Props can be very powerful if used well. It’s best used when it can speak louder than words. When it can say something more clearly, more succinctly and with more impact then you could verbally. It helps however, if it leads into your point, topic or message.
What is a Prop?
In this context, and according to Wikipedia, “A prop is formally known as (theatrical) property, it’s an object used on stage or on screen by actors during a performance or screen production”.
I see props as being visual aids. They can be like a metaphor. Props can be many things. I’ve seen a speaker sit on a chair to tell a story. Then later on, the speaker used the same chair to represent his dying father, as he caresses the chair. Towards the end of the speech, he slowly tips the chair over and lays it down to represent his father’s demise. Chairs, PowerPoint slides and pens, to name but a few, can all be powerful props when used well.
Great Use of Props
A great example of the use of a prop is by Dananjaya Hettiarachchi in the video above. Basically, he used one prop briefly and only twice. Once at the start and then at the end to come full circle. Dananjaya’s speech is still remembered as the one with the rose. That’s powerful. Because of that, everybody remembers his message, that we are all special in some way.
Check out another powerful example of prop use in the video below. It’s an example, from Bill Gates on “Mosquitos, Malaria and Education”. It meets all of the criteria of a good prop.
Hiccups with Props
Like notes, hand-held microphones or other forms of technology, props are just another thing that can go wrong. It’s just another thing to worry about.
Because things can go wrong, I recommend that you use the prop when rehearsing. Will the prop come out of your pocket and slip back in again, smoothly. Will the prop be large enough to be seen at the back of the room if it’s a large audience? There is nothing like a rehearsal to highlight any flaws.
My wife and I were part of a large audience, listening to a speech. The speaker used a soccer ball to demonstrate one of his points. I’m sure he had practiced it many times to be able to kick the ball well over the audiences’ heads. However this time he kicked it full pelt into my wife’s face. He did not realise what had happened until someone told him afterwards. He was very apologetic and felt bad. We reassured him. However the point is, that you need to be aware of what can go wrong and modify it.
The other important aspect of using a prop is to return it from where it came. It could be the inner pocket of a suite’s coat, a pants’ pocket or the lectern. Sometimes speakers hang on to their prop, even when it has already served its purpose. When you do that, the prop can become distraction.
Finally, I have to say, that one of my pet peeves are speakers who take the stage with a box full of props and bring them out one at a time throughout their speech to emphasise everyone of their points. It almost becomes a magic show. It reminds me of the adage, if you highlight everything, you highlight nothing. It usually lacks clarity, succinctness and impact. I believe it is used as a substitute for good content.
Props, used well, can be a powerful way of getting your point across. Make sure it expresses your point more powerfully then you can say it.
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