob Aston. She recalled their years together in Toastmasters and how they commiserated after their first few speeches. She told about watching him grow and develop as a speaker and how proud she was of his latest achievement. All the while she held the plaque as though it was the most valuable item in the room.
When she finished her remarks, Azra called our new Distinguished Toastmaster to the lectern and passed the plaque to him while continuing to display it to the group. You could tell from the look on his face that this was recognition that our new Distinguished Toastmaster would never forget.