Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Using a sheet of paper (and other ordinary things) as props

You think your presentation could use a prop, a visual, three-dimensional object to focus the audience and help you reinforce your theme.  But you're on the road, without time to hunt for something stunning or room in your suitcase to lug it with you.  What to do?

Easy. Find a piece of paper. It's one of several low-cost, easy-to-find and portable items that you can use as a prop.

Paper, for example, can be folded into elaborate origami shapes to explain mathematical constructs and scientific theories...made into an airplane that can fly over the audience...creased or made into a cone to make a point (or a megaphone)...folded like a greeting card, an envelope, an accordion...ripped, pierced with a pencil or crumpled to convey emotion...cut into strips or confetti to share with your audience....turned into a temporary spyglass.  You get the ideas--they're only limited by your imagination.  Here's an early trailer for the documentary Between the Folds, which looked at how scientists, artists and math teachers are using origami:

In the same way, a bar of chocolate from the hotel gift shop, your cell phone, a cup of tea from the break station, a pen, an earring, a shoe--all handy--can be turned to your advantage as visual props.

The advantages of these basic props goes beyond convenience to you. All of them are:
  • Universal and familiar, making them more likely to be understood and related to by a wide range of audience members
  • Small and easy to transport
  • Hard to forget, since you're more likely to have them with you already
Your job, of course, is to change how they are viewed, taking them from the ordinary to the extraordinary in the eyes of your audience. I asked readers on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, "What's the most creative prop you've used in a presentation or public speaking gig?" and got paper--and a host of other responses. Here's what our readers have used as props:

Mary Sias nominated "A can of soup" and "a large pinata sign to prove a point in my scholarship workshops."

Rachel Miller has used "My rabbit."

Leslie-Ann Howard -Martin Redweik has used "The audience themselves."

Weeze Bernier did it with paper, noting "I once told a true story of how receiving a document in the mail over 25 years ago, had changed my life. Throughout the story I referred to a crumpled and tattered piece of off white paper. When I was done, at least 3 people noted that it was great that I still had the document. The story was true, but I guess I did a pretty good job making a blank piece of paper look real too."

Hillarie Turner has used a prop you can consume later: "Chocolate!"

Linda Lamb Neckel's prop was "A plastic skull."

Akkana Peck also went with paper: "A paper airplane."

Toni Rosati might win for most unusual prop: "poster sized images of bras - for a communication talk (ie:support)."

Jean Wolfe recalled, "One of my mentors used a can o' green beans, fresh green beans, spoiled green beans and frozen grean beans. She's awesome. Her presentation was on presentation skills....and how to keep it fresh!"

Want more? Sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, which focuses on one speaking skill or issue each month. Then join The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a vibrant community that gets to discuss these topics before they appear on the blog; or contact me about your public speaking training and coaching needs. Most of the popular articles listed here started as threads on the Facebook page. Thanks for reading and participating!