Props are AWESOME! The use of props is a great way to engage the audience and keep their attention. You have infinite possibilities! Don’t get carried away…….they have to fit in the room, fit your audience and be relevant to your talk.
Here’s a checklist to work through when considering your prop options:

  • Is the prop linked to your message, or is the prop unrelated to your talk topic?
  • Just like all aspects of your presentation (including words, facts, stories, and slides), you should only include props that are relevant to your topic.
  • Could the prop be considered offensive by members of the audience?
  • Will you use it, wear it, or simply show it?
  • Some props are only for looking at, but the best props are often those which you can do something with.
  • Will you bring in the actual thing you are talking about? Or, will you bring in a model or metaphor for that thing?
  • For example, you might bring in a globe as a prop if talking about flights that cross over polar areas on the earth
  • Is the prop large enough to be seen?
  • Can its important features be seen by the audience? Can the person in the back row of the audience see enough detail?
  • Is the prop small enough to be handled and manipulated?
  • Will it be too cumbersome?
  • And the most important question… does the prop add value to your presentation?
  • If you are unsure, then the prop should probably be left out. Being “really cool” isn’t enough. The prop must enhance your message.

Bill Gates and the Mosquitos Prop

About a third of the way through his TED talk titled Mosquitos, Malaria, and Education, Gates did the unthinkable. He lifted up a glass jar, and let mosquitos loose in the lecture hall, saying:

Now, malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit. (Laughter) There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience. (Laughter) (Applause) Those mosquitos are not infected.

His prop was perfect: tightly related to his core message, concrete (not abstract), unexpected, humorous, and entirely memorable.


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