Want to learn how to surprise someone? You’ve come to the right place!
Are you familiar with magician’s patter? This refers to the words a magician says while performing a magic trick. Sometimes you have to channel your inner magician to really surprise someone with a gift. A little misdirection can go a long way!
I’m going to share all my tricks with you so you can become a master of surprise. These strategies will help you learn how to surprise someone by getting creative and thinking outside the box. You can have fun and create magic with a good surprise!
Time for a little story of sneaky surprise…
On one of my early dates with my husband, we went to the movies. We each drove there in separate cars and I brought a small gift that I had been planning on giving him.
At some point before going into the theater, I took his car keys out of his pocket (he may have been distracted by a kiss). During the movie trailers, I pretended to go to the bathroom.
Instead, I snuck out the back of the theater and snuck the gift into his car. Then, I nonchalantly went back in to watch the movie with him.
Was he shocked to find my gift waiting for him inside his locked car? SUPER SURPRISED.
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I snuck his keys back into his pocket before the movie ended. Anyway, he was impressed and I was thrilled that I genuinely surprised him. Plus, he loved the gift (In case you’re wondering, I got him a set of foo dogs that we still have in our home after 10 years of marriage).
The moral of the story?
Use your powers of deception for good!
NOTE: Please DO NOT do anything illegal to try to surprise someone. The story above is only an illustration of how surprising someone can require cunning. It worked well with my husband because we had established trust in our relationship and I was being sneaky to do something nice for him.
A framework for surprises
As a huge fan of surprises, I’ve put together this 5 W’s framework to help you become a master of surprise. See how to leverage the unexpected to surprise effectively:
- Who: An unexpected giver
- What: An unexpected gift
- Where: An unexpected location
- When: An unexpected time
- Why: An unexpected reason
- How: An unexpected presentation
When I was little, my godfather used to pass by our house to drop off pastries and goodies. Whenever we weren’t home, he would hide the treats in one of the bushes in our front yard. This was many years ago but I can still remember the joy and excitement of searching for a hidden gift in a bush and it brings me happiness whenever I think about it. This is the type of magic you are trying to create with your gift-giving.
Pause and pin now so you can find this later!
What NOT to do
You’re about to read some fantastic ideas on how to surprise someone, but there are certain strategies you need to avoid.
Please don’t try to surprise someone by disappointing them with a terrible fake-out gift or by making them think you forgot to get them anything.
This strategy undercuts the potential joy that your gift can elicit because you brought the person to an emotional low so it will be more difficult for them to experience the emotional high you intended with your gift. Don’t worry, keep reading to learn how to surprise someone the right way!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you, when you make a purchase using one of my links.
Note: Prices listed are approximate and only reflect price at time of publication. Prices are subject to change.
#1 Who: Unexpected Giver
Enlist some allies to help you in your surprise planning! If there’s a holiday or special occasion coming up, the recipient of your gift is probably expecting to receive something from you. But will they be expecting to be handed a gift by your neighbor?
Having an unexpected person deliver your gift will make the surprise more effective because the recipient will be so thrown off when a random person hands them your gift. Helpers are great for creating distractions too or for keeping the person busy while you set up the gift. They also make it easier to pull off larger surprises.
Children are great accomplices for surprises (if they’re old enough to keep the secret). I always have my daughters hide gifts for my husband in their rooms (the mess in their rooms can hide anything).
Think of friends, family, and coworkers who would be willing to help you with your surprise gift. Maybe you can drop off a gift to the recipient’s coworker so they can hide it in their desk. Maybe you can ask friends to plan a surprise gift presentation at their home when you go visit them.
Bring kind strangers into the surprise. Think of people who your gift recipient will encounter naturally. For example, if you are taking them on a date, perhaps you can ask the server to bring out the gift during the dessert course. One of the best tips to remember on how to surprise someone is that people often enjoy helping out with surprises, so don’t be afraid to ask!
#2 What: Unexpected Gift
What’s the most unexpected gift you’ve ever received? For me, it was a cotton candy machine that my husband got me for our first Christmas together.
I loved it of course, but what made it extra special is that I was not expecting him to give me that. I thought he was going to give me jewelry, or something decorative, so when I opened the box and saw a big bag of Jolly Ranchers with a pink cotton candy machine, I was definitely surprised (yes, you can use Jolly Ranchers to make cotton candy!).
