Props for Your Next Presentation

by Stephen Boyd | April 15, 2005

The men’s basketball team of Michigan State University has gone to the Final Four in spite of being seeded fifth in the NCAA Tournament. One of the keys to turning the team around for the success they had in the Tournament was what Coach Tom Izzo did on Selection Sunday. At a team meeting, he took videotapes of the last two games [a victory over last place Penn State and a Big Ten Tournament loss to Iowa] and smashed them with a hammer. Then he said, "This is going to be a new season" [referring to the NCAA Tournament]. This unusual technique seemed to inspire the team to a new level of skill and determination.

A prop is an object that you use in your presentation to help illustrate or reinforce a point or to help the audience remember an idea. Audience members weeks or months later often are able to connect the prop with the point of the speech. When preparing for your next presentation, consider using a prop. Here are some suggestions on how to make the best use of the prop.

Make sure the prop relates to the content of your speech. Don’t be tempted to use a prop simply because it is unusual or unique; the prop should connect the listener to what you are saying.

The prop should be handled easily. Concealing the prop before and after its use should be simple. The object should not be seen as dangerous. Years ago I used a cap pistol to illustrate how Teddy Roosevelt was almost assassinated in the 1912 Presidential Campaign. That would never work today with the changing view of guns in any public place.

Avoid objects which are valuable and might be stolen as you are talking to people after the speech. Do not increase the complexity of your presentation by having a prop too heavy, too sharp, or too bulky.

Prepare the audience for your use of the prop. If it is introduced suddenly and without warning, the audience may be so distracted by the surprise that they may lose track of the point you are making with the prop. Even a simple sentence like, "Let me show you an object that will help make my point" will introduce the prop.

Power Point and posters and flip charts certainly are effective in many presentations. But, as Coach Izzo demonstrated with the hammer and videotape, nothing in a presentation can inspire and reinforce like a prop.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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