Imagine this: you go to see a play, and the actors just stand in place for the whole evening. When the big murder in the second act happens, one actor says, “Now I shoot the victim”, and another actor says, “Arrgh.”
Not very engaging, right? In fact, you would probably leave pretty early into the “performance” – either physically or in spirit. You might still be sitting in your seat but the chances are you’d be thinking about something else.
Now imagine the same play but the actors are in costume, in make-up and in character. They move around on stage. When the murder happens, the first actor pulls out a gun. He fires it and it makes a loud bang. The second actor claps his hand to his chest: “blood” spills over his shirt, he falls to the ground, writhes in agony and then lies still.
If this was well done, it could have you on the edge of your seat. Yet the words spoken might be virtually the same.
This is exactly the situation we’re in when we sit down for a PowerPoint presentation. Many of these are very word heavy – sometimes almost intolerably so. We take in far more information through our eyes than through our ears. The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is true.
Of course, PowerPoint can use pictures. But if these are done without much thought, these too can easily start eyes glazing over: yet another bar chart, yet another staid visual. What you can end up with is a presenter, standing still, droning on. There’s no variety, no interaction – and no fun.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Introducing a prop can liven up the whole presentation. Suddenly the audience isn’t staring at a screen: they’re looking at something unexpected. It could be an everyday object like a ten-pound note, or something bizarre like a rubber chicken. The point is, you’ve reawakened the audience’s interest.
Props can make your point far more quickly and effectively than words. They’re also much more memorable. If a chemistry teacher told you that putting potassium in water makes the metal burn explosively, you might be mildly interested. But once you’ve seen a demonstration, you might remember it for the rest of your life.
So, props can wake up a group. They can also make the presentation more interactive. They’re memorable. They can be fun and get a laugh, which always helps the audience to warm to you. They shift focus from the presenter, and from the presentation itself, to the prop. And they introduce variety, which can be a very welcome spice to an overly bland presentation.
A few words of caution. Props must be relevant, and not a gimmick. Indeed, the bigger the prop, the more relevant it should be. As the presenter, you must be comfortable with whatever you use: it should suit your personality. If it doesn’t, it just won’t work. One way to discover this – and to make the use of the prop smoother and more effective – is to practise beforehand. This of course is good advice with any kind of presentation, but it’s even more essential when props are involved.
Finally, use props sparingly. One or two props could make a presentation; seven or eight could break it.
But as long as you bear these points in mind, why not introduce a prop to your next presentation? You might even have your audience on the edge of their seats.
By David Vickery
Whether you’re thinking about PowerPoint slides, blown-up pictures, objects of special significance or something completely innovative, here are a few things to consider:
1. Ensure the prop is relevant and adds value to your speech. If you think it might cause offense, forget about it.
2. Try to use it as the punch line, rather than leaving the audience wondering what it’s doing there in the first place.
3. Whilst it’s useful to use a prop to divert attention from you if you’re nervous about having everyone’s eyes on you, don’t let it completely detract from what you’re saying. First and foremost you want them to listen to you.
4. Don’t forget that your prop needs to be big enough to be seen by short-sighted people at the back of the room.
5. As you would with your speech and presentation, practise with the prop, rather than hoping it all comes together on the day. You may find it useful to enlist a helper to ensure it appears and disappears smoothly and easily.
6. Check that the venue has the appropriate lighting or technology to accommodate your props.
7. Never leave a comical prop by your side when you’re making a serious point.
8. And finally, whilst the odd prop can add value, too many can suffocate the speech or presentation, so don’t get carried away.