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Using Props Effectively

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Props such as storyboards, prints, product samples and unusual (but relevant) objects can add an extra dimension to your presentation – but they need to be handled with care!

Props can enhance your presentation by adding:

  • Variety – a welcome break from talking!
  • Multisensory experience – by touching, smelling, tasting, watching or listening (to something other than your voice), your audience will be more stimulated and engaged than by your words alone.
  • Influence – by giving them a prop, telling them what to do with it, and/or directing them to move about the room, you subtly increase your authority and get them used to following your instructions.

Remember, when you display or give a prop to the audience, you also give away their attention. People will focus on the prop, not you. So only do this when you want them to focus on the prop. Never let them become absorbed in a prop while you’re talking about a different topic.

Here are some tips for using props effectively.

Take them into a different space

Use the space in the room to ‘mark out’ the prop section of your presentation as being different to the rest. This can be as simple as standing closer to the audience or in a different part of the stage area.

If space allows and/or you have a large prop, get them to walk over to a different part of the room. As well as adding variety, it will keep them active (and therefore more attentive) as well as getting them used to following your instructions.

Give them time to interact with the prop

When they first encounter the prop, your audience will be very focused on it – so give them time to look/listen/touch/taste/smell it before you resume talking. Otherwise they’ll either miss what you say or focus on your words at the expense of the prop.

Make the prop the star

Normally you should be the centre of attention, even if you are presenting with slides. But when you bring out a prop, it should be to demonstrate something important – so you want to focus attention on the prop.

If you’re giving it to the audience, if at all possible they should have one each, so they don’t have to wait their turn – which wastes time and risks making them feel impatient or bored.

If you’re holding it, make sure it’s right out in front of you, so that your audience has the best view – not cradled so that you can see it easily.

For a larger prop, you might want to ask a colleague to hold it up while you describe it – again, make sure the prop is centre stage.

If you’re standing in front of it, beware of turning and talking to the prop instead of the audience! Point to something then turn straight back and face your audience as you talk.

Tell them what to do with it

As you give or show them the prop, tell them what you want them to do with it.

“Feel the weight/texture.”

“Look at the colours.”

“Tell me the first thing that comes into your mind.”

“Imagine getting this through your letterbox!”

“What does that smell remind you of?”

As well as increasing engagement, this helps you stay on track and get the response you want. E.g. If you show them a product pack and you want feedback on the size, tell them this – otherwise you could get sidetracked by a discussion of the colour or thickness of the card.

Talk about the prop

When the prop is centre stage, talk about the prop. Describe it, highlight important features, and give background information. This will help them become absorbed in the prop, and enrich their experience of it.

Don’t talk about something else! That would force them to split their attention between the prop and your words, which is never a good idea.

If the prop is associated with your brand or the audience’s brand, then be very careful not to elicit any negative emotions while exposing the audience to the prop – otherwise they will unconsciously associate those emotions with the prop!

The flipside of this is that if you tell an empowering story or say anything else that elicits positive emotions, they will associate those positive emotions with the prop (unconsciously), which can be very helpful – especially when if you are trying to get a concept or prototype signed off!

When you’re finished with the prop

When it’s time to change the subject, get the prop away from them – or get them away from the prop!

If they are holding it, ask them to return it or place it somewhere they can pick it up after the presentation.

If they have walked over to the prop, ask them to return to their seats.

If you’re presenting the prop on stage, put it away and then move to a different part of the stage before you start talking about your next subject.

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