Using Props to Make Speaking Memorable

One of the challenges of making a speech, pitch or presentation is to make it memorable. To the speaker every talk seems memorable because they had to learn it. To the audience it is maybe just one of dozens of pitches that they will hear that day and soon forgotten.

Most people turn to stories to make their talks memorable, and this is an excellent idea because if people are going to remember anything it will be the stories. But there is another technique that can also make your content more memorable: use props during the presentation.

Used appropriately a simple prop can make a difference between a compelling presentation and a slide show. More than once when talking about notes I have used a small notebook as a prop. On other occasions I have used sections of rubber seal, an old X ray film, a Walkman, a piece of volcanic rock and many other simple props. Shown at the right time and in the right way these props add an extra dimension to the talk and at the same time they provide a strong visual hook that makes it easier for the audience to remember your messages.

Most props help at least in some degree to make your talk memorable, though some are remembered more than the talk, like the time Jill Bolte Taylor produced a real human brain and spinal cord during her TED talk "My Stroke of Insight". 

But before you go and fill your pockets with notebooks, toothbrushes and brains for tomorrow's lecture there are some practical considerations you have to think about.

Choose Relevant Props. Don't just show something because it is cute or special. Choose only props that actually support your message. Sometimes they can be very simple props like a notebook or a toothbrush; other times they might be a very specific piece that is directly relevant to your story. A real brain will certainly get some attention, but if you are not talking about brains it will be the wrong kind of attention.

Make Sure Prop is Visible. In a very small room you can show practically anything, but in a very large venue you might have to drop the very small props or anything that the audience struggles to see. Ask a friend to stand at a suitable distance, pull out the prop and ask if they can see it clearly enough. If it doesn't work just drop it and use a photo instead.

Practice Showing Props. Don't imagine that you can simply produce a prop without any preparation. TV presenters make it look easy but to produce a prop the right way round without fumbling is much harder than it sounds. Practice pulling out, showing and putting away the prop. If it is small enough it can be in your pocket or perhaps on a small table. For larger objects you might need to arrange a table or support, or even a human helper. Try also to hide the prop until it is needed, to boost the surprise.

Don't Overdo It. Once you have discovered how effective props can be you might be tempted to use more than you should. Use props sparingly to make them effective and only use more than one where they have an important role in what you are saying. Too much focus on props can have the negative effect of distracting the audience from your message.

If you are a regular speaker you should also avoid using the same prop too many times or it could become a cliché. Producing an actual brain and spinal cord works the first time because it's so unexpected. When you have done it before it just becomes tiresome. Retire props before this happens. There will always be plenty of new things to show in future.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan provides one-to-one coaching for speakers who want to take their skills to a higher level and group workshops for companies and organizations aiming to boost speaking skills. The coaching can be face to face in the Stockholm region and through Skype elsewhere. Workshops can be anywhere. You can contact him on speaker@andrewhennigan.com or +46 73 089 44 75.

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