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April 2024
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A Word on Awards

Forget the trophy. The important thing is to look like you deserve it.

By John Cadley

“Illustration of man tripping and falling going up to stageIllustration by Bart Browne

I should get an award. How many times have you said that to yourself? If you’re my plumber, you probably said it the day you kept a straight face while I, with my balding head, expressed shock at how the bathroom sink could have possibly gotten clogged with a man’s hairpiece. Driving home, I can hear him chuckle and say: Man, I should get an award …

Or if, heaven forbid, you’re my family doctor and must pretend to take me seriously when I ask if athlete’s foot can be fatal. When I leave, I know he’s wondering, Where’s my Oscar?

Unfortunately, tradesmen and physicians don’t get awards for doing hard jobs made even harder by characters like me. But they can win other awards—and so can you! The bowling league, the club golf tournament, the Garden Club Prize Petunia competition, the Good Citizenship Award, Salesperson of the Year, Apple Pie Contest at the State Fair, the local 5K Walk-a-Thon—all opportunities for you to be recognized for superior performance. If the plaque or trophy is simply handed to you on the spot, you’re home free. More often than not, however, it requires you to attend some sort of dinner at which you will be called up to accept your award and “say a few words.” This is when the ceremony turns into a dream to cherish or a nightmare to forget, depending upon what you say and how you say it.

Let’s start with the basics. As you rise from your table and approach the stage, don’t trip and fall. Nervous people tend to do this, and as sympathetic as they may be, the audience will find it hard to see you as distinguished when you’re lying on the floor with fruit cocktail in your hair. Next, don’t cry. It may be an emotional moment for you, but for everyone else it’s time for dessert and coffee, which they will not enjoy if they have to watch a grown person sob over Grandiflora petunias.

A little humility is fine, but excessive sentimentality is like forcing the audience to eat a sheet cake.

Assuming you’ve avoided the above pitfalls, accept your statue, and approach the microphone—and again, watch the nervousness. You want to speak into the microphone, not the statue. Then thank those who have helped you achieve this distinction—up to a point. Mentioning your supportive spouse and a few mentors is fine. Acknowledging every helpful person in your life back to the doctor who delivered you is going too far. Nobody cares. Really. Nobody. Not even the doctor. Keep it short but not too short. A quick, curt “Thank you” is brief but it shows a certain lack of appreciation, as if a waitress just served you a hamburger. Rather, take a few minutes to express your gratitude, acknowledge your worthy competitors, say something self-deprecating (the world loves a humble winner), and get off the stage—without tripping. Avoid the temptation to say you don’t deserve this esteemed honor. It’s like telling the awards committee they have lousy judgment. On the other hand, don’t say you do deserve the award. Nothing ruins a pleasant social gathering like someone holding a piece of engraved plexiglass over their head and shouting, “It’s about time!”

Don’t be saccharine or fawning. As mentioned, a little humility is fine, but excessive sentimentality is like forcing the audience to eat a sheet cake. And NO POLITICS! If you want to see men and women in tuxedos and evening gowns attacking each other with table centerpieces, telling them who to vote for is the way to do it.

So far I’ve talked about receiving an award, but let’s not forget that someone has to give it—i.e., the presenter—and that person could be you. There is an art to this as well. First and foremost, you must conceal your seething resentment at not winning the award yourself. This takes real talent, and if you can pull it off you deserve an Academy Award in the Best Insincere Performance category. Briefly introduce yourself and don’t include any post-nominal honorifics like “Ph.D.” or “Esq.” to suggest you’re just as worthy. Sum up the criteria for the award, tell a funny anecdote about the honoree (funny ha-ha, not funny you-stink), present the award, and then join in the applause as the person of the hour leaves the stage. And hope they trip.

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