To say we learned a lot when helping Inspired Villages organise their employee awards event, the VIVAs, this year is an understatement. So, in the spirit of Christmas, we thought we’d share some of our learnings with you lovely lot.

1. Nail the logistics

Clearly, this is important with any event. But with this one, we needed to consider how we would combine physical attendance (where it was possible) with virtual attendance (where it wasn’t). How do you make separate teams of up to 30 people on-site in six villages feel involved in a full company event which is being hosted online? It’s not easy!

Firstly, you need a brilliant project lead (we had one in Emma Connelly – full credit to you, Em). Then you need to mobilise. Get yourself a crew of helpers throughout the organisation – it takes a real team effort. People who are bought in, based in all the right places, and motivated to make things happen (thanks to all involved).

2. Explore technology

Hosting an employee awards event can be challenging at the best of times, and virtual live events are even more complex. In an ideal world you’d have a huge wall of screens projecting all participants live, and film crews at every site. But what if you’re working with a budget that isn’t quite up to Grammys levels? Let’s face it, this year’s been tight for most of us. So it’s always worth looking to see if you can make the best use of what’s readily available. Do your research. And then test, test, test.

We spoke to everyone from online event company providers, to film crews and everyone we know who has some tech credentials. The general consensus was that the functionality of MS teams Live isn’t so bad after all, particularly if you throw in a few webcams and some nice backgrounds. It wasn’t without minor hitches, but overall it was a cost-effective and simple solution that definitely delivered. Thanks, Bill Gates.

3. Be flexible

Throughout the planning of this project, things changed almost every day. There were new rules, new limitations and new obstacles. We don’t really have any other advice than to be aware of this. Expect it and embrace it; it’s simply the world we live in right now.

If you want to stick to any sort of plan, make sure you always consider several scenarios (from best to worst case). The words ‘I’m sure it will all be fine by then’ are not your friend. Assume nothing, prepare for everything. You can almost guarantee what you’ll end up doing will be something different anyway. But you’ll be as prepared as you can be, and you’ll give ‘flexibility’ a whole new meaning!

4. Build momentum

As with any employee awards event, you’ll want to get people excited and hyped about it. That’s not always easy when people are worrying about the health and safety of their residents, friends and families. Building momentum is important, but it needs to be done in the right way.

We found it made a big difference to get everyone in the company involved in the nomination process, giving them a vested interest in the outcome. We also ensured all communication was simple and fun – everyone loves a little entertainment, even in troubled times. But it’s also important not to bombard people, less is definitely more as long as it feels special. Like sending printed invitations in shiny envelopes to each employee at home. Or creating a series of teaser adverts sent as comedy GIFs to everyone’s inbox in the week running up to the event. Have a read here about how we’re helping Inspired Villages to embed their employer brand.

5. Be creative

There’s no challenge which can’t be solved with a little creative thinking. If people can’t attend a physical event, why not bring the event to them? Sending a creative event-themed Teams background and a food and drink voucher to people stuck at home can work wonders. And while everyone loves a trophy and a hamper, it’s always worth considering an alternative ‘prize’ to make it really memorable. Perhaps a personalised celebrity message for each winner? That certainly seemed to hit the right note.

Also remember it’s the smallest things which make the difference. Think about every detail of the event – what will people see, hear, feel. Have you got ‘audience clapping’ noise at the ready for that added sense of atmosphere? Rousing award music before the screen is lifted? Check. Black tie – why not? Hula fancy dress – why not? Open the dress code up to encourage people to have some fun with it.

Putting it all together, you’ll get something a little like this…

(We’re also available for weddings, christenings and bar mitzvahs.)