Next time you present to colleagues at work or in public, think about using a prop.

A prop, a term used in the theatre, arouses the senses. Studies show that people learn and retain information much better if it is reinforced with visual aids. If they can touch, feel, smell or listen to these aids, then it is even more likely they will remember what you are saying.

In my public speaking courses, I often give this prop to participants to see how they react.

People realise it is a very simple music box and when they wind it up, it plays the EU anthem Ode to Joy. Then they read the words – “it won’t work by itself” – a perfect metaphor for the message of the developer, a Polish EU official, who uses it to encourage citizens to engage with the European Union.

But let me walk the talk, by showing you three short video clips of some of the speakers I coached at a recent UN TEDX who all used props effectively.

Props reinforce your message

Jasmine Abdulcadir, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who opened Geneva’s first clinic for women suffering from female genital mutilation received a standing ovation for her talk debunking the myths around FGM and female sexuality.

One of the myths is that women, who have had their clitoris cut, lose all sexual sensation. In fact, as Jasmine explains showing a model of the clitoris, the tip is a tiny part of a big deep organ, and that removing it does not mean women can’t experience sexual pleasure.

It was important to also show MRI scans and diagrams of the clitoris in the talk – amazingly it was only in 2018 that Geneva hospitals ran a course for medical students on the history, anatomy and biology of the clitoris; and it is only this year that an accurate drawing of the organ will be shown in biology textbooks in French speaking Switzerland!

Here is her talk.

Jennifer Shigoli, a social entrepreneur from Tanzania, developed reusable sanitary pads, a solution for many girls and women who were using feathers, paper and rags as they couldn’t afford to buy throwaway pads every month. She took us on her journey as a successful businesswoman manufacturing pads that have reduced the rates of absenteeism in schools and improved the livelihoods of the men and women who sell them.

Here is her talk.

Elise Dietrichson and Fatima Sator are two researchers on a mission to tell the world that it was thanks to the efforts of four Latin American women that the UN Charter includes the words “women” and “sex”.

To illustrate the point, Fatima showed the pink version of the UN Charter – which was also put on the audience’s seats as a memorable take-away from the event.

Here is their talk.

Do’s and Don’ts
Props help you manage audience attention span, by adding variety, stimulating interest and are another tool in your presenting kit.

Below are some key points about using them effectively:

1. The prop must be relevant to your message – if it is not, don’t use it.
2. The audience must be able to see the prop – count to 5 as you show or hold it up.
3. Practice with the prop to ensure it works – make sure you are comfortable picking
it up or taking it out of your pocket.
4. Have a backup in case it doesn’t work – a photo on a slide for example.
5. Keep the prop hidden until you need it – this ensures greater impact.
6. Put the prop away when you are finished with it – as otherwise it can be a
distraction for the rest of your presentation.

Be creative
There are many TED global talks that are memorable for their use of props, such as Bill Gates opening a jar of mosquitos while delivering a talk about malaria or Jill Bolte Taylor using a human brain while talking about her massive stroke.

These add a sense of drama that works well with certain audiences. But, I encourage you to be creative in front of any audience.

If you work for a food company, use samples that can be touched, smelt or even tasted. If you work in manufacturing, trade or finance, your mobile phone can be a useful prop to talk, for example, about complex issues like global supply chains, as the parts are made all over the world.

Believe me, whatever your industry or organisation, props, if well used, will ensure your presentation is not forgotten.