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Props for Presentations: Seen and UnSeen!

Make the Invisible – Visible!  Sometimes – Not! 

Props help your audience "see" your message.

Prop A prop is something used to support your presentation.  Props can be very effective tools for presenters to use.

People have three styles of learning:

  1. Visual – Learn by seeing.

  2. Auditory – Learn by hearing.

  3. Kinesthetic – Learn by doing.

Appealing to more than one of those styles of learning increase the odds your audience will GET IT!

Example: I used to be in the Coffee Business.  If I were speaking about Coffee, I might hold a mug in my hand and talk about different beans, roasts, and brewing equipment.  The audience sees the mug.  Most of them have probably had a cup or two that day.  It reinforces my message about coffee.  When I finish talking about coffee I should put the cup out of site. If I set it down where everyone can see it, it becomes a distraction because some in the audience will keep glancing at it.

Putting the prop out of sight is the same theory behind BLANKING the screen of a slide presentation.  Doing this immediately moves the attention of the audience from the screen to the presenter.  That’s where the attention should be!  The slideshow is not the presentation.  It is a prop that helps the audience GET IT! while the presenter provides the “text” with their voice.  (Very few, if any Bullet Points, please, and limited text.  High quality, easily recognizable graphics are best.)

Sometimes, the best prop for the situation is the one you don’t physically use.  For instance, if I said, “Picture your favorite coffee cup!”  (Really, do this for me, please.)  What do you see?

You might be picturing a cup your son or daughter made in pre-school or kindergarten. Maybe, you’re looking at one given to you for a present by a special friend, or one you received for achieving a specific goal.

Perhaps, you’re seeing the one you bought on a special vacation.  I know, it was a cheap cup you bought at a souvenir shop, and now there is a crack in it.  But picture that cup and the memories associated with it.

In these examples I’ve personalized that cup.  Nothing can beat that for getting you to “see” a prop.  What cup are you seeing?

I remember an old interview with Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, the movie reviewers.  One question was, “What’s the best medium for communication: Radio, TV, of the Big Screen?” Without hesitation they both answered, “Radio!”  Immediately I thought of the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre Old Time Radio Shows, 1974 -1982.  I also remembered listening to baseball games on radio and the colorful commentary and play-by-play that made me feel I was sitting in the stands.

Nothing can replace what your mind can “see”.  Those in the audience who “see” that cup, get emotionally involved with you and your presentation.  That cup has a story, and stories, as Nancy Duarte said, are the “emotional glue” that attach your audience to your ideas.

Another variation on this is getting the audience to anticipate seeing a prop.

One of the best examples of this is a presentation I saw delivered by an ex ad exec.  He took the lectern with a large leather portfolio case.  It was the kind artists use to protect their work.

He talked about the agency he had owned, and the campaigns his company had done for companies. The work, he said, would involve developing posters, print advertising, logos, letterheads, radio and tv commercials and a host of other products and services made to promote the client.

Throughout his presentation, he had one or more hands on the large portfolio case.  He would shift it from hand to hand, and always seemed to be about to open it and display examples of his work for the companies he was talking about.  He never opened the case!

WOW!  When he closed his speech, we could not believe we had not seen the contents of that beautiful leather portfolio.

From the moment he opened his speech, he held our attention.  With each advertising campaign story, our anticipation grew.

Every time he spoke of the colors, custom designs, and how everything had to deliver the same message, we just knew we’d be seeing those samples.  We never did!  It was absolutely one of the best uses of a prop I’ve ever seen.  (Of course, half of us would ready to jump the guy as soon as he left the lectern, extract the case from his hands and open it!)

He achieved his goal by not showing us what was (if anything) inside the case.  Besides the extremely effective use of this prop, he also presented well.  It was a great presentation!

Try using a prop or two in your presentation.  Be creative and help your audience GET IT!

For reading, and/or listening, this far I’d like to give you a FREE Gift. Go to: to receive it!

About the Author Fred E. Miller is a speaker, a coach, and author of the book, “No Sweat Public Speaking!” Businesses and individuals hire him because they want to improve their Public Speaking and Presentation Skills. They do this because we perceive really great speakers to be Experts. Perception is reality and we rather deal with Experts. They also know: Speaking Opportunities are Business Opportunities. Speaking Opportunities are Career Opportunities. Speaking Opportunities are Leadership Opportunities. He shows them how to Develop, Practice, and Deliver ‘Knock Your Socks Off Presentations!’ with – No Sweat!

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan Portfolio Picture: Smead Deluxe Art Portfolio

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