9 ways you can use props to make your presentations more impactful and memorable

How much of what you say is actually remembered? As a business owner, communicating your vision and expectations is vital if your business is to succeed, so strong and effective communication skills are a pre-requisite for any business owner.

You need your presentations or speeches to be remembered and acted upon long after the staff or board meeting, but in reality, most presentations are forgotten after a few hours. Even less is remembered after a few days and many people will only remember about 5% of what you said after a month. So how can you make sure your presentations are memorable and impactful?

One simple technique that you can utilise to improve recall and retention is by using a prop. A prop is any concrete object used in the delivery of a speech or presentation.

Using Props to Distinguish Your Presentation

Using a prop adds another dimension to your presentations and helps to make your speech even more memorable. Props helps to connect abstract concepts like vision, targets and expectations into concrete things that people can more easily relate to. It ties the verbal to the visual.

For example, in his TEDx talk on ‘The Art of Saying No’ Kenny Nguyen refers to the “sword of yes” and “shield of no.” and picks up a real sword and shield to help demonstrate his points. The introduction of these props helps to anchor those two words into the memory bank of the audience members.

Introducing a prop into your talk should always be effortless and flow with the speech, so here are 9 simple suggestions you can use to make your next presentation your most memorable yet.

1. Dress the part

Your clothes are the easiest prop to use in enhancing your message. Your attire communicates with your audience before you begin to speak. Think about your colours, patterns, and designs. Clothes can endear or alienate your audience.

Research the meaning of colours and use it in choosing how you dress when delivering important pitches or presentations. Avoid colours that may potential clash with other people or patterned designs that can be distracting when delivering a presentation.

2. A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth ten thousand

Most people are visual or kinaesthetic learners and their minds are wired to process information that is presented in a pictorial format. Integrate videos and pictures into your presentations.

Using pictures or videos in your speech provides a greater likelihood for your presentation to be remembered long after you have finished. It also breaks the monotony of just listening to your voice for an extended period of time.

If using a PowerPoint, according to Daniel Oppenheimer, an associate professor of psychology, texts written in harder to read fonts are usually remembered more the usual generic fonts. You can also use this information when creating slides.

3. Voice variation

The easiest way to bore an audience or cause them to switch off is to speak in a consistent monotone. Vocal variety or sounds delivered at varying frequencies break the monotony and holds the interest of your audience for longer periods.

Using a prop that makes a sound adds even more variety to your speech and stimulates the auditory nerves to work harder to register another frequency.

Presiyan Vasilev in 2013 presented a speech for Toastmasters world championship entitled ‘Changed by a tyre’ and used his voice to create a noise made by a broken jack. He wowed the audience. If you experiment by making an unexpected noise you’ll be able to see how your audience reacts.

Sounds can also extend to an unseen prop that may provide background music and help to create an atmosphere for your speech. Imagine being in the cinema and watching a movie trailer without any music. That probably feels strange. Now practise your speech with an appropriate background music track and experience the difference music can make.

Once you gain confidence and experience you can even try changing the tempo to reflect different parts of your speech. Music can be easily added to most PowerPoint presentations.

A word of caution, think about any lyrics that may distract or cause offence. A safe choice would be music without words.

4. Interactive props

Another suggestion when using props is to involve one that moves or interacts with your audience. This has the same effect as laser lights to cats.

Members of the audience will move their eyes, heads or bodies consciously towards a focal point. It also directs their attention to exactly where you want them to look.

Getting your audience to move during your speech provide a break from just sitting and listening. This results in greater engagement and makes your speech even more likely to be remembered. You may have noticed that most speakers usually ask audience members to raise their hands to involve them.

Every presenter wants their audience to be switched on for the duration of their presentation, which can be quite difficult, because the human attention span is quite limited. Our minds tend to wander at the best of times. Therefore, getting your audience to respond or engage with your prop ensures they are fully present.

Try something different to stimulate interest, instead of a PowerPoint with the usual starting slide, why not do a quick jig saw with a hidden message? A simple idea but getting people to do something rather than just sit and listen makes more of an impact.

5. Use living things

This can be a bit risky but it is certainly unusual and unforgettable. Possibly the best use of living things was by Bill Gates in his TED talk in 2009; Mosquitoes, Malaria and Education.

Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes at TED talk

During this he released live mosquitoes into the audience. The audience were not only attentive but became emotionally connected to his speech by their fear of getting bitten by a potentially malaria-causing mosquito. He took a risk and was definitely memorable.

Whilst this may be bordering on the extreme for some people, videos and pictures can be substituted to create impact. Speaking about the importance of teamwork may be better presented by showing a video of animals working together to achieve a seemingly impossible task then drawing analogies with your team.

6. Eliminate a sense

We process information every second of each day without any thought of the different modalities. We only recognise how important our senses are when one of them stops working. Magicians rely on this technique to create intrigue, and focus the attention of their audience.

An ice breaker activity could involve blindfolding a participant or even getting your team to write a script or storyboard for a video on meeting targets that had no soundtrack.

7. Research before you present

If you want your audience to feel important and special, then use a prop that is specific to their culture, geographical location or some shared passion. This will enhance your credibility as a thoughtful, caring and well researched speaker. It will show your audience that you actually thought about them as individuals, made the effort to connect and help build trust and rapport.

You can use colours of a local football club, a particular song associated with your audience or a picture of a famous landmark.

8. Introduce something unexpected

This creates an element of surprise that can also help your presentations. Ask anyone who has ever had a surprise party and they will vividly describe the scene even though it may be years ago.

If you are looking for an immediate reaction from your audience, then select a prop that is controversial or unexpected, like 2015 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking Mohammed Qahtani, in his speech ‘The Power of Words’.

The prop used was a cigarette. Smoking on stage? The prop immediately grabbed attention and he cleverly diffused a potentially controversial start with humour then smoothly linked the use of his prop to the rest of his speech.

9. Make them laugh

Laughter is the best way to engage an audience, especially in a fact-based work environment that can become quite dull sometimes. As you laugh you relax and your mind becomes more open and ready to receive the speaker’s message. It is all to do with the release of “feel good” endorphins.

Laughter can help your audience to relax and provide a psychological and physical connection to the presenter/speaker. Experience speakers will often get the audience laughing within the first thirty seconds.

Depending on your skills at delivery, a prop that results in laughter is a good tool to use in your speech. It can be simple – say, putting on a cap.

Imagine comparing your sales target to winning the 100m in the Olympics and showing a cardboard cut-out of yourself or a sales manager doing the Usain Bolt iconic pose. Is your audience more likely to remember that presentation instead of a graph or a table of figures? Guaranteed they will.

The list of props and ideas presented here are by no means exhaustive but it provides a good starting point and shows you how you can inform, inspire and entertain your key stakeholders by making your presentations even more memorable.

This article was written exclusively for ByteStart by Vinette Hoffman-Jackson from Toastmasters International.

Last updated: 20th June, 2022

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