How To Start A Presentation Effectively – Prop

public speaking training

This is a continuation of the “How to Start a Presentation Effectively” series.

Start with Prop!

The term “prop” comes from Theater. A prop is a physical object used by actors to hold the attention of the audience and develop the plot. Since we as speakers share similar goals to performers, then a prop could be a great tool to employ in our presentations.

A lot of people initially think that a prop might be overkill for business presentations – There is nothing further from the truth.

A prop can make you more persuasive and engaging.

So before you say “a prop is not my thing.” Read this article and you might get some great ideas to start your next presentation with a bang.

A prop does not have to be complicated. A simple prop that I use often is a book. I bring a relevant book to my talk. I wave it around without revealing what it is. Then I put it aside and start my talk. When I get to an appropriate place in my presentation I bring the book back and talk about it.

I still remember the first time I used a book as a prop. I walked into a talk that I was doing on “leadership skills for managers” with the book “Good To Great” in hand. I waved the red book around as I introduced myself and then hid it behind the podium. As I looked at the audience I could see them eyes-wide-open trying to find out what that book was. I know then that I started with a bang and had their attention.

A client of mine recently started a talk by flying a drone over the audience’s heads. It got the audience to nervously laugh and wonder what is he going to talk about. He talked about innovation. Way to go Jazz!

As you can see, there is a wide range of props to use. It can be a simple piece of paper, an envelope, a book, a hairdryer, or as you will see in the example below a plastic bag containing some sugar and salt.

If you want to use a prop just keep in mind these two simple rules:

  1. Use Relevant Props: The prop has to be relevant to your talk or you have to make it relevant. You can’t bring a video game as a prop and then talk about meditation unless you can tie your subject to the prop.
  2. Your Prop has to be intriguing: It has to arouse curiosity and suspense. Your prop has to be mysterious or you have to use drama to make it suspenseful. For example, a book is not mysterious, the way I handled the book made it suspenseful.

Here are two examples of people you might know employing props:

A candle, a balloon, and some water!

Seth Godin, named the “Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age” by Business Week, once used a combination of a candle, a balloon, and some water as his props to begin his “Lizard Brain” presentation.

He lit the candle and said that he will make his point before the candle runs out (this is just for suspense). Second, he filled a balloon with air and some water and threw it at the audience. The Audience laughed. He then framed his talk around having the strength to take risks; he said that filling the balloon with water is the easy part, throwing it is the hard part – that’s the part that counts to create an effect. Because his talk is about fear – the prop was suitable and it was a bang.

Plastic bag, one tablespoon of salt, 8 tablespoons of sugar

No, that is not a recipe for Lemonade. In the book Made To Stick, the authors talk about James Grant, the former Executive director of UNICEF using a bag with Sugar and Salt to start his talks. He holds the bag up in the air and asks rhetorically – “Do you know
 that this costs less than a cup of tea and it can save hundreds of thousands 
of children’s lives in your country?” Intriguing isn’t it. That’s another bang.

See, it does not have to be complicated.

Props are a great way to start your presentation with a Bang. You can also use props throughout your presentation, of course, and that will be another article. But for now, decide to give it a shot and note the response you get.

Already you have two ways to start your presentation with a bang and there will be more to come.

Peter Khoury

Peter Khoury: Founder @ MagneticSpeaking X-Pharmaceutical Engineer, turned author, national speaker and executive presentation coach.

In addition to Public Speaking training, Peter is a regular speaker on the topics of Negotiations, Conflict Management and Leadership. He is the author of the book “Self-Leadership Guide.