The Gift of Conversation

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday – and I’ve got to admit, my gift to him was a huge hit. I’ll pass along the general idea, since I suspect it might appeal to many CONTENTIOUS readers…

The gift: I arranged to have one of my husband’s favorite authors phone him to wish him a happy birthday and have a brief chat. Well, it was supposed to be a brief chat – but they ended up getting involved in a high-energy conversation which lasted more than an hour.

Afterward, my husband was beaming and full of ideas. Mission accomplished!

HOW TO DO IT:

Does this sound like the perfect gift for someone you know? If so, here’s some tips based on my experience:

  1. Choose carefully: Select an author (or artist, athlete, musician, actor, or public figure) whom the recipient of this gift finds compelling. Big clue: Do they already talk about this person often, by name? Are their comments substantive? (Such as, “Listen to what Jane Doe just wrote!” rather than “She’s so cute.”) Avoid mega-celebrities, they’re nearly impossible to contact and generally unreliable. Mid-level or niche celebrities are more likely to respond.
  2. Track down their contact info. This may be published on that person’s web site or blog. If not, phone their publisher, manager, recording label, etc. to request a contact. Phone calls usually yield contact info faster and more reliably than e-mail.
  3. Craft a compelling, reasonable request. Spend some time writing it out and honing it. Make it SHORT (2 brief paragraphs should do it) and direct. Be clear that all you’re asking for is 10-20 minutes of their time, for an informal phone conversation with someone who appreciates their work or art. Offer to compensate them for their time. Don’t fawn or gush. Clarify “what’s in it for them” – that is, briefly explain why they’d find the recipient of this gift interesting. The goal here is a fun and potentially meaningful, if brief, conversation. Don’t overstep by asking for an in-person meeting, or for help in getting someone’s screen play read, etc. Your goal is simply a no-strings conversation.
  4. Make contact: Send a brief e-mail or written note first, it seems less desperate and urgent. This is generally more comfortable for people who often get contacted by strangers or fans. Be clear about the date (or date range) for the proposed conversation, and ask them to respond by a certain date. Don’t be pushy about dates, just clear. Offer to be flexible on scheduling the call. For instance, if a well-known artist is not available on your wife’s actual birthday, be open to an alternate date.
  5. Follow up: Wait a little while for a response, then politely follow up. If you’re pressed for time, politely but clearly ask for a yes or no. If they say no, thank them for considering your request and move on to your backup plan. If they say yes, offer to arrange the logistics: the time of the call, what number to call, fee (if any), reminder messages (if desired), and list some possible common areas of interest or experience so they’ll feel more comfortable in conversation.
  6. Don’t make it a complete surprise. Let the gift recipient know at least a couple days in advance that the call will be coming, so she or he has time to collect her thoughts. No one enjoys speaking to a stunned, stammering fan.
  7. Hope for the best. Whenever you rely on other people (especially ones you don’t know personally), there’s always a chance they will disappoint. They may forget to call, or get sidetracked, etc. Don’t attempt this gift if your loved one is someone who would be absolutely crushed if the call never comes. If the call comes through on time, fabulous! Remember to send a thank-you note promptly. If the call doesn’t happen as promise, follow up again. Don’t assume the celebrity blew you off, don’t be angry or hurt. Just ask what happened and try to reschedule. Stuff happens, and a missed initial connection can mean a better connection later.

…Anyway, that’s just how I did it and it worked out well. I believed my husband and the author enjoyed their talk immensely. If this becomes the basis for an ongoing connection, that would be wonderful. But even as a one-shot deal, my husband treasured this experience.

In this case, I was fortunate that the author was very responsive and gracious. He refused to take a fee and he even paid for the long-distance call. I won’t name him here since I don’t want others to impinge on his generosity. However, Mr. Author, you know who you are – and again I offer my heartfelt thanks.

6 thoughts on The Gift of Conversation

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  1. Ken asked about broaching the fee topic. In this case, I simply mentioned that I would be willing to pay this author for his time. No point in getting into numbers right off the bat.

    In this case, the author responded that he wouldn’t dream of charging for this — which was very generous. However, had he wished to charge I would have left it up to him to name a number. If that number wasn’t in my ballpark, I would have negotiated.

    Nick asked how I got this idea. I don’t know, it just popped into my head. My head is weird that way. If other people benefit from this idea, that’s cool.

    – Amy Gahran

  2. Amy, that’s a great idea. I’ve picked up lots of useful hints from your blog, but a gift idea that’s sure to be a winner with my wife is pure gold. Now,….who can I call??? – Thanks.