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'To commemorate this occasion ....' (selection of speaker's gifts)

From the monthly meeting of the Little Sisters Aid Society for Underprivileged Leprechauns, to the MCXXVII Annual Symposium on Technopeasants, to state dinners, speakers -- already coerced into talking to audiences who'd rather be somewhere else -- tremble in high anxiety waiting to see what new mementos will be foisted upon them.

For the uninitiated, a speaker's gift is de rigueur. The job of selecting the gift usually falls to the meeting planner, a goodhearted soul who is smart enough to always be the planner, never the speaker.

The planner tries to find something "unique, different ... just a little reminder of your time with us." There are a lot of those "little reminders" roosting in closets throughout the world.

A recent, unofficial survey of speakers who roam the halls of the IABC circuit revealed some insights into the world of The Speaker's Gift. These people have given about 102 talks each during an average of 16.4 years on the road and were eager to discuss the topic while demanding anonymity.

The respondents were asked about their favorite gifts, not-so-favorite gifts and most unusual items.

Coffee table books are the most common gifts

The clear winner for most common gift is the coffee table book. While it is true that communicators like to read, it also is true that not all communicators are weight lifters. Coffee table books, so named because of the strain they put on that particular piece of furniture, come in weights of no less than 15 pounds and sizes no smaller than whatever briefcase or piece of luggage you may have with you at the time. It isn't the fear of the book itself that's the problem; it's the shoulder-straining exercise of getting it back to home base, which often is three plane trips, two overnight stays and multiple cab rides away.

What happens to those books?

Here's what speakers tell us:

"I give them to my wife, telling her I picked up a little something for her on the trip."

"I give them away as speakers' gifts to people I don't know."

"Well, with no coffee table, these big beautiful picture books drifted toward the bookcase, which never seemed to have shelves deep enough for them to stand up like books are supposed to do. So, they would be laid down and the weight of other such books on top of them made it impossible to ever again extract a book that would have shown me what Atlanta looked like outside the conference hotel."

Other common speakers' gifts include pens, engraved objects, paper-weights, framed certificates, calculators, business card holders and letter openers.

Cow bells and cotton bales

Speakers have long memories. When asked about the worst gifts they'd ever received, they were quick to respond:

"A cow bell -- don't ask me what it means, I have no idea!"

"A tiny replica of a bale of cotton."

"A rolled up poster of 'Elvis in Concert.'"

"A miniature wooden lectern."

"A piece of stone that nested in a small wooden cradle along with a small scroll describing the uniqueness and geology of the stone."

"A silver-plated gizmo with holes in it."

"A tie that I wouldn't strangle a noisy cat with."

"A cigarette lighter with the company logo."

"A 25-lb. Tennessee smoked ham packed in one of those big white sacks. To get it on the plane to Chicago I had to finagle a boarding pass for it under the airline's 'fly a friend free' program and the ham sat strapped in next to me, causing the whole cabin to smell like a smoke house."

The life expectancy of these gifts varies.

Speakers say some last about as long as a pet goldfish, or one nanosecond, or 12-1/2 minutes, or 12 hours. Wine and alcohol don't make it past the airport lounge while some gifts, according to one speaker, have a half-life of about two million years. And, bizarre foodstuffs won't die. One speaker summed up the rules of speaker gift life expectancy: "Good gift -- 25 years. Bad gift -- 25 minutes."

There are some bright spots

Speakers also were quick to praise the best gifts they'd ever received.

"A Canadian wood carving."

"A rosewood ballpoint pen."

"Notes of appreciation from the audience."

"A Tiffany crystal apple."

"Wine serving set made of fine glass."

"Original art from local artists."

"'From the library of ...' book imprinters."

"A Japanese teakwood paper holder."

"Cash."

Along the same line, speakers talked about the most thoughtful gifts they'd received:

"Invitation to have my family accompany me. Very considerate and welcome."

"A contribution made in my name to a homeless shelter for families."

"A personalized watch I received in 1968 and wore for 15 years because it came as a surprise to me."

"A caricature researched to show touches of my personality (and foibles)."

"A collection of photographs taken during the evening."

Speakers gave some help in identifying the audience type that gives the best gifts:

"The hearing-impaired."

"Large, well-heeled chapters."

"Young and beautiful."

"Those with big bankrolls and low self-esteem."

Always quick with an idea, these beleaguered recipients suggested that there should be an online gift registry akin to a bridal registry which would give the speaker's office decor, colors and other pertinent information.

And, speakers quickly rolled out a list of gifts they would like to receive:

"AmEx gift certificate."

"A useful desk accessory."

"Letters or phone calls from audience members saying that whatever I said was relevant to their lives/work."

"An honorarium in the form of a contribution to the IABC Foundation."

"Something that relates to my personal interests would be valued."

"Restaurant gift certificates."

"Cash, checks or money orders."

Speakers who've been on the circuit for some years have the added difficulty of figuring out how to store gifts. One speaker claims to have devoted 19 shelves to gifts, while another uses one window sill, some wall space and two large moving boxes in the garage. An innovative speaker says storage is no problem because he tends "to foist them off on unsuspecting subordinates, nephews, thrift stores, or half-price book stores."

None of the recipients indicated they give talks just to get presents. They share their expertise because they want to, they enjoy it, they feel an obligation to be involved in the growth of the profession.

And, the speakers say what they really want in lieu of gifts are: well-planned and on-time events, audiences that participate and acknowledge the speakers' efforts, a thank-you from the host organization and feedback on the speaker's performance.

There was, however, one argument to continue the practice of giving gifts to speakers. A respondent suggested that speakers' gifts have their own part to play in the economic well-being of the country: "Speakers' gifts make wonderful contributions to garage sales, bazaars, flea markets and so on. There's an entire stratum of the economy that makes its living dealing in this stuff -- and somewhere out there somebody really wants all those paperweights and plaques. So, I just do my part and keep 'em circulating."

And now I'm proud to introduce ...
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:1174
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