The middle of the summer isn't the best time of the year to be thinking about year-end banquets, but I promised a room full of teachers today that I would put up this post. So, if you are going to be in charge of or helping to plan a year-end student organization award/recognition banquet, here are a few tips to print off and save for later...
1. Set the date, announce it early, and build in a "WOW" factor.
Obviously, if you are working with a school's calendar, you are going to set the date fairly early. What most people forget is to announce it early. I am certain you don't have a big promotional budget (plus, you will have to send an announcement a few weeks before the event), but even just a simple postcard with a "save the date" message works wonders. Send it to local boosters, all the students' parents/guardians, all your school's staff/administration, etc. If you include a "WOW" factor, you can build in anticipation. This could be a special guest appearance, a special meal item, and/or a unique demonstration from the students. Don't be afraid to build it up and make it seem greater than it is. A little showmanship here goes a long way to people anticipating a cool event.
I spoke at one banquet where the big thing every year was what a local shop was going to do for the table center pieces. They were always something phenomenal and someone from each table got to take their table's centerpiece home. This was also a great promotional for the local vendor.
2. Assign every student a duty, check on their progress, offer them assistance and help them be exceptional.
Students get engaged in anything where they have a clear purpose and role. Find out their talents and/or the talents of their family members and go from there. Our local FFA chapter in the small town of Laverne, Oklahoma (population 1,000) had a huge banquet every year because we delegated and assigned roles. It was a huge event that created strong community awareness and support of our little 60-member FFA chapter.
Have a handful of gophers - students who simply play the role of helping you do misc. tasks. Put your nicest, friendliest and most outgoing students at the front as greeters. If you have a guest speaker, local VIPs or school administration coming, assign two students to each to specially greet them, help them feel "extra special", show them where they are seated, etc.
3. Talk positively about the event.
It is amazing how our language is powerful in shaping the mood of the planning and delivery of an event. The more you talk up about the event, the more your students will do the same. Everything is not going to go as planned and everything is not going to be as great as you say it will be, but if you (as the chief planner of the event) can't get excited about it, why should anyone else?
4. Have students perform with equipment that works.
I have been to hundreds of student award/recognition banquets and the best ones are the ones where the students not only do most of the podium work (emcee, introductions, announce awards, etc.), but where the students get to show off their talents also. This might be traditional banquet entertainment (singing, piano, etc.), but also showing off their speaking skills. Regarding the performances, whether from the podium or otherwise, make absolutely certain you have (and triple-check the morning of) facility items that add to the experience instead of detracting from it....
1. If you can't hear the speakers, then why have an event? I have been to banquets where the microphone is literally running into the portal podium built in 1960. If your town doesn't have a facility with a good sound system, someone in town has to have a portable sound system you can borrow. Ask the local churches, car dealers, auctioneers, local motivational speakers :), etc. You don't have to secure a high-dollar BOSE system, but one built after Reagan was in office would be nice.
2. If you are doing a slide-show, lighting is critical. If you can't turn the lights down for the show, then don't have the show.
3. If you can't hear the music behind the slide show, then don't have music. And a laptop's speakers with a microphone pointed at it is not good. Ask your local Radio Shack AV expert (come on, even my grandparents' town in po-dunk Oklahoma has a Radio Shack), to show you how to get the laptop's sound to run through the house sound. It takes an investment of about $40. It involves a few cords, adapters, and a little thing called a DI box.
4. If you are going to hang signs, banners, etc., make absolutely certain they will stay up. Duct tape is good, but duct tape and bailing wire (seriously) will hold anything. 50-pound fishing line works better and is more discreet than bailing wire also. You also need to check your facility's rules before using tape. Many places don't allow it. But if your banquet is in your grade school's 60-year old cafeteria, I doubt they will mind.
5. Make the room cooler than normal. If a few of your guests are complaining it is too cool, that is a good thing. 70 is a good room temp for meal functions. But remember, 65 in an empty room might get you 70 in a full one.
5. Keep the agenda short and simple.
No one ever, in the history of banquets, has ever complained about the event being too short. 90-minutes should be your target and 120-minutes should be your ceiling. You know you have reached your perfect banquet flow not when you have nothing left to add, but when you have nothing left to take away. Some say that every student should get something at an awards banquet. Well, if every student accomplished something, then that is true. However, you and I both know that not every student put in the work necessary to receive an award.
