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I like giving presents more than I like receiving them. I know this is a bit humblebraggy, but it’s true. I’m not the easiest to give gifts to, probably because I’m not the most open in terms of my preferences, so the idea of receiving gifts leaves me feeling anxious.

To me, a successful gifting occurs when the recipient is surprised, not only by your gift, but also at how much they’re actually pleased by it. It’s when they’ve been given something that they did not know they wanted–as much as they did until they actually got it.

In order to gift well, it’s important for you to know your recipient well. Or, as in the case of surprise gifting, not very well at all. The focus should be on the act of giving the gift, rather than the person themselves. I’m talking impact, rather than value. Here are some of my favourite examples:

Mark’s Oreos

Mark is a guy I used to work with. He’s one of the humblest guys I know, which makes him so fun to surprise gift because he gets all bashful and is authentically pleased. Also because he contributes so much, but does not get nearly as much credit as he doles out to his team. So it’s nice to give him some attention when he’s least expecting it. All of these factors make for a great surprise gifting opportunity.

One day, I saw that Mark tweeted this:

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My first thought was how hard could it be to find these cookies? I mean, they’re cookies. A quick search and Twitter exchange with Mark revealed that he’d been looking for them for a while. Well, OK then, if they’re really that hard to get, that makes them the perfect gift.

Another quick search on eBay revealed several sources, which told me that this product is somewhat sought after. Some entrepreneurial folks have found a niche supply opportunity, so they are readily available through non-conventional sales channels. I bought a pack and had them shipped to Mark at the office. Because they’re just cookies, they were not expensive. Remember–it’s about impact rather than value.

And then I waited. When I was little, I can remember waking up each morning and thinking, “What do I have to look forward to today?” There was usually something and it didn’t have to be big. It could be having art class in school that day or knowing that we’d be having mashed potatoes for supper. But even today, I try to load up my anticipation cannon with a few things so that I’m always looking ahead to something fun.

Sometimes I forget that I’ve sent a gift to someone, so when they get it and I find out, it’s a gift for me too. When Mark received the cookies, he tweeted this:

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And that was cool because I knew that I’d contributed to a moment of surprise and delight when Mark got the package, realized what it was, remembered his original tweet, and went, “What the??”

But then, a bonus outcome:

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I really enjoyed seeing that someone had guessed that this present was from me. There’s a reputation that I hope to uphold.

Bernie’s Book

Here is another example that I found particularly pleasing: one afternoon, I was driving somewhere, listening to the radio, when the CBC news team started talking about books they’d read as children. Gillian Deacon, the host of CBC’s Here and Now, asked Bernie McNamee, the host of The World This Hour, if there was any book in particular that he remembered from his childhood. Bernie said that there was a book called “A Cousin from Canada” that he could remember, and that he’d been looking around for it for a while, without success. I took mental note, then promptly forgot about it.

Later that evening, for some reason the book title popped into my head. A quick search online revealed that the book did exist and was available from an Amazon seller in the UK. It could be purchased and shipped for less than $20, so again, was deemed worth it. Not being able to find a specific mailing address for Bernie, I sent the book to the general receiving area of the CBC. Since there were no gift options when I purchased the book, I wasn’t able to include a note to Bernie, explaining who I was and why I was sending him the book, so I simply sent a quick tweet off to Gillian Deacon instead (Bernie is not on Twitter):

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A while passed and I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. Then one day, I received a message via LinkedIn from the man himself. He had received the book, but not having anything to go on except for my name, he had searched for me there. He was thrilled and had showed the book to everyone at the studio. When he got to Gillian, she was reminded of my tweet and confirmed that it had been me who had sent him the gift. And then tweeted this:

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Coincidentally, the show had been discussing random acts of kindness at the time, so talking about my surprise gift fit right into the show. After confirming the pronounciation of my last name, Bernie said that he was going to thank me on the air, which he did, pronouncing my last name perfectly, much to the delight of my parents. It made for a terrific story.

I love surprise gifting because it’s almost recreational in entertainment value. There are business applications too, though, especially in the age of social media where people are eager to share their stories of surprise and delight. Of course, measuring the effect of such things is an important aspect of any campaign execution, but for personal fun, and for me, it’s all about the “What the??” moment.

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