Choosing Speaker Gifts

November 6 2013
By Beth Brooks, CAE

A recent listserv posting caught my attention. An association was looking for suggestions for speaker gifts in the $15-20 range. The replies were varied with people suggesting plaques, mugs, association logo’d gifts, gift cards, and regional food gifts.

As someone who has selected speaker gifts for over 30 years, I find this subject interesting and one on which I have some very strong opinions. Because I am the wife of a professional speaker, I have firsthand experience in seeing some of these gifts (many never made it home). To help you think through this common decision, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Why are you giving a gift? If the speaker is also getting an honorarium, why are you giving a small token gift?  The payment should be enough. If they are not being paid, then you really need to think about what you are giving them and how much you are paying (see number 5).  Many times a handwritten note of appreciation is more meaningful to a volunteer than an inexpensive gift.
  2. Who is the speaker? If the speaker does this for a living, or speaks as part of their job, they have all the mugs, pens, travel wallets, coffee table books and local trinkets they can handle. Many speakers arrive in the early evening, speak the next morning and fly out. They don’t need any more stuff. If you really want to do something, give them something they can carry easily (like in their wallet).  
  3. Are they a celebrity? They are in a whole other category. If you have a celebrity, you are probably paying a lot to have them speak. Depending on how long they will be in town/their room, you might consider asking their agent if they have a preference for a snack/liquor. They certainly don’t need any logo’d knickknacks.
  4. Are they flying? My husband once received a 24” x 24” beautifully framed piece of art as a gift. A beautiful gift.  He was speaking out of state, so flying home with it was not an option. They assured him they would ship it to him.  He never received it, and after numerous inquiries, he laughing thinks this was their token grand “gift” that they gave all their keynoters each year… over and over again.

    Make sure your gift is portable, and small. Many times, your money is better spent on a limo driver that will transport them to/from the airport or around town.
  5. What is the true cost of the gift? If you have 50 speakers and give them each a gift valued at $25, it adds up. But what can you really get for $25?  Then you have to wrap it, put it in a nice bag, deliver to their room… the cost can then be $35 to $40 each.

    Again, is that gift so wonderful that it is worth the cost?  I know that many well intentioned gifts get left in the hotel room, and I just hate the thought of the time and money spent just to be thrown away. 
  6. What is the gift? Fruit baskets seem fine, but if the speaker gets in late and leaves the next morning, chances are it will be untouched.

    As you can see, some people think it is OK to give a paper certificate to volunteer speakers. Believe me, no one except kindergartners think it is great to get a paper certificate.

    Same with plaques – you can only show off so many plaques.

    I remember visiting a retired member and he proudly took me to his garage where each wall was solidly covered in plaques that he had received.
  7. When in doubt, ask. Some organizers call the speaker and ask – do you want a fruit basket, local gift or a donation to a charity?

So what are some good ideas? I have heard from speakers that they appreciate bottles of water in the hotel room. Alcohol can also be appreciated as long as they can get it home (driving to the venue or checking their bag when flying).

Gifts my husband really loved have included a tasteful navy all weather pullover (with small logo on sleeve), a nice shoulder bag for a computer and several fine writing pens.

Bottom line – think about the recipient first, then the gift. In some cases, I don’t think a speaker gift is needed at all. But if you want to do something, make it meaningful, useful, portable, or so tasty they just can’t resist. 

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