Want to enhance your public speaking? Using props can be very effective when done right, resulting in an enhanced presentation. The word “prop” is a shortened version from the term “theatrical property”, which refers to objects used by actors in a play, or in this case, a speaker telling a story to engage an audience. In my long history in both Opera and Theater, I have firsthand knowledge of the dos and don’ts of using props. Props have been used to enhance storytelling since the dawn of time. Props can be as simple as a chair, or picture, food, beverage, trophy or as intricate as a PowerPoint presentation, video,… you get the idea, right? Using items to enhance your speaking can be very beneficial by adding memorable visuals and moments, or it can backfire by distracting the audience or even offending the audience.
- Make a point concrete
- Have an emotional impact
- Focus the audience’s attention and interest
- Be effective metaphors
- Inject humor into a presentation
- Be memorable
- Be unexpected
My client Shannon talks about defeating one’s inner monsters, then hands out monster finger puppets to the crowd. It’s both humorous and memorable. Here are some of my expert tips on Dos and Don’ts of using props when speaking.
10 DOs for Using Props
DO: Test Your Props and make sure they work Thoroughly test your prop before your presentation. It is the best way to ensure it works when under pressure in front of an audience. DO: Keep Props hidden until needed Visible props can distract an audience and spoil their effectiveness. Keep them hidden by a cover or behind a table or screen. DO: Have a backup in case the prop/PowerPoint doesn’t work Having a backup of any PowerPoint is a must. You should also have a backup plan in case the prop doesn’t work, disappears, or breaks. DO: Use props that are memorable Props are to enhance what you are speaking about. When your prop is memorable it will keep your key point in your audiences mind long after your presentation. DO: Make sure the prop is relevant (appropriate) for the topic It’s great to use a prop to emphasize a point, but don’t confuse the audience. If the prop is too unusual, the same color as your outfit, or relies on words that one can’t see from the back of the room, it will detract from your message. DO: Make sure everyone can see the prop clearly Have a prop that is large enough to be visible to everyone in the room. If you have a large audience, make sure there are screens where the picture of the item can be projected so everyone can see it. DO: Practice with the props several times – till you’re comfortable using them Practice, practice, practice! For a great presentation you will want to be able to use the prop smoothly and not fumble with it on stage. Props are there to enhance your message, not distract you with worry about how to make it function. DO: Be creative with your props Use an everyday item in an unusual way or something that would be unexpected. DO: Put the prop away so it doesn’t become a distraction Once you are done using a prop make sure it is out of sight or off to the side far enough not to be a distraction or a tripping hazard. DO: Have props available after the presentation for a closer look when appropriate Props that are products/items that are being sold should be available for the audience to look at after the presentation.
5 Don’ts for Using Props When Speaking:
Don’t leave the prop where it will distract the audience or be in your way You want the audience’s attention to be on you, the speaker, not on the prop which has largely served its purpose. Leaving a prop in the way so your movements are hampered, or even worse, so you could trip over it, is a mistake that professional speakers don’t make. Don’t use a bunch of different props so you end up looking silly Using the right amount of props to emphasize a point is good, using too many props can make you look more like a juggler in a circus act than a professional speaker. Don’t use props that can hurt people Using items that can hurtle into an audience, hit someone or damage their clothing is a negative on many levels. Don’t use props that Offend or Outrage your audience Ask yourself if your prop is going to offend your audience or make them angry? If so, don’t use it. The last thing you want is a hostile audience. If you are unsure, ask a trusted speaking advisor. Don’t pass props around – it becomes a distraction during the presentation Passing around your props, products, brochures, handouts or other items after you start speaking can be very distracting, noisy and often times annoying to your audience. Using props to enhance your presentations is an excellent way to make your presentation unforgettable. Copyright© 2014 Elizabeth Bachman, San Francisco, California. All Rights Reserved.