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How to Graciously Accept a Gift From the Stage

I’ve been privileged to speak in front of audiences from Singapore to Sydney to Saskatoon, and I absolutely love the experience of connecting with an audience. Inevitably, though, there comes a moment that makes my heart leap into my throat. When I see my host approaching me with a gift, my mind does a thousand calculations at once: What’s the cultural norm in this country? Should I open the gift onstage? What if they give me a piece of clothing and ask me to try it on in front of 500 people? (Yes, that has happened.)

Over the years, I’ve developed some workarounds that allow me to properly express my gratitude while avoiding awkward situations. In other words, I have tried on the too-big shirt so you don’t have to. Next time you receive a wonderful gift onstage, consider these tips.

Understand the country (or region’s) customs. I once received the most beautifully wrapped gift from an organization in Japan. The emcee said I wasn’t expected to open the gift on stage, so I accepted it and gave a polite thank-you.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I had made a small cultural faux pas: I should have spent more time admiring the gift wrapping because its beauty was just as important to my Japanese hosts as the gift inside. Now, I research gift culture before I speak in a location away from home.

To open or not to open? There will be occasions when the question of whether to open your gift will be at your discretion. If you receive an elaborately wrapped gift and do not have access to a table, for example, it’s probably best to take it offstage before opening — otherwise, you’ll be stuck trying to gather wrapping paper in one hand and opening your gift with the other.

If you choose to open the gift onstage, or are prompted to do so, be very mindful of your reaction. All eyes will be on you, so you’ll want to make it clear through your words and expressions that you value and appreciate the gift.

Avoid trying on clothing. As I mentioned earlier, I have been prompted to try on ill-fitting clothing onstage — and that’s not a good look. However, I developed a workaround from the experience. Do not try on a piece of clothing while you are onstage. Instead, hold the clothing up in front of you so the audience can see the gift, then swiftly move on to expressing your thanks and re-folding the clothing. You’ll save any potential awkwardness for both the host and yourself.

Express sincere gratitude. I truly appreciate the gifts host organizations have given me. As I look around my office, I can see small tokens that remind me of experiences all over the world — plaques, cards, and even a golden railroad spike! Your host most likely put a lot of thought into your gift. Be sure to thank your host and the audience from the stage. If you receive your gift before the event, it is appropriate to briefly mention it and express your thanks during your introductory remarks or after the speech and before the question-and-answer session.

Send a thank-you note. As part of my follow-up after an event, I write a note to the host organization and thank them for the opportunity to speak. I also include a line or two about the gift and how I have put it to use.

How do you handle gifts you receive onstage? Have you ever had an awkward gifting moment in front of an audience? Please let me know in the comments — I’m interested to know how you approach these moments!

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