Terrible Presents

When you interact with another person you are normally looking to influence them around to your way of thinking in some way.

This activity helps your team or participants grow by learning new powers of persuasion in a fun and creative environment.

Terrible Presents
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    To help improve participants’ powers of persuasion and influence.
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    To help participants analyze the needs of others and unearth future benefits that matter to them.
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    To help participants get to know each other better in a fun environment.

Why Would You Use It?

  • Learning how to persuade others that your way is the right way is a key skill in business and life.
  • Every human interaction includes some level of an attempt to influence others to our way of thinking. We are always looking to persuade others to further our goals & objectives.
  • There are hundreds of different persuasion techniques out there and everyone approaches it differently. This activity provides an opportunity for your participants to improve their skills in this area by learning from each other.

Resources Required

  • 3-20 minutes depending on how much is covered (Usually this is a good 5-10 minute activity with short discussion).
  • Recommended times:
  • 1-3 minute preparation.
  • 2 minutes activity.
  • Plenary discussion at facilitator’s leisure.
Terrible Presents Box


  • 1
    Ask the participants to form pairs. Triads or groups will work if needed, but one-on-one is best.
  • 2
    Ask Person A to think of a great present Person B would want to receive, and vice versa. Be sure they don't tell the other person. The present could be for a birthday or holiday and something that would really help or benefit the person (see the Secret Sauce section for the reasons behind this step).
  • 3
    Now ask the participants to think of a Terrible Present for the other person. It should be something they would not want to take, something that would be a burden, or something that would make them question the friendship. If this is difficult for participants, ask them to think of a present that’s completely opposite or extremely different than the great present they initially thought of. Again, don't reveal the present yet.
  • 4
    Tell the participants that Person A has 1 minute to convince Person B to accept the Terrible Present. Ideally, they will use persuasive techniques and actually get commitment, not a forced "well, ok." The facilitator can give participants time to prepare their thoughts, or it can be done spontaneously.
  • 5
    After 1 minute, have the participants switch roles so Person B is trying to persuade Person A to accept their present.
  • 6
    Hold a plenary discussion using the questions on the separate slide.

Plenary Discussion

  • Ask the audience how many people accepted the present.
  • Ask the audience for examples of their terrible presents. The audience loves hearing others’ ideas.
  • Ask participants how they got the other person to accept the present. This works well if at least some participants have studied persuasion and influence techniques. Usually participants will discuss the potential benefits of the terrible present and how it could help the other person. If participants need prompting, directly ask them what benefits they discussed with their partners.
  • Ask participants how their partners delivery was in terms of content, voice, and body language.
  • Have a group discussion about how presents could be “sold” better. Ask the group for possible benefits of others' Terrible Presents or how persuasion could be used differently.
  • To extend the activity, ask them how Terrible Presents could be “sold” to different people in the room.
Terrible Presents Solution

Secret Sauce

  • If you’re using this activity to improve persuasion, influence, or presentation, you might want to use it after participants have learned about understanding their audience / opponents / colleagues, etc.
  • By thinking of a great present, Person A has started to analyze Person B. We also find it’s easier for people to think of a great present first, and when it’s time to think of a terrible present, the facilitator can suggest thinking of something complete opposite or extremely different than the great present.
  • Watch for participants who don’t choose Terrible Presents. If needed, prompt them with some ideas (a bag of dirt, a credit card account that is already owed money, a dirty sock, etc.)
  • Be aware that some presents may not seem terrible at first, but may be terrible for the recipient because the participant did a great job analyzing them. For example, ”a pink alarm clock” may not sound terrible until you learn that Person B hates to wake up in the morning and hates the color pink.
  • Don’t rush to judge what is terrible, and don’t focus on the level of terribleness at all. Focus instead on the participant’s ability to analyze the other person and create persuasive reasons to accept the present.
  • If a participants fails to think of a truly terrible present or fails to convince others with good reasons, it’s ok! Learn from each other and focus on the success stories from the group.
  • This activity could be expanded by organizing a list of terrible presents to choose from or even bringing in objects.
  • Finally, if you are dealing with a rambunctious group, set some guidelines so inappropriate presents don’t arise. For example, “it must be something you can buy at the department store.”

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About the Author

Robert "Bob" Kienzle has over 12 years of business and education training experience in Asia and North America. He has worked with global companies and government offices designing and conducting communication programs for middle and upper-level management.