6 lessons our most famous association teaches us through the Oscars Ceremony

This month I finally caught the bug. What I’d avoided for months. It was bound to happen despite all the precautions. The self isolation. The mask wearing. The blog writing.

Yes, I came down with ASL or acute spring laziness.

Nikki GoldenLuckily, our strategist, and leader of our newly created Hollywood and Entertainment Practice,  Nikki Golden, CAE was on the ball.

She volunteered (insisted? demanded?) to take over this month’s From My Seat at the (Home) Bar with her insights about this year’s  Oscars.

What we often forget (well not me, I’m not forgetful like you) is that the Oscars are just an award show produced by an association. A run-of-the-mill 501(c)(6).

The Oscars is virtually identical to what many of us produce. For example

  • They honor peoples’ accomplishments – we honor peoples’ accomplishments.
  • They record – we record.
  • They have a bar – we have a bar.
  • They have sponsored bags – we have sponsored bags.
  • They have beautiful, glamorous people –  we have ……. um, er, khakis?


Virtually identical.

Unlike most association award ceremonies, though, we get to sit at home, watch and judge. With that, Nikki Golden, take it away.

INT. Suburban Home. Home Office. Sunset

Character 1. Nikki, dressed in home office casual is typing on her desktop [sounds of  typing in background] suddenly she stops, looks up and peers thoughtfully out the window towards the setting sun. She begins to speak.

“At its core, the Oscars are an association awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So this year when I watched, I was curious how they would keep the glitz and glam of the previous events in a scaled-down version because of COVID, and I think there are some takeaways that we can learn from this year’s Oscar event.

  1. Small doesn’t have to feel like a letdown

Associations always want to cater to the largest possible audience, but sometimes it’s good to remember that creating an intimate experience might actually be more meaningful for the audience and strengthen their ties to other participants and the organization. Are there events that your association is producing or considering producing that might benefit from a limited amount of participants?

  1. Make changes…

Usually, if you want to know a bit more about the nominees who are not A-list actors or directors, you need to do some research on your own. This year, the Academy added personal stories that were both interesting and really spotlighted the backgrounds of the nominees, which is where the attention should be after all. However, this was disjointed in execution, as not every category’s nominees had their personal stories shared.

Are there ways for you to bring your members’ personal stories to life but in a way that highlights those stories across all member types?

  1. … but be careful about the changes you make

The flip side is that apparently the personal stories shared during the event replaced the movie clips that normally play throughout the event, to highlight, for instance, hair and makeup, sound and costumes. These clips are valuable to highlight the reason that these people were nominated. If you’re going to make changes, make sure you’re not removing something that is key to providing context to the experience.

  1. Don’t make changes based on unknowns

The evening always ends on the Best Picture Award. This year, for reasons the Internet ran wild with, it ended on Best Actor. Maybe the producers did think Chadwick Boseman was going to win a posthumous award and that it would cap off the evening with a poignant moment from his widow. But they didn’t know the winners in advance, and the show ended with a whimper, not a bang. If you’re going to make changes to your event, do what’s best for the event and the participants, not to <fingers crossed> create a “moment.”

  1. Have fun, but make sure the tone matches the event

Nearer to the end of the show, Questlove put together a musical trivia game based on whether a song was nominated for an Oscar, won an Oscar or neither. Although this should have worked because it was before the Oscar was given to Best Song, it didn’t actually work because it was so different in tone from the rest of the event, and most of the participants looked uncomfortable, even though it was supposedly scripted.

Make sure upfront that an overall tone is set for your events, and that any of the activities being done within that event match that tone so that the whole event flows smoothly.

  1. Inclusivity matters

Setting aside the discussion of whether the Oscars made any inroads since #oscarsowhite was trending, what I noticed most about this year’s broadcast was the personal signers at the table with deaf people and the ramp up to the stage. We have been talking a lot about inclusivity this past year, and those two visuals were a good reminder that extends far beyond race and gender. As we think about moving back into in-person meetings, let’s not forget that the virtual setting might have made it easier for a person with disabilities to participate, from both a travel perspective as well as a technical one.

In a year that has created many chances for innovation, it’s exciting to see what’s been tried, what’s worked and what hasn’t. Not everything will be a huge success, but that shouldn’t keep us from trying new ways of providing information and proving member value—let’s keep it going.”

Character 1 Nikki: Nikki stops talking, leans back in her chair for a moment, then turns back to her keyboard and begins to type again.

“Well, it’s not 9 pm yet. Time to get back to work. This client value isn’t going to create itself. What a great job.”


Thanks everyone, please enjoy the credits and our thoughts From My Seat at the (Home) Bar.