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

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. “Sometimes entrants will forget the 100-word summary or pictures, and you do get points deducted for that. 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.”

“Don’t forget fabulous photos,” advises a recent judge, while another adds, “Feel free to include extras—we love eye candy.”

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.”

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.

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 long or too short 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.”

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 an entertainment-category entry whose budget omitted lighting—a key ingredient in the production, she says. “It was definitely a mistake on the entrant’s part, because it was a great entry, but, unfortunately, that hurt them.”

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.

POINTERS FROM THE PROS

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 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.”

“Look at some of the past winners, study their success, and then take your time with the entry. Start at least a couple of months out, and prepare the entry accordingly.”

“If you have the opportunity, have a previous Gala 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, pictures, video and photos how truly spectacular your event was, we will respond to that. We want you to win!”