Last week I shared the story of my plate spinning illustration to drive home a point of increasing complexity. Today, I want to talk about some less elaborate examples and share a few tips for making props work for your next presentation.

Here are a few additional props I’ve used to underscore my message. Hopefully this list will stimulate your creative juices. I’ve used…

A pot and a tomato seed to simulate the unreasonable desire for instant personal growth. I planted the seed and yelled grow! It doesn’t work that way with tomatoes – nor personal growth. You get the point – you’ve got to water, fertilize, weed and wait.

A vending machine on stage to represent our organizations desire for easy, creative answers to hard problems. Simple in concept, this did involve some logistics to get a 400 lb. vending machine on the stage.

A large glass container with a hose running out the back to represent the fact that vision leaks – during my talk I continued to pour colored water in the container only to have it slowly drain out. My point, leaders must continually pour in the vision.

I’ve also employed a brick, an hour glass, a couple of coke cans, bags of dirt, an inflatable globe, a box, a pillow case with a snake in it (actually, it was a rubber hose –but it was quite convincing); I’ve used balloons, and art supplies, and on and on and on.

How do you make props work for you? Here are four tips that may help.

Know your point. A prop needs to help you make your point. A prop is not a trick to make your presentation more fun and interesting. It may do these things, but if it doesn’t vividly make your point – you missed it. The audience may leave talking about your prop and have no idea what you were trying to communicate.

Keep is simple. Yes, some props are more complex; the large glass jar with the hose running out the back was a bit tricky. However, the principle still applies. If your prop or illustration is too complex, it can distract you and the audience. Also, the chance for failure goes up with complexity. When I’ve used a brick as a prop in the past, it’s a fairly safe bet it is going to “work.” The more simple, the more elegant, the better!

Prepare in advance. This is probably obvious, but sometimes I don’t. Then it gets interesting. The worst case is when you have the “perfect” prop in mind and you don’t have time to pull it off. If I had not thought about the vending machine in advance, there’s no way it would have been on stage.

Anticipate surprises. Regardless of your level of experience as a presenter, I encourage you to have a plan B. It’s really about scenario planning. It’s similar to the discipline of anticipating questions the audience may ask and be prepared to respond. What do you do if you get there and your prop doesn’t arrive? You should have another option or two in mind. Perhaps your Plan B is not a prop, but a story or an illustration. I’ve even described the prop in its absence. If you do make enough presentations, you will be surprised – your goal is not to be.

Every presentation doesn’t need a prop. Every presentation is an opportunity to make your message tangible, clear and memorable. Have fun![GLS_Shield]

What props have you used that worked extremely well?

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.