In the past year, I've enjoyed working with several awards programs - as the chair of SITE's Crystal Awards, a member of a development committee for a new MPI New England awards program, and with CMI's two award programs, the Paragon Awards and the Global Achievement Awards (see this year's winners on page 53, and the Paragon winners in January). Chances are that you have at least a couple of occasions each year at which you present awards to top performers. If you're doing it in more or less the same way you always have, here are a few things I've learned from my experiences:

- Make visibility for the winners the top priority - Sure, the recognition and the prizes matter to winners. But what they care about most is the visibility among upper management and peers. The biggest challenge we faced with the Crystal Awards, which are open only to SITE members, was that they were given out during a luncheon at a SITE-only conference held every December. This year, we moved the awards ceremony to the Motivation Show in Chicago (see coverage of the event on page 29), and drew hundreds of people from the industry who otherwise could not have attended. What a hit among the winners!

- Make it a surprise - CMI recently was nominated for an award in the magazine industry, and we were invited to a special awards reception. But on the day of the reception, the sponsors published the names of the winners - so everyone knew the results in advance. Why ruin the surprise?

- Make everyone a winner - SITE always announces Crystal Award contenders months in advance, then the first- and second-place winners at the awards ceremony. Both levels get to receive their prizes on stage - and it's an honor to win either.

- Rethink having the same senior managers give out awards, year after year - They can be a part of the ceremony, but why not bring in a celebrity or top-name speaker from your meeting, or perhaps even last year's winner(s)?

- Go first-class - This is a time for champagne, not wine, for Steuben glass, not your standard plaques. The choices you make send a strong message about the importance of excellence to your organization. At Avon (see our cover story, page 18), the "Albees" were initiated 25 years ago to reward reps who reach a certain level in annual sales. These statuettes aren't just token mementos: A different version is created each year, and the older ones are valued at $500.

- Never lose sight of how important awards are to the recipients - I'm always thrilled when I visit a hotel and see our sleek, black Paragon Awards hanging behind the front desk. These awards really do matter - and they should.