Art of Public Speaking:
PROPSIn the art of public speaking the term "prop" is a shortened version of
the theatrical term "property," a word used to describe any object
handled or used by an actor in a performance. Professional speaking is
a performance art, and in the art of public speaking as a speaker you
are a performer whether you believe it or not. You have an obligation
to use whatever means necessary to get your message across to the
I think of props as any physical item that is on stage with you. Your
flipchart is a prop. Your lectern is a prop. Overhead projectors,
pointers, notes, chairs, markers, pens, and other audio/visual aids are
all forms of props. Conversely, props are a form of visual aid.
Why use props?
The art of public speaking involves using props to help warm up the
audience when you do a public speaking engagement. They can be used as
a substitute for notes. They help focus attention on the speaking
points you are trying to make along with illustrating them for you, and
focusing the audience is an important aspect of the art of public
speaking. Props make better connections than your words with the
visually oriented members of your audience. Props create interest, add
variety, and make your points more memorable.
Props can be used pre-program to pass around in the audience in
anticipation of the program. You see this at large arenas when beach
balls and Frisbees are being tossed around in the crowd. I pass out
snacks and/or custom-designed crossword puzzles about the group that I
make on my computer. So cross-words and computer use are part of the
art of public speaking as well. The puzzles make especially great
icebreakers because the members of the group get together to help each
other with the solutions.
Do you hate relying on notes? Props can be a substitute for written
cheat sheets. To illustrate this in live seminars and television
interviews I use three hats as an outline for a program. The first hat
is a gag ball cap that has really long hair attached to it so that you
look like a hippie when you wear it. The second hat is a black top
hat. The third is a safari hat. Each hat prompts me to talk about a
thoroughly rehearsed "bit or chunk" .
Putting on the longhaired ball cap immediately reminds me to talk about
when the company was young and aggressive. After that section I remove
the ball cap (if you have a fun and playful audience, you could put it
on an audience member's head), then I put on the black top hat. The
top hat prompts a section on the mature growth years of the company. I
then put on the safari hat which kicks off a section on searching for
new business. The whole talk is done without any notes at all. You
only have to memorize your opening and closing and practice each of the
sections independently as you learned in a previous issue. Are you
beginning to see more about the art of public speaking?
Didn't someone say a prop is worth a thousand words? Maybe that was a
picture, but its just about the same thing. Many times a well selected
prop will illustrate your point much better than you could ever do in
words. The art of public speaking involves painting a picture in the
minds of your audience, with words, with tone, with timing, with
movements, and with props.
A prop also focuses attention directly on the point you are trying to
make because it is something novel that is occurring during the
presentation. People can space out easily on your words, but a unique
prop is hard to ignore. Also, the visually oriented people in your
audience will perk up and get more value when you use props. The art
of public speaking is "painting the picture" for people with differing
ability to see.
Memorability is another good reason to use props. People remember
pictures far longer than words. That is why the treat public
speakers that use stories try to use words to create images in your
mind. They know the images will be remembered when the words are long
forgotten. If you are not a great storyteller yet, you can use props
to help create these pictures. The essence of the art of public
speaking is telling a story that the audience will never forget.
Types of props
There are many different kinds of props that can be used to your
advantage in a public speech. Extra large or extra small props are
funny. Noisemakers are funny. Even though you are attacking the sense
of hearing, you are attacking it in a unique way that makes it
memorable. Costumes and magic tricks make good props. A painter uses
brushes and a palette to paint a picture, an artist in the art of
public speaking uses words and props or much more to paint pictures for
the mind's eye to see.
I have a friend who speaks on telephone skills. He uses a giant
telephone receiver to make a point about the importance of phone
skills. I used a clown prop to make the serious point that if we went
through with this merger it would be like being in a thunderstorm with
a clown umbrella (for those of you that do not know, a clown umbrella
is only about 8 inches in diameter). The art of public speaking
involves creativity in use of props to convey a message.
Noisemakers are fun. I recommended that a sales manager get one of
those expressway revenge devices that makes machine gun, ray gun, and
bomb noises when you press a button. If XYA company gets in our way,
this is what will do to them (he pressed the machine gun button while
holding the device near the microphone). He got his point across. You
can too, when you practice the art of public speaking.
I have worn gorilla costumes, brought full-size mannequins on stage and
kicked them around. I have done simple magic tricks and many other
things to get my point across in a more memorable and interesting
fashion. Making a point, and making it memorable, are the core of the
art of public speaking.
You don't necessarily have to do wild things to use props. A very
creative friend of mine, Carolyn Long, was going to speak about the
keys to creativity. She opened by holding up keys, then discarded them
in favor of a combination lock. Her point was made. The combination
of your message, your passion, and the art of public speaking will
unlock the future for you, and for your audiences.
Tips for using props
* Normally you should keep your special props hidden until you are
ready to use them.
* Make sure the prop can be seen from all parts of the room.
* ALWAYS speak to the audience, not the prop (unless the prop is a
* Make sure the audience is focused on surprise props before you
unleash the surprise.
(For example, if using a fake peanut can with pop out snakes, hold the
can in full view for an extra second before you open it so the audience
does not miss it). In other words, let the prop have its full effect.
Making the best of every moment is key in the art of public speaking.
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