Because every event planner should be concerned with program length, here are a few time savers:
1. Have multiple registration/sign-in lines.
2. Have multiple food lines (if you are doing a buffet). Also, don't have food in a buffet line people have to assemble (tacos, sandwiches, etc.).
3. If you ask people to speak, ask them to speak about half as long as you actually want them to speak (i.e. - tell your Mayor she has 5 minutes if you expect her to go 10.)
4. Have someone other than the teacher give out the awards. It is tough for teachers to not want to say everything they can think of about every student who received an award. If certain highlights need to be said to give special recognition to work done, put it in the script. The best person to announce student awards is another student.
5. If you do a year-end slide show, put a two-song limit on it. I know you took a ton of great pictures throughout the year, but after 7-minutes even grandparents stop looking for their grandchild's smiling face and start looking for the last slide. If you have more pictures to share than can fit in a 7-minute show, put them in an online web album, put the URL in the program and announce the URL from the podium.
6. If you have a guest speaker, don't ask them to talk longer than 15-minutes. Trust me on this one, if the speaker is worth their keep, they can say in 15-minutes what they can in 30.
7. Bring multiples up all at once. If you have an award that goes to a group of individuals, call their names out all at once, have all of them come up to the front, then give them their awards individually. Award winner walking time is the third biggest time killer (second place is not having enough buffet lines and first place is a long winded teacher.)
6. Invite both friends and enemies.
Send out invitations to both your best supporters and to those people who you know don't support your organization. If you are out-of-sorts with the coaches or administration or the adult leader of a different student organization, send them an invite and call them personally to extend a personal invite. Tell them you just want to let them see the good work "the school's students" have been doing all year long. Don't make it about your students versus their students or your agenda versus their agenda. Make it about your event being a place for the school's students to be recognized for their hard work. It is amazing how much support you can create when people see you are trying to include them and, if they actually show, when people see the good works you do.
7. Seek sponsorships.
A banquet is a great marketing opportunity for local businesses and individuals that want to get their name in front of the community for a good cause. Check out thispost on fundraising. The connection isn't direct, but some of the same principles apply to sponsorship acquisition. Getting sponsors isn't easy, but it gets easier as time goes on. Most organizations have a set "donations" budget and once you are in their list, it is easier to stay on their list year after year. And if you can get one bank or one retail outlet to sponsor, you can use that sponsorship to "nudge" their competition to do the same.
8. Invite the media.
Telling the good news is critical to the success of your organization. There is no better place to shout than at your annual banquet. Invite as many media outlets as you can. If no one from their shop shows, then send a picture and a press release the day after your event and ask them to run it. They will print it if the picture is good and the press release follows some basic rules. Here is a post at BNet an overview of press release rules...BNet. Also, make certain your picture has a few close-up shots of faces in it. Better to be able to actually recognize three faces than barely make out 20. Remember, the picture won't be printed full-sized and will be in black and white.
9. Have a printed script.
Your script should be in at least three, three-ring binders, double-spaced, 14-font, numbered pages and not copied until the morning of the banquet. You want multiple copies of the final event-ready script just in case something happens to one. You don't want to print it until the day of the event because things will change on you at the last minute. If things do change at the very last minute, just write in the changes. Use a three-ring binder so it will lay flat on the podium and so you can insert pages with changes. You should have students memorize their parts (the better they know their speaking parts, the more comfortable they will be at the podium), but have the manuscript available just in case their nerves get the best of them. When you put names in your manuscript, put them in phonetically correct, not grammatically correct (i.e. - Law-buck, not Laubach.)
10. Practice the night before, show up extra early to start preparing the day of and expect things to go wrong.
As much energy should be exerted in the practice the night before as the actual banquet itself. Early, in event planning terms, means as early as humanly possible. Everything at a banquet takes longer to prepare than you think. When things go wrong, as the event coordinator, you need to keep a calm head, walk with a hurried calmness and remember to put relationships before results. If something goes wrong, most times no one can tell anyway except you and your planning team. Just roll with it. And take notes after the event for next year. Send thank you notes out the next day. Send your press release and picture out the next day. Then celebrate with your students for a job well done!
I welcome any comments with more great banquet tips.
Please visit www.yournextspeaker.com for more leadership development.