The “what” in this case is what surprised me. You can be just as surprising by choosing a gift that breaks the person’s expectation of what you’re going to give them.
When you are wondering how to surprise someone, ask yourself “what are they expecting me to give them?” Take a moment to think about the gifts you have given them in the past. Is there a common pattern, theme, or category?
Break the pattern! Don’t get them the usual. Try something new and different. Your gift does not have to be mind-blowing or expensive, it can be surprising just by breaking expectations.
Unexpected gift ideas
If you need a little inspiration on how to surprise someone with a unique gift, here are a few ideas:
A gift doesn’t have to be an object. Some of the best surprise gifts I’ve given and received have been experiences! You have so many options for experiential gifts:
- What’s something your gift recipient would like to do but maybe hasn’t had the chance to do yet?
- Would they like tickets to watch a musical?
- What about a wine-tasting adventure?
- Indoor skydiving?
- Maybe a deep-sea fishing tour?
- Is there something they’ve been wanting to learn that you can buy them a class for?
- Is there somewhere they’ve been wanting to visit that you can take them to?
I surprised my husband with a deep-sea fishing tour and he LOVED it. We had so much fun on the water, even though we didn’t catch anything big enough to keep.
The great thing about giving someone an experience is that you get to create awesome memories if you do the activity together. If your gifts have usually been material objects, an experience will be the perfect way to break expectations and surprise the recipient!
Do they love plants? Is there a pet that they’ve been wanting? To an animal lover, there’s probably no gift more exciting than a surprise pet.
What’s more magical than seeing a beautiful gift box, noticing a slight noise coming from it, perhaps a little movement, then…as the excitement builds….they open the box to find the puppy of their dreams inside?!
If you decide to surprise someone with something that’s alive, make sure to also give them the basic items they will need to keep your gift alive (e.g., food, cage, leash, etc.).
TREAD CAREFULLY WITH THIS ONE. Giving someone a gift that is alive (like a plant or a pet) can be fantastic IF you are 100% sure that the person will want to keep it and will be able to take care of it. I’ve wanted to see a puppy pop out of a gift box since I was a little girl, but if I were to receive one at this point in my life, it would be more of a surprise burden than a surprise gift.
When’s the last time someone gifted you a toy? For most adults, it’s probably been a loooong time. This is an opportunity for you because they won’t be expecting you to give them something marketed for children.
Think back, is there a toy that they wanted when they were a child but never received? Did they have a favorite toy that got lost or broken and that you can replace? What’s a game they might enjoy playing?
The point is to give them something that breaks the mundanity of practical adult gifts and provides an opportunity for fun and stress relief!
Something personalized or sentimental
Sentimental gifts are a straight shot to the heart and, especially if you don’t typically go for gushy, this is always an excellent unexpected gift. Personalized gifts make ideal surprises because they are uniquely tailored to the person.
A mystery box
It’s in the name! Mystery and surprise go hand in hand. If you are stuck and don’t know how to surprise someone, take the work out of it by getting them a mystery box. The surprise is built into mystery boxes because you don’t know what’s in it until you open it. All you need to know is what interests and likes your gift recipient has so that you can choose the right category of mystery box. Here are some examples:
#3 Where: Unexpected Location
Can you present your gift underwater? in an airplane? how about at the dentist? A useful tip on how to surprise someone is to choose a surprising location to give them their gift. Do the unexpected by presenting them with a gift at a random location that they do not associate with gift-giving.
Remember when I snuck into my husband’s car to leave him a gift? Do you think he was expecting to receive a gift in the parking garage of a movie theater? Definitely not, but that’s what made it more surprising!
Think about the places that you go to with the person who’s receiving the gift. What is an appropriate and unexpected place where you can give them a gift?
Surprising gift location ideas
- At work: The last thing someone’s expecting at work is to receive a gift from a loved one (unless you happen to be coworkers). This can be a great place to have a gift delivered, or if permitted by the boss/company then you might even be able to leave the gift on their desk for them to find.
- Outdoors: If your gift can be easily carried, the outdoors is a lovely place to present it because the natural atmosphere creates such a different feeling from the indoors. It is unlikely that your gift recipient has any association between the outdoors and gifts, so giving them their present on a walk or while lounging the backyard is a great strategy to surprise them.
