What being a judge taught me about winning awards

With judging underway on this year's Awards, Les Ratcliffe, Head of Community Relations at Jaguar Land Rover and former Award judge shares the tips he picked up from sitting on the other side of the judging table.

A judge's day begins early, and after the requisite ‘welcome-over-croissants’ we were all taken off to our individual category rooms and introduced to the rest of our panel. The BITC category experts set the scene by reminding us that the bar had been raised and this year they had to demonstrate a coherent youth employment strategy and not just programmes operating in isolation. Getting a shared sense of what we were looking for was a useful primer for the day ahead.

With a clear picture of excellence in our minds, it was straight down to businesses: six anxious teams were waiting outside having made it through a gruelling round of expert assessment. Now it all came down to this: they had just ten minutes to convince us that they were the best and we judges had another ten minutes to grill them on their presentation. As a former applicant, I had a lot of sympathy for them as they stepped gingerly into the room, so we did our best to put them at ease.

As they each made their presentations it was interesting to see the cultures of the organisations coming their presenting style. However, as the day went on and we compared our notes, I noticed that the ones that stood out shared some common features. So here is what I would advise any company to do when presenting for any award.

1. Don’t rush

I can well remember the nerve-wracking moment when our team stood in front of the of judges, how eager we were to let them know absolutely everything but barrelling through as many points as you can is counter-productive. As a judge you really notice how people tend to slow down when they are speaking about something they sincerely care about and this draws you in. Presenters should practice finishing a minute early to give themselves the time to tell a truly compelling story. 

2. Show you are passionate

It isn’t always easy but try to find ways to show off the culture of your business. Judges really connect with human stories that illustrate your programme has the support of employees from the ‘top floor to the shop floor’. Some of this year’s presentations made great use of short, punchy videos which quickly conveyed that programmes really were a part of the DNA of the business. 

3. Facts and figures still matter

While telling your story avoid the pitfall of making any unsubstantiated claims or relying too heavily on a ‘hearts and minds’ approach. Facts and figures still matter at this stage, all of the judges on my panel had read the original applications and had pre-prepared questions for the teams, even before they saw the presentation. Ten minutes will feel like a very long time if the judges are questioning your underling data.

4. Include the highs and lows

The judging panels are selected for their experience and seniority, so we’ve all been there. Nobody on a judging panel will believe you if you only focuses on what went right. Don’t shy away from letting the judges hear about the whole journey, including what you have learned from the things that went wrong.

5. Drive home the business case

Business in the Community’s awards are about transforming business behavior, not ‘business as usual’ with a bit of philanthropy thrown in at the end. Judges really want to see that your programmes makes business sense so let them see that you run them as a business rather than a PR exercise or CEO’s side-project.

And that’s it. Judging awards was a certainly a long day but the main thing I learned was, that it is always worth setting aside the time to submit an application, regardless of whether you win or not. If you’re serious about your programmes, these awards are a terrific opportunity to get a picture of where they are at and the expert feedback you’ll receive will help you see where they could go next.  

See all the shortlisted Responsible Business Awards 2016 entries.

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