Props, if properly used, can add drama and impact to your presentation. In his best-selling book on presentation skills, Do Not Go Naked into Your Next Presentation, Ron Hoff says, "If there's a noun in your presentation, consider showing what the noun represents." For example, in Brad's presentation on The Seven Strategies of Master Negotiators, he talks about how Master Negotiators know how to ask the right question, in the right way, at the right time, and that the answer to that question can be a key that helps the negotiator unlock the negotiation and resolve the issue to everyone's satisfaction. When Brad says the word key, he brings out a very large old antique key, allowing him to make the point visually and aurally, thus increasing the dramatic intent as well as helping the participants remember the point.
Props can make even dry and technical presentations come alive, as Brad illustrates:
Brad: I was coaching a group of senior managers at a local dairy on how to give "High Impact Presentations." Most of the material they had to present to their staff was of a rather dry and technical nature. One of the challenges that one of the presenters (Joe) had was to give a presentation on the cost of producing yogurt containers that subsequently became damaged and therefore could not be used. We developed the following prop in which he was able to get his presentation off to a strong start.
Joe started his presentation by dumping a handful of assorted coins into a wastepaper basket. Needless to say, this got his audience's attention. He then said, "Every time we damage a yogurt container, we throw money in the garbage, money that could help our company be more competitive through better research and development, money that could be used for better staff training, or money that could be spent on employee benefits such as an on-site gym or daycare facility."
Did Joe get and hold his audience's attention? Absolutely! He did it by the creative use of props to add significant impact to the beginning of his presentation and by showing his audience how it affected them (WIIFM—What's In It For Me). In summary, props are an excellent way to make your message more creative, unique, and memorable.
To draw a parallel from the famous line from the movie The Sixth Sense: "I see dead people, I see dead people everywhere," Master Presenters see props, they see props everywhere. First of all, you have to train yourself to be vigilant, constantly on the lookout for props. For example, Brad was in a gift shop and saw the following picture that he found to be perfect for illustrating one of the five approaches to conflict management: Take It or Leave It.
Another excellent source to help you see the creative use of props are buskers or street performers. If the busker captivates his or her audience, he will make it in this extremely demanding business. If he is not captivating, he is soon looking for another job. Buskers must be relentless innovators because the job requires that they travel light. Therefore, they often make ingenious use of props, including the audience members. Watching buskers is also a great way to see how to increase audience involvement.
Plays are also excellent venues to see the innovative use of props in action. This is especially true if you have ever had the chance to see a one-person play. In a one-person play, an actor can play an entire cast of characters. The actor often changes characters by changing a hat while at the same time changing his or her voice and position on the stage. You can also ask your creative friends for their ideas on how to find and use props and look at how other presenters use props.
In the meantime, we wish you every success in discovering props to make your presentations more dramatic and impactful as the following example illustrates.
In just a few words you have clarified [the] use of props. Recently I spoke to a sales team and referred to Client Objections as a can of worms best to be emptied. At which point I passed around a tin can filled with candy worms.
Each participant took a worm or two!
—Alice Wheaton, Canadian Association of Professional Speakers colleague
Brad: I felt that I was making a great deal of progress in the use of props when one day I walked into an advanced negotiation course wearing a neck brace after pulling a muscle. The participants had all taken the entry level negotiating course with me. I was surprised and delighted when one of them asked whether the neck brace was a new prop.
You can become so well-known for your use of props that they essentially become an unofficial trademark as they have for Master Presenter Harold Taylor. Harold is known for his dynamic and highly entertaining seminars on time management. In the center of the stage, Harold sets up a typical office desk representing the characteristically unorganized person. He has a table, which corresponds to the desktop, complete with a telephone, books, and papers piled on every available space. He then does a 15-minute hilarious routine that illustrates every time-management mistake in the book. This demonstration, combined with Harold's dry sense of humor, gets his audience going every time—even those who have seen it many times. As Harold is poking fun at himself, it is impossible for audience members not to see some of their own errors—especially as Harold is frantically going through all of the papers in search of an important piece of information he needs to close a deal on the phone.
The use of props will help you make your point, will help the audience remember your point, and will greatly contribute to developing your style and presence while presenting. If you are good enough, you may even develop props as part of your trademark as Harold Taylor has so successfully done.
Hoff, Ron. Do Not Go Naked Into Your Next Presentation. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997, p. 45.
If you have a great example of a prop and would like to share it, please send your ideas to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.