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How to Choose the Right Gift For Your Guest Speaker

If you’ve ever been in charge of coordinating a gift for a speaker who is presenting before your organization or at an event, you know this seemingly simple task can be a bit of a minefield. How do you choose an appropriate gift that expresses thanks but isn’t over-the-top or too paltry? If you aren’t familiar with the speaker’s personal life, how do you know if what you’re giving is something they will (or can) enjoy?

Over more than two decades of public speaking, I’ve received gifts from around the world and have learned the way the gift is presented is just as important as the gift itself. Consider these guidelines next time you’re asked to find and deliver the perfect something for your speaker.

Know the rules. Some speakers, especially those who work for governmental organizations, have strict guidelines about what their employees can accept. You may discover their ethics code forbids gifts over a certain monetary amount — or bans such gifts outright. A little homework can prevent unintended consequences.

Do your research. If at all possible, contact people who know your speaker in advance. It is completely appropriate to call your speaker’s administrative assistant or organization to discover their personal taste and learn what to avoid. (You don’t want to be in the awkward situation of giving a bottle of wine to someone who avoids alcohol, for instance.)

Choose a packable gift. A speaker who is traveling to your event is probably packing light, and an oversized gift may wind up costing them a checked bag fee at the airport. If you absolutely must give something large, save the speaker the trouble of transporting the gift and have it shipped directly to their home or office after the event.

Make the gift presentation easy for the speaker. Set expectations from the start so your speaker isn’t put on the spot. It’s helpful to give a few words of direction. Saying, “Here’s a token of our appreciation. Please feel free to open it offstage,” takes the pressure off the speaker. If, however, you forget — or if the speaker decides to open the gift onstage anyway — collect the wrapping from them so they aren’t juggling paper and ribbons.

Or be direct. You can make the gift-giving process even simpler by announcing the gift to the audience and the speaker at the same time: “As a token of our appreciation, we’d like to offer you this illustration of our city’s skyline.” That takes the question of whether to open the gift off the table.

Don’t be afraid to simply send a heartfelt thank you. A thank-you note after the event is always welcome, especially if you are representing a non-profit organization. In those cases, most speakers would rather see the money spent on the organization’s cause rather than something they can take home.

How does your organization handle gift-giving? Do you have any tried-and-true tips? Share them in the comments!

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