Digital , Associations , Virtual Events

How to Transition Award Ceremonies to An Engaging Virtual Environment

Jenny Muchnikoff

The 13th Annual Military IT Awards could not be  held in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, the Yes& events team brainstormed a way to deliver the awards ceremony in an interactive, virtual environment that added value to the event. 


AFCEA Washington, DC’s Annual Military IT Leadership Awards Dinner recognizes outstanding officers and enlisted service members across each of the services and the joint community for their significant contributions in the field of information technologies (IT).  The ceremony recognizes an enlisted member and an officer from each of the services—U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps,  and the U.S. Navy. Four additional awards— two officers and two enlisted -- are presented to service members assigned to a joint billet during the time of their demonstrated leadership. 


One of the main challenges the AFCEA DC team faced was making an online awards ceremony valuable for sponsors. Sponsors typically attend Military IT Leadership Awards for the networking aspect, which is challenging when done virtually.  AFCEA DC also wanted to achieve a level of intimacy for the ceremony, and honor the military personnel in the best way possible.  Awardees wouldn’t be able to fly in and physically walk across a stage like in past years, so there would need to be a new strategy for presenting awards and making awardees feel congratulated. 


The solution was to create an experience that allowed the awardees to participate in the ceremony and to have high-ranking military officials as the citation readers. The award ceremony was pre-recorded to stay within 45 minutes. The ceremony featured pre-recorded videos from the citation readers, included 30-second videos from the awardees thanking those around them for their nomination, and finished with the keynote speaker’s address.  Supervisors from all over the world created videos to say why they had recommended the awardees and talk about the awardees’ service. Awardees and supervisors don’t normally get to speak when the event is in person; so this was an added element made possible because of the virtual component. 

Bringing in high-ranking officials as the keynote and citation headers added value for the awardees, who don’t normally interact with generals in their everyday lives. It also raised the number of attendees, as the officials are well known within the military community and service members want to hear them speak. 

The virtual event included breakout rooms for an hour after the keynote speaker to provide a networking opportunity for the sponsors. The breakout rooms had a moderator to keep conversation flowing, and rotated every 20 minutes, allowing for different people across the industry to connect with each other. The awardees also were placed in the breakout rooms to help keep attendees engaged. You can read our article on  Getting the Most from Zoom’s Breakout Room Feature’  to find out how you can captivate the attention of attendees.

Lessons Learned 

The key factor to providing a successful event is providing an exceptional participant experience. Military IT Leadership Awards accomplished this by taking advantage of new opportunities online that allowed them to overcome limitations of in-person events caused by geographical boundaries, time zones, and physical space. 

Moving award ceremonies into a virtual capacity helps to streamline the event as you aren’t managing microphone problems or waiting for applause or for  speakers to wrap up their time. It also helps to keep the attention of the audience, as every few minutes there is  a new speaker or something new occurring on screen to retain their attention. Pre-recording speakers also mitigates the risk that occurs with award ceremonies happening in real time. 

This event had existed in the same capacity for years, but the transition to virtual allowed it to have a makeover and enhance the value to participants. Whether the event continues to be online or in person, some of the new virtual elements will be  incorporated.

For more tips on how to provide an exceptional award ceremony experience check out our blog highlighting 9 Tips for a Successful Virtual Award Ceremony Part 1 and 9 Tips for a Successful Virtual Award Ceremony Part 2. 

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

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Jenny Muchnikoff
Jenny Muchnikoff
Public Relations Account Coordinator