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Unveiling the Secrets: Mastering the Art of Writing Winning Award Entries

Giving yourself the best shot at succeeding in the Real Cyber Awards

As we gear up for the first Real Cyber Awards, we asked awards expert Louise Turner to give us her tips about what makes a successful award entry.

Here, she explains what you need to do to give yourself the best chance of making it up on stage.

If you would like to know more about the 'REAL Cyber Awards' Click here.

How to create a winning entry

When it comes to writing award entries, you can take a few small steps that can get you a long way – and much closer to taking home the trophy.

When I’m training people on how to write award entries, I talk about winning awards needing the perfect balance of numbers, narrative, and luck.

The first two are within your power to influence. Telling the right story supported by compelling evidence is the best thing you can do to be successful in awards. The third – luck – is about who you’re up against, and no one can do anything about that.

Giving judges a reason to believe – the numbers

Having been a judge for lots of awards programmes, the biggest mistake people make is not providing any evidence for what they’ve included in their entry. Telling a good story is important (and we’ll come on to that), but you need to show the judging panel the evidence that you’ve achieved everything you’ve just said.

Evidence can come from a variety of sources. You definitely need to provide some numbers – whether they show growth, the volume of something you’ve been involved with, or give judges an idea of scale. But better than volume or scale numbers are impact numbers. How can you provide a way for the judges to see the benefits of what you’ve been involved with?

You might be able to demonstrate you’ve prevented XXX-number of cyber attacks – and that’s a good start. But what’s the net benefit to the organisation(s) who were protected? Is there a time or monetary value you can attribute to that success?

If you’ve implemented a cyber security programme, how can you show it’s making a difference? How many people have you trained? And which metrics have improved now that programme is working well?

You should include graphs, charts and screenshots of dashboards in your supporting information. Don’t miss the opportunity to show the judges they can believe what you’re saying.

If you can, ask other people for testimonials to support your entry. Ideally, the people providing you with some qualitative evidence will be clients, but if you’re entering the individual categories, you might also want to ask colleagues. You can add a shortened version to your entry, and then put the full quote in your supporting information document.

Telling the right story – the narrative

As humans, we aren’t built to remember numbers. We are natural storytellers, going all the way back to when we passed on important knowledge while sitting around a fire, drawing pictures on caves. Our increasing understanding of the human brain supports the fact that people remember stories more than metrics (if you want to know more, Dr Paul J Zak’s work is a great place to start).

To succeed with award entries, you need to be memorable, which means you need to tell a captivating story. I generally reference Christopher Booker’s theory of the Seven Basic Plots to give people a framework to work with. You don’t need to know all seven; there are three which are the most important ones to consider.

You’re the Fairy Godmother in this story. Own it.

First, Cinderella. We all know this classic rags-to-riches story. In business terms, it’s an improvement story – same girl, better dress at the end. So if you’ve been responsible for an improvement, you’ll need to help the judges realise just how poverty-stricken your starting point was – and the magic you created to make the improvements.

What other monsters have you been responsible for slaying in your professional life?

Second, is any James Bond movie you want to pick. This is what Booker describes as an overcoming the monster story. There’s an existential threat to the world (or your team/business/client/system) and you’re the hero who will overcome it. Judges need to see why your monster is bigger, badder, and scarier than other people’s, so make sure you clearly outline the threat it posed. As an example, the pandemic has been everyone’s monster (but we’re all over that now, so no pandemic stories please).

Share your transformational story?

Finally, The Grinch. This is my second-favourite Christmas film (the best Christmas film is Elf, and I won’t hear any arguments to the contrary). This is a redemption, or as Booker calls it, a rebirth story. The Grinch starts the film as a bad character, spoiling Christmas by pinching presents and pulling down decorations. During the story, and through a number of twists and turns, he realises he can actually love Christmas. He ends the film transformed, singing carols around the Christmas tree with his new-found friends.

In business terms, this is a transformation story. It’s something you have transformed so it’s totally different to before. It’s different to rags to riches – that’s the same thing but better. This needs to be totally changed as a result of your work.

You can see how using a plot to frame your story helps you explain the important milestones so judges get a real insight into what you’ve achieved. But it also helps them buy into your story and remember it among the many others they will have read.

Are you feeling lucky?

If you get the numbers and the narrative right, you’ll be on a fast track to getting good marks for your award entry. The final factor influencing whether you go home with the trophy is luck. This is about the strength of the other entries in your category in comparison to yours. You aren’t in control of this factor, so focus on what you are in control of and give yourself the best shot.

And if you feel like you need expert support for your entry, now you know where to come!

About the author:

Louise Turner is the founder and chief wordsmith at Awards Writers, one of just a handful of specialist awards consultancies in the UK. For more than a decade Louise and her team have supported organisations, from international PLCs to micro-businesses, to be successful in a variety of awards programmes.

With 80% of the team’s entries making it on to the shortlist since 2011, Louise has proven her systematic approach to writing award entries works. She’s the author of Glory: The Magic Formula for Winning More Business Awards, has advised on establishing new awards programmes, is a seasoned judge, and regularly trains people in how to write successful award entries.

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