Congratulations! How to create a winning award entry


Just before the Ascension long weekend started in Belgium, we received excellent news from a client of ours there – they’d won gold in the 2018 EFMD Excellence in Practice Awards.

Our client, Vlerick Business School scooped the top spot in the Professional Development category, for its transformational work with global science company DSM. Of course, we were excited for our lovely clients at Vlerick. We were also pleased for ourselves, because we’d created the winning award entry.

So how do you craft a winning award entry?

Before you start

Make sure you have a decent amount of time to put your entry together. Getting together all the information you need to write a winning award entry can take longer than you think.

Respect the word count

Pity the poor judges. They’ll be receiving scores, if not hundreds, of entries for the award category you’ve chosen to enter. So do not exceed the word count. There are loads of ways to make your words go further:

•  Write beautifully (or get help from a consultancy like Wordtree to do so)

•  Use infographics, charts, tables, photos and illustrations

Tell a story

Have a clear, interesting narrative running through your award entry. Typically ours follow this format:

•  What was happening before the project (grim NPS scores, sales not as needed, teams not as engaged as they needed to be…)

•  How the initiative was conceived (something needed to change, and this was how we went about it, highlighting innovation/different thinking/fresh approaches…)

•  What we (or our clients) did (a clear, concise description of the piece of work)

•  The effects it has had (NPS scores, improved sales, increased retention… whatever)

Many award entries don’t do this – and it must make it very difficult for judges to follow what the entrant has even done.

Be honest

Were there hurdles? Did everything go to plan? If you had challenges, share them with the judges and explain how you overcame them. Judges are not idiots. They tend to know the industry you work in very well – and if you put forward an award entry that says you achieved wonders without dealing with resistance, technical issues or whatever else your sector faces, your entry may not feel credible.

Ditch the business speak

The words “The challenge was overcome with the delivery of a multi-faceted innovative solution…” doesn’t make readers feel anything other than slightly bored. “We came up with a completely new way of looking at an age-old problem,” on the other hand, makes people want to read on.

It also gives the people who’ve read it an easy way to talk about what you’ve done, repeating your great story because they find it really interesting.

Imagine the presenter on the big night. The lights are low, you’re in your nice suit and the spotlight drops onto the podium as she slowly opens the shiny envelope.

Is she really going to introduce the winner with, “…this award recognises the delivery of a multi-faceted innovative solution!” No, because she instinctively knows that she’ll make much more of a connection with her audience if she says: “The winners of this award came up with a completely new way of looking at an age-old problem…”

So ditch the business speak, and don’t try to sound clever and academic. The majority of your words should be of one syllable.

The other thing with business speak is that it’s so blah it can easily hide a complete lack of substance. When you strip the language back to its simplest form, you soon see if you actually have something to talk about.

Make it a pleasure to read

It’s an award entry, not a university essay. This isn’t about showcasing your vocabulary or MBA approaches – it’s about showcasing an amazing piece of work. Don’t hide your work with academic-sounding heavy sentences. You want the judges to think that you’re a smart, easy-to-work-with, quick thinking and intelligent person or organisation – not a fuddy-duddy bore.

If your work is strong enough you won’t need big words and industry speak to do the heavy lifting.

Answer the criteria

This is a biggie. If the entry form says: “Show evidence that you have achieved X,” then you have to show the evidence. Give statistics. Show that you’ve measured the effects of your work.

We’ve seen a number of award entries that simply don’t answer these type of questions – they just repeat what they’ve said in other parts of the entry in a slightly different way. In our view, these entries aren’t going to be successful.

Getting evidence and results can be difficult, and it can be tempting to try to cover up your lack of stats with babble. But it’s a waste of time. Make it your mission to track down the stats. (This is why you need to give yourself time to get your entry together.)

Judges want to see that a) you’ve done some outstanding work and b) that it had the effect you intended it to – or did even more than you thought it might. When you’ve been heavily involved in the creation of a piece of work or project, it’s understandable that you’re very interested in the strategy and implementation. But don’t forget to show results – or you won’t be in with a chance of winning.

Sign off

Make sure someone owns the award entry – and that they’ll defend it. In most organisations, there are going to be at least three people involved in the sign-off process. In some organisations, it can be more than 15.

The more people you have in the sign-off process, the more people will want you to include their thoughts and side projects in the award entry. Be positive, but be firm. Your award entry needs to be single-minded and focussed. You can only tell one story.

Introduce colour-coded feedback. Red feedback shows inaccuracies that have to be changed. Green feedback is additional information that might be useful to include. Blue feedback is personal opinion. Then make it clear from the outset that green and blue feedback may not be acted upon.

Edit, distil, respect the word count

When you have an approved document, edit again. Proof read, trim down the word count further if you can.

Checklist for your final read-through

•  Is it memorable? Will the judge who reads it be thinking about it for days after she’s read it?

•  Could she summarise it in a sentence or two? So when your judge gets home, she could tell her partner: “I saw a really interesting entry today – it was about a company that did X, even though the rest of the industry does Y – and it’s transformed their turnover.”

•  Have you answered the criteria? You must, must, must answer the criteria. Don’t just fill a space with blurb. That’s not the way to win.

Good luck!

Want help writing your award entries?

Give us a call or drop us a line and we’ll make it our mission to get you a gold too.