Monday, October 5, 2009

Using a prop to emphasize your point

Tonight on NBC Nightly News's report about the H1N1 "swine" flu virus, Dr. Virginia Caine of the Marion County, Indiana, health department demonstrated how to use a prop effectively. "This vaccine--and I hold it in my hand," she said, brandishing a vial and going on to emphasize the importance of getting the flu shot and its safety.

In this case, the vial of vaccine rivets because we think it's scarce--availability is limited at the moment, and focused on high-risk groups. Just showing the vial underscores that it's available--not a mythical thing, in an epidemic where so many myths are spreading.

You can use props as evidence, as visual aids, as eye candy, or as extra emphasis. But keep in mind these tips:

  • Use props with care. Props shouldn't be appearing every few minutes in your speech. Think judicious use, to underscore a key point--perhaps right at the start of your presentation, or at a critical moment.
  • Keep it universal--and clear. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you won't have that many to explain what you have in your hand. Make sure it's visible, understandable and clear to get the value you seek.
  • Share the prop. If possible, hand the prop around for the audience to handle up close. If it's the right kind of prop--historic, unusual, or new-t0-them--you'll be reinforcing your talk as they pass it around, without too much loss of attention. (Not good for vaccines, I'm afraid.)

Here's the video of the full piece, with thanks to for making embedded video possible. Dr. Caine comes in at about 49 seconds:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

The Eloquent Woman's 2 years old

This week marks the two-year anniversary of The Eloquent Woman blog, and I'm celebrating all the things readers have contributed, from ideas, questions and advice to guest posts and support for fellow speakers. The blog has become the kind of community I'd hoped both men and women would find useful and inspiring.

Just as readers have determined the content of many posts in the past two years, their choices are driving this one. Here are the most-read posts from The Eloquent far:
  1. The Step Up Your Speaking contest drew the most readers -- not just from entrants, but followers of our winner Stephanie Benoit's progress, perhaps because this is one coaching program where all our readers can benefit. (As I write this, we're starting week 6 of the 15-week program.)
  2. This blog's all about the preparation, and the Checklist for the Whole Speaker post -- a list that considers your intent, content, mind, body, wardrobe and technology before you set out to speak -- came in a close second.
  3. You'll speak better if you gesture, and this post on the science behind effective gestures has become a regular reference for our readers.
  4. Conveying power is a key component of eloquence. No wonder these 6 strongest speaker statements are so well-read. Among them: "I don't know," one of the most powerful for any speaker.
  5. Questions can sometimes get your presentation off-track. Can you welcome questioners and manage Q&A at the same time? Our graceful ways with Q&A can help.
  6. Readers have a host of questions about the most important part of body language: eye contact. So we offered 5 eye contact tips for speakers, a perennially popular post.
  7. Storytelling's another critical skill for the eloquent speaker. In this post, you can see a top scientist demonstrate how to tell a story on yourself -- the most powerful stories are the most personal ones, I find.
  8. Can a tour guide be eloquent? I think so, and guiding tours is just one of many everyday situations where women have speaking opportunities. This post about my tour guide at the Martin Guitar Factory shares what you can learn from her.
  9. Readers and their questions inspire my best posts, and here, 7 readers offer you the best speaking advice that they've ever received--and put to actual use. Their tips cover Q&A, intros, practice, breathing, audience engagement, pacing and more.
  10. When the speaker needs to catch her breath, another reader-prompted post, looks at what's really happening when you go breathless while speaking--and what to do about it.
Here's what I like about what the readers chose to read: The list above provides a great cross-section of topics, from gesturing and language to breathing, storytelling and preparation. Thanks to all the readers (here and on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook) who supply this blog's energy and inspiration--your attention, questions and support are much appreciated! As always, please continue to share your questions, issues and suggestions.