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Gala Awards Judges Photo by Berezko / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Judges Share Tips on How to Win a Gala Award

You know you produced a great event; here are tips on tipping the scales in your favor.

In the words of one judge for the Special Events Gala Awards, “Galas are the time to raise the bar.” So, what qualities elevate an entry to award-winning status? In this feature, veteran judges of the annual Gala Awards competition—all members of the Special Events Advisory Board--reveal how they settle on scores, and offer tips on submitting a top-notch entry.

1. Get it together.
Across the board, judges are in accord: What you leave out will cost you. “The first thing I do is check to make sure all the components are there,” says one judge. “I know it has nothing to do with how talented these people are, but it’s part of the [entry] directions.”

Another judge states, “I believe it is critical to follow the instructions as the bottom line for an entry—that way, everyone starts out on an even playing field.”

The same judge cautions, “Having even one point deducted because you overlooked a component can have a marked effect on the outcome.” In short, “Incomplete entries will kill you.”

2. Write it right.
While they don’t base their decisions on prose alone, judges say that strong, accurate writing goes far in furthering an entry’s progress in the competition.

One judge says he seeks out “concise and cogent wording that makes me interested in learning more about the event,” while he docks entries that are “too wordy, not precise enough to sell the event.”

“The judges are human and there are a lot of entries, so you need to keep the judges’ attention,” cautions another judge. She says she is turned off by written responses that are “too vague or too dry.”

For yet another judge, redundancy raises a red flag. Entering a single event in multiple categories without providing different written responses for each category is a no-no, he notes, as is “repeating the same phrases in the answers to different questions.”

You can make only one first impression. Since the written description is the first aspect of your event that the judges see, make it memorable with a neat, spell-checked entry. As one judge puts it, "If you cannot write well, then hire someone who can."

3. Make your photos do the talking.
Proving the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” judges frequently say they wish they could see more photos in entries. Adding extra high-quality photos packs a visual punch, allowing the judges to better appreciate your event. The Gala rules require 10 photos, but you can upload up to 20. Do not include collages.

Don't just tell the judges why you deserve a Gala Award--show them why, with pictures that are of professional quality. Bear in mind that the event description and the photographs should complement each other. The photos should verify--not contradict--the claims in the description. 

4. Let truth be told.
All judges agree: When it comes to entry content, honesty is the best policy.

Many judges point to budget as an area that they watch closely for signs of trouble. In categories that require budget information, entrants “have to remember the event has to be able to be duplicated exactly with the budget that’s given,” according to one judge. She offers the example of a decor-category entry whose budget omitted lighting—a key ingredient in the production, she says--because lighting was an important element in the photos submitted for the entry. “It was definitely a mistake on the entrant’s part, because it was a great entry, but, unfortunately, that hurt them.”

Don't try to cram a pricey event into a lower budget category. "We just don't trust those entries because we don't believe them," says one judge.

Another judge warns against stealing the spotlight. “If it appears you and your team are taking credit for work performed by someone else, you’ll lose points,” he explains. For example, if your sole contribution to a wedding was the floral, then enter "Best Floral Design"; do not enter "Best Wedding."

5. Get down to specifics.
It's fine to enter the same event in multiple categories, but be sure to write an original entry for each category.

For example, don't submit the identical entry you used for “Best Floral Design” in your submission for “Best Wedding.” After seeing the same entry in more than one category, judges begin to skim the now-familiar material, and consequently lose the full impact of the event. Therefore, they may deduct points if the submission does not address the specific category in which the event is competing. To impress the Gala judges, take the time to tailor your entry to its individual category.

6. Why does it matter?
A first-rate entry answers the question “So why does this matter?” and convinces the judges that the challenges overcome to accomplish this event were noteworthy, making the finished product worthy of a Gala Award.

As one judge explains, “Installing a tent in a flat field on a calm summer day is not going to get as many points as one that was installed on a cliff at the height of tornado season.”

A word of warning to entrants claiming they've overcome “outrageous” challenges in the course of producing an event: Explain why that aspect of the job was troublesome. It's not enough to bemoan such common problems as cantankerous clients, tight budgets, or rain on the Big Day.

Remember that the judges have produced events, too; they know what qualifies as a difficult challenge versus problems that occur on a regular basis in the industry.

Our judges acknowledge that they can be exacting, but they can also be a great source of information and inspiration. They offer these valuable words of wisdom to both novice entrants and Gala Award regulars:

  • “Take your time putting your entry together. It involves a lot of work and commitment, but it’s worth it in the end. We can tell when an entrant has put the time into it.”
  • "Show us something innovative. Make us say, 'Now, that's cool!'"
  • “Look at some of the past winners, study their success, and then take your time with the entry. Start at least a couple of weeks out, and prepare the entry accordingly.”
  • “If you have the opportunity, have a previous Gala Award winner read your entry--if it is not in conflict with theirs. [If you don’t have access to] a previous winner, by all means have someone not related to your company—as they can be biased—read your entry with the criteria in mind and give you feedback.”
  • “Spend the time and the energy it takes to 'wow' the judges with your submission. If you can get across in writing and photos how truly spectacular your event was, we will respond to that. We want you to win!”

Entries for the 2019 Gala Awards are due Sept. 14; our special "late bird" option--for a slightly higher fee--extends the deadline to Sept. 21. Find all our FAQs and an Entry Form here. The Gala Awards will be handed out Jan. 10 at The Special Event 2019 in San Diego.

Click on DOWNLOAD to get a 2019 Gala Awards Entry Form:

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