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Props

In your public speaking training, you will learn the importance of  using props in your presentation. The word "prop" is a shortened version of  the term property, that describes any object handled or used by an actor in a performance. Professional speaking is considered a performance art, so you have the ability to use props to get your message across to the audience.

Props in the public speaking profession are any physical items that are on stage with you. Your flipchart is a prop. Your lectern is a prop. Overhead projectors, pointers, notes, chairs, markers, pens, and other audio/visual aids are all forms of props. Conversely, props are a form of visual aid.

Why use these props?

You can use props as a substitute for your notes to help trigger your bits. Props can be used to focus attention on the speaking points you are trying by illustrating them for you. Using props can help you make better connections than your words to the visually oriented members of your audience. Props create interest, add variety, and make your points more memorable to your audience.

Props are great to use before your presentation even starts to get the audience in
anticipation of the presentation. You see this in practice at large arenas when beach balls and Frisbees are being tossed around in the crowd. I usually pass out snacks and custom crossword puzzles that I design myself on my computer. The puzzles are great icebreakers because the members of the group get together to help each other solve the questions.

Remember, if you hate relying on your notes you can use props as a substitute for written cheat sheets. To illustrate this in live seminars and television interviews I use three hats as an outline for a program. The first hat is a funny baseball cap that has really long hair attached to it so that you look like a hippie when you wear it. The second hat is a black top hat and the third is a safari hat. Each hat prompts me to talk about a thoroughly rehearsed "bit" of material.

When I put on the longhaired ball cap, it immediately reminds me to talk about when the company was young and aggressive. After that section I remove the ball cap (if you have a fun and playful audience, you could put it on an audience member's head), then I put on the black top hat. The top hat prompts a section on the mature growth during the years of the company. I then put on the safari hat which kicks off a section on searching for new business. The whole presentation is done without any notes at all. All you need to do is memorize your opening and closing and practice each of the sections independently as you learned in a previous issue. My public speaking training will teach you how all of these things come into practice.

Isn't there a saying that says a prop is worth a thousand words? Well, maybe that was a picture, but its just about the same thing. Many times a well selected prop will get your point across much better than words. My public speaking training teaches how to paint a picture in the minds of your audience, with words, with tone, with timing, with movements, and with props.

A prop also directs the attention completely on the point you are trying to make. People can zone out easily on your words, but a unique prop is hard to ignore. Also, the visually oriented people in your audience will perk up and get more value when you use props. 

Being remembered  is another good reason to use props. People remember pictures far longer than words. Good public speakers know that the images will be remembered when the words are long forgotten. If you are not a great storyteller yet, you can use props to help create these pictures. 

Types of props

There are different types of props that you can use to your advantage. Extra large or extra small props are funny because of the obvious exaggeration. Noisemakers are funny. Costumes and magic tricks also make good props.

I have a friend who does a presentation on using good telephone skills. He has a giant telephone receiver for a prop that he uses to make a point about the importance of phone skills. I used a clown umbrella as a prop once to make the point that if we went through with this merger it would be like being in a thunderstorm with a clown umbrella (for those of you that do not know, a clown umbrella is only about 8 inches in diameter). In your public speaking course you will learn how to creatively use props to convey a particular message.

Noisemakers can be fun, especially if use a nontraditional prop to make the noise. I recommended to a sales manager once to get one of those toys that makes machine gun, ray gun, and bomb noises when you press a button. If XYA company gets in our way, this is what will do to them (he pressed the machine gun button while holding the device near the microphone). He got his point across and the audience had a good laugh.

I have worn gorilla costumes, brought full-size mannequins on stage and kicked them around. I have done simple magic tricks and many other things to get my point across in a more memorable and interesting fashion. Making a point, and making it memorable, are key aspects to interesting presentations.

Tips for using props

  • Keep your special props hidden until you are ready to use them. That way you will not distract the audience from what you are saying.
  • Make sure the prop can be seen from every part of the room.
  • ALWAYS speak to the audience, not the prop (unless the prop is a
    puppet or doll of some sort).
  • Make sure the audience is focused on surprise props before you
    unleash the surprise. (For example, if using a fake peanut can with pop out snakes, hold the can in full view for an extra second before you open it so the audience does not miss it). In other words, let the prop have its full effect.

You don't necessarily have to use wild and crazy props. A very creative friend of mine, Carolyn Long, was going to do a presentation on the keys to creativity. She opened up by holding keys up and then discarding them to replace with a combination lock. Her point definitely got across. The combination of your message, your passion, and using what you learned in your public speaking training will unlock the future for you, and for your audiences.

 

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