Are you entering awards? Are you winning your categories? If you’re not having the success you deserve, the culprit is probably the award application. More to the point, the problem is the way you’re filling out the application. Read on if you’d like an unfair advantage in the next awards contest you enter.
Secrets from the judging panel
Every year I judge several categories in the Content Marketing Awards, including the big one, Content Marketer of the Year. I also run seminars on behalf of Business News for their 40under40 Awards to help improve the quality of the applications. Both programs hold enough prestige to provide a launching pad for the next career move of the winners. Every year I weep with frustration at what could have been because often the best candidate does not get selected.
Why? Because their award entry lets them down. In too many cases, the judges can’t give the award to the best person because the entry didn’t reflect the brilliance of the candidate or project. The saddest part is it’s not that hard to rise above everyone else by writing a winning award entry.
15 tips to writing a better award entry
If you’d like to win the next award program you enter, here’s how you can do it.
- Give yourself enough time. Most awards programs give applicants plenty of time. The majority of submissions, however, come in at the last minute. A judge knows immediately who spent time preparing a thoughtful award submission and who didn’t.
- Read the question. It’s amazing how often the person submitting an award entry doesn’t bother to read the questions. Every contest has a different focus. They have peculiar quirks. You cannot write a generic entry and submit it to every contest. It doesn’t work.
- Stay on point. Make sure your answer addresses the question directly. This is not a chance for you to veer off into a different direction to profile something you want the judges to know. Stay on topic and know the judge is most grateful when they have an answer they can easily grade.
- Don’t skip questions. Sounds obvious, right? You’d be surprised how many people skip questions. Every question left unanswered results in a judge marking down your application. Judges almost always work on a points system where the highest score wins. If you garner no points for an entire question or category, you’re likely taking yourself out of the running for a win.
- Follow directions to the letter. Make sure every bit of required information is submitted with your original entry. Judges probably won’t be able to contact you if something is missing or incomplete. Most awards programs have a checklist of information needed to complete an application. Make sure to use it and tick off each item before you send your application off.
- Stick to the word count. Word counts are designed to ensure judges have enough time to get through all the entries in the allotted time. Going over word count does not impress anyone. Take it from a judge; we often spend evenings or weekends reviewing entries, so longer is not If you’re using an online submission form, anything over the allotted word count will be cut off and the judges will never know what was left off.
- Write off line. Regardless if you’re writing and printing your application or filling out an online form, you’ll want to write the entire thing on paper before you submit. The websites of popular contests often crash during peak periods and you don’t want to lose all your hard work because of a system failure. Also, committing everything to a single document before you send it allows you to ensure there’s been no repetition, inconsistencies or contradictions in your entry form.
- Speak the truth. Judges don’t take your word for everything in the application. We often do our own digging. Embellishments are easily discovered and outright lies will get your application put to the bottom of the pile or invalidated altogether.
- Enlist help early. If you wait until a day or two before the deadline to look for someone to help you write an award entry, you’re better off not bothering. My inbox is regularly flooded with last-minute requests to help fill out applications for major awards. My phone rings continuously on those final days. While I would love to help everyone, it’s impossible to take on most of this work in good conscience.
- You can’t write a thoughtful entry at the last minute; you just can’t.
- You don’t have enough time to interview a candidate, write the award, get it proofread and approved in a day or two.
- If I lose my mind and take on one of these projects, one is all a person can handle. If I get 10 calls on the final day, at least nine of them are turned away.
- You don’t want the same writer to prepare your application if they’re already working on others in the same contest.
- Tell a story. Have mercy on the poor judge who has 35, 80 or even a hundred applications to read. You can make your entry stand out by deploying brand storytelling techniques. It works; believe me.
- Quantify results. One of the first things you learn when writing fiction is the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. The same applies for award entries. Don’t say you’re a leading provider; give facts and figures to show you are. Winning entries always show proof of the claims they’re making.
- Get your staff and co-workers involved. The bigger the award, the more information you’ll need. Ask your friends to give you their impression of why you should win a particular award. Get your co-workers involved and have them help you collect evidence, metrics, examples, testimonials or anything else needed for your application. If it’s an award for work, everyone stands to gain something when a project wins.
- Aim for perfection. Spelling, punctuation and language usage are all taken into consideration. Your final submission should be devoid of errors. Work with an editor or a proofreader to ensure your application is perfect.
- Include the icing. Don’t forget to include achievements or activity in areas like volunteering, philanthropy, or specialised training. When all things are equal, people showing they went the extra mile gives judges the tie breaker they need.
- Read your submission aloud. Before you send off your award entry, stand up and read it using your normal speaking voice. You’ll be amazed at how the act of getting on your feet and using your full voice uncovers clumsy sentences and other errors affecting the readability of your submission.
Doing great work is no guarantee you’ll win any words. You need to write a killer award submission to demonstrate to the judges exactly why you should win. Leave no stone unturned and don’t assume the judges will do any work on your behalf. (They won’t.) Spoon feed them everything, wrap it up in an easily digestible package and make sure to follow all the rules. If you do, you’re already ahead of the game.
Getting to the top of the award’s pile
If you’d like help making your next award entry, get in touch with us. We can work with you to draw out your great stories, write a winning entry and help you take home the next trophy for your shelf. We’ve been on both sides of the judging table enough to know what works and what works better.