You know that feeling you get when you open a present and are so surprised and delighted by what’s inside that it leaves you speechless? The “I-can’t-believe-this-is-for-me!?” gift? It’s an amazing moment of elation, both for the giver and for the receiver. When I worked at the White House, it was customary for the President and Mrs. Bush to thank the entertainers who performed at State Dinners by giving them a gift. One year, at a dinner for Prime Minister Howard of Australia, the entertainer was Kenny Chesney. Before his performance, the Bushes had given him a pair of custom-made Rocky Carroll cowboy boots with his initials and the presidential seal hand-tooled on them. I’ve never seen such a reaction to a gift. Chesney brought the boots onstage, pulled off the ones he was wearing and put them on, grinning and laughing with pleasure as he talked about those boots. His happiness made everyone smile and laugh along with him. It was an authentic moment of joy for a gift that must have truly touched him, and a memorable night was made even better by seeing how much Kenny Chesney liked those boots.
It takes time and imagination to come up with the perfect gift, but there’s nothing I love better than the search for what I like to think of as the “Kenny Chesney Effect.” If you like the idea of blowing someone away with a brilliant present, here are some tips for zeroing in on your gift target:
1) Think about everything you know about the giftee, the things they really care about or love, and the people who are most important to them. Somewhere in those hobbies, relationships, and avocations is the perfect gift.
2) Try to remember comments they’ve made about wishing for a particular item. The more they’ve talked about something they covet, the more likely it is that you’re on to what they really want.
3) Sometimes the object of their desire is unobtainable by you: a trip to Italy, a new car, a visit with a friend or family member they haven’t seen in years. You can take the seed of the unobtainable and alter it in a way that shows you have the right idea. For example, for a rabid baseball fan, a trip to watch spring training might be out of reach, but how about buying a compilation of all the latest baseball magazines with the spring stats and stories about the players to watch? It’s an armchair version of a visit to spring training, and it shows that you both know them and care about them enough to find something that will really please them.
4) If you have a good idea, don’t be afraid to enlist others in your efforts. It might not be possible for you to buy a birthday plane ticket for a friend to visit a boyfriend living across country, but if you have a group of people willing to chip in on a ticket, that’s a much better use of the money (not to mention an unforgettable gift), than each of you bringing a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers to the birthday girl.
5) Be willing to do a little research in pursuit of your goal. If you want to find a special book for a World War II buff, it’s worth going online and searching for the best and latest books on the subject. You can even engage the giftee in a vague conversation about WWII books, to suss out what they’ve already read, and maybe elicit a specific suggestion of a new book they’d like.
6) Giving someone a memorable gift doesn’t require a lot of money. One of the greatest gifts you can give a busy couple with young children is a weekend of babysitting, so that they can have a couple of days to themselves. Cost to you? Just your time. And will that be appreciated and remembered? Oh, yes… Do you have a story you’d like to share about a time you gave or received the perfect gift? If so, send it to me at America’s Table’s Facebook or Twitter.