AV Tchotchkes

We need our trade shows back!
table covered in tchotchkes

Where have all the tchotchkes gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the tchotchkes gone?
Long time ago.

—Pete Seeger (paraphrased)


My momma always said, “Life is like a box of tchotchkes. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

—Forrest Gump (paraphrased)


Gewgaws, doodads, knickknacks, baubles, trinkets, swag, tchotchkes—call them what you will. No matter their name, you know we all love them! It has been a year without AV tchotchkes…a year without trade shows to restock our drawers and shelves and boxes in the back of the closet with these wonderful giveaways from exhibitors. I’m sure that I speak for all of us when I say that what we’ve missed most about not being able to attend conventions and trade shows during the pandemic has been the supply of free tchotchkes. We are running low, folks. Even the free pen that I’m writing this with is running out of ink!

Kitschy Keepsakes

We fill every nook and cranny of our suitcases as we pack up to come home from trade shows. We try to find room for pens, shirts, knives, rulers, tweakers, bottle openers (church keys), squeeze balls, mint packs, baseball caps, luggage tags, flashlights, letter openers, water bottles, clocks, bags, cellphone holders, survival kits, backpacks, mugs, bandanas, shot glasses, USB batteries, foam beer-can holders (koozies?) and even prophylactics. Each one bears a logo from a manufacturer that wishes to be top-of-mind as we specify and purchase products in its categories. Each one offers a function that, the company hopes, will become our favorite of its type or something we never knew we needed.

Notwithstanding their dubious functionality, I find that some tchotchkes hold a sentimental value that makes me want to hold onto them. If an event, a friend, a professional involvement or a now-defunct company was behind the object, that can make it difficult to throw it away, regardless of how useless the object might be. That’s because tchotchkes represent a relationship. They’re a well-meaning gift from a company that would like us to feel its appreciation for our attention. There’s an unwritten code behind tchotchkes—namely, the offering and acceptance of a tchotchke implies knowledge of the fact that our time is valuable and, thus, the company believes a token of thanks is in order.

Treasured Trinkets

Some of these items are iconic. Do you have a Digital Projection USB thumb drive in the shape of a projector, for example? Do you have an Extron Electronics “tweeker”? Or maybe I should phrase the question another way: How many tweekers do you have? (And, yes, this is a thing if you don’t know about it. However, “tweeker” is not in the Microsoft Word spellcheck for some reason.) Some tchotchkes like this last for years; by contrast, others, like a tin of mints, are fleeting.

Those like me—an independent design consultant and member of AVIXA’s Independent Consultants in AV Tech (ICAT)—are typically discouraged from wearing tchotchke apparel in “professional public,” as there could be the appearance of product endorsement. In private and “private public,” however, I find that tchotchke apparel makes up a good portion of my casual wardrobe. (And I’m running out of T-shirts…hint hint). The pandemic year has been hard on these clothing articles, as I’ve worn them a great deal. And it’s not just the frequency of wear, either; the pandemic lockdown has afforded me a lot of time to do extra “dirty work” around the house, such as repairs and landscaping. My tchotchke hats, T-shirts and jackets have been put to good use. I wonder what the neighbors think, but I don’t really care.

For The Love Of Tchotchkes

At different points in my career, I have been not only a tchotchke consumer but also a selector and bestower of these precious gifts. This is great fun! At one point, there was the opportunity to give away laser-pointer USB thumb drives; at others, there was the chance to bestow various scientific glassware for cocktail parties. If you’re reading this, you might have some of these imprinted bandanas, LED flashlights, buttons, shirts and Erlenmeyer flasks. They might be in a drawer with your flashing LED ice cubes, leather wallets, notepads, calculators and drafting triangles.

Tchotchkes are icebreakers, conversation pieces, attractions to booths at trade shows and secret/exclusive rewards for devotion to a manufacturer. My most expensive tchotchkes were gifted to me after I participated in intensive and useful product-development conversations. Others were given for the purpose of encouraging me to remember the manufacturer’s generosity when specifying my next project. I miss those personal conversations, and I’m ready to get back to them now that I’ve been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Tchotchkes might or might not play a part in these future conversations, but they will be welcome, if offered. Let’s get back to business as usual at trade shows. And don’t forget to bring an extra-large suitcase for all those tchotchkes!

To read more from Sound & Communications, click here.

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