- Someone else’s home: If you’re planning on visiting family or friends, that might be the perfect opportunity for a surprise gift because they certainly won’t be expecting to be given a gift at a home that belongs to someone else. Usually, when visiting someone the guests are thinking about what they can bring, so it will be a shock to find a gift waiting for them in the hosts’ house.
- Unexpected location at home: Can you hide the gift somewhere in the house where they will stumble upon it? Can you give them their gift in the garage, laundry room, bathroom, or closet? How about in your backyard?
TIP: Make sure to choose a place where the gift would not be an inconvenience. You don’t want to give someone a heavy gift at a place where it would be difficult for them to transport it (e.g., don’t give them an air fryer at the salon).
#4 When: Unexpected Timing
If you want to learn how to surprise someone with your gift timing, think about when people expect to receive gifts. They expect gifts on the day of the special occasion or holiday. There’s your opportunity to be unexpected!
Giving gifts before the occasion can be an effective strategy for surprising someone because they’re not expecting a gift 2 weeks before their birthday (this strategy works great for surprise parties too!).
TIP: If you’re gifting early, try to also have a gift to give on the day of the special occasion. It’s wonderful to give someone a surprising early gift, but you don’t want to leave them mildly disappointed on the day of. The happiness of your early surprise gift will probably have worn off a bit, so make sure to save a nice gift for some day-of joy.
Gifting at unexpected moments can also help you surprise someone. When’s the last moment when someone would expect to receive a gift? While brushing their teeth? washing dishes? doing laundry? taking the dog to the vet? Can you position the gift next to their bed while they’re sleeping so it’s the first thing they see when they wake up?
Turn random moments into special memories. If you take them out to a nice dinner, they might be expecting to receive a gift because it’s a romantic moment. How about creating an unexpected, romantic moment by giving them a gift as you take your car through the car wash?
#5 Why: Unexpected Reason
Don’t wait for a special occasion to arise. You care about the person all the time, not just on special occasions! This means that any time can be the right time for a gift. You already know how to surprise someone because you know why people expected to receive gifts.
Gifts are expected for special occasions. People expect gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. Use those expectations to your advantage. It’s easy to catch someone by surprise if they don’t have a reason to expect a gift.
Luckily, you don’t need a special reason to give someone a gift! Some of the best and most surprising gifting moments are “just because” presents.
What makes these gifts extra special is that the person knows you didn’t get them a gift because of tradition or social pressure, but because you just felt like doing something to make them happy. Here are a few good ideas for random “just because” gifts:
#6 …and How: Unexpected Presentation
I have a friend who’s really good at planning surprises. He’s dating my best friend and for her birthday he gave her a book about her favorite band.
This is a nice gift on its own, but inside the book he placed concert tickets as a bookmark so that when she opened the book she would see them. She was jumping around and screaming with excitement when she found them!
The point being, he made a great gift into an AMAZ-ing gift by presenting it to her in an unexpected way. She had already let her surprise guard down after receiving the book, so the concert tickets hit her full-on in her vulnerable shock and awe zone.
Surprising gift presentation strategies
Send them on a fun gift hunt. I used to love doing this for my daughters. All you need to do is create simple clues that lead the person from one spot in the house to the next, collecting clues. Hide the gift where they will find it by following the last clue! Anyone who loves puzzles and games will love this!
Hide the gift somewhere they’ll find it. Think of a place where they will stumble upon it on their own. Are they going to be doing laundry soon? Maybe you can hide your gift inside the dryer (not the washer in case they don’t see it you don’t want it to get wet). What if you hide it in the fridge and then ask them for a snack? Maybe you can leave it in their car so that they find it when they’re about to leave for work. The possibilities are endless!
Surprising gift packaging ideas
If you’ve never seen someone open a box containing helium balloons with a gift attached to them, you have got to try it! We did this for one of my daughters and it was spectacular. I loved seeing her reach out to untie the present that was hanging from the balloons. Here are some other unexpected gift packaging options that are sure to surprise:
Hopefully, you now know how to surprise someone effectively. Remember, throughout this 5 W’s of surprise framework, the key element is to use the unexpected.
You can do it! If you liked these recommendations and ideas, sign up so you can stay in the loop and receive all the best tips for gifts, celebrations, and more!
What to read next: