How to Engage an Audience with Props

(Also listen to the audio at the end of this article)


Imagine you pulled out a chair.
Or two large pieces of paper.
Or a balloon.

What you’re doing is waking up the audience with a prop.
And props wake up the sleepiest of audiences in a matter of seconds. Yes, even if the prop isn’t remotely connected to your business.

So here’s what I do when I’m presenting the ‘Brain Audit’ presentation.
I set a chair in the centre of the room.

I then proceed to sit down on the chair.
Then I stand up.
Then I sit down.
Then I stand up.
Then I sit down.
Then I stand up.

It doesn’t matter what the audience was doing/thinking about/fiddling with before I put that chair in the centre. Now they’re looking at me. And in an instant, I’ve got their attention. They’re wide-awake. Aha, and it’s all because of the prop I’ve used.

But the prop alone won’t work
The prop will indeed get the attention of the audience, but it’s now up to you to create the connection with that prop.

So here’s how I connect: I ask the audience a question that’s impossible to goof up.

I say: Who among you expected the chair to break? I then wait for a few seconds and ask another ‘impossible-to-goof-up’ question. And say: Why didn’t the chair break? And after an initial hesitation, I do get a response.

Sometimes two or three.

And then it’s time to create the connection:
The chair didn’t break because it was built on science. Our communication, however, is not built on science. It’s built on randomness. This is why so many people misunderstand what we say.

This is why we spend thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of dollars, and still don’t get the message across. This is because our communication is built without parameters.

The Brain Audit, however, is built with parameters. It’s built with benchmarks. And like the chair, it’s built on science. Which means that you can be sure if you use the concepts outlined in the Brain Audit, you’ll get specific, consistent results.

So you see, using props is a three-step process:
1) You pre-determine the prop you’re going to use.
2) You take the prop out of context (if you can) to create drama.
3) You then make the connection and snap your audience out of la-la land.

Pre-determining the prop is important.
If you don’t prepare in advance, your presentation may get their attention, but you’re more than likely to goof up on the connection, and make a hash of your presentation.

And taking the prop out of context is also important, because a chair is a chair, is a chair—until you put a chair in the middle of the room. The prop out of context is what creates the drama.

But the question that may arise is: Does the prop need to be connected to your business? So if you’re presenting a phone, do you need a phone? Or should you always use something that’s not quite connected, like a sneaker, or a cup of coffee instead?

I’d always use the prop that’s not connected to my business. The reason is drama. When you stand up to talk about phones, the audience is expecting you to talk about phones.

But a sneaker or a cup of coffee, or some completely unrelated object throws them off guard in mere seconds. And creates instant drama.

But hey, you don’t have to listen to me. You can use props that are connected to your business, as well as props that are not connected. And here are two solid examples.

Example 1: Connected to your business:
Imagine you’re presenting an Icebreaker garment. Now Icebreaker is a brand of garments made from pure merino wool. And what’s cool about them is that you can sweat, and sweat and sweat, and they don’t stink. So in effect, an Icebreaker garment itself can become a prop.

The marketing executive can stand up in an audience and say: “I have a secret. I’ve been wearing this t-shirt for the past thirty-five days.”

Boof! She’s got the attention of the audience. And she continues:“And guess what? It doesn’t stink.” In fact, the late Sir Peter Blake wore it for forty-five days and forty-five nights, while he was yachting. And it still didn’t stink.

See the connection? Icebreaker’s uniqueness is that their garments just don’t stink. And they used the prop that’s connected to their business. This of course, takes us to the second example.

Example 2: A prop that’s not connected to your business
Let’s imagine the marketing executive removes a stuffed skunk and places it on the table. And then says: “If you were to wear your t-shirt for the next thirty-five days, your t-shirt would smell like this skunk.

But not with Icebreaker. You could actually wear an Icebreaker t-shirt for thirty-five, forty, or even forty-five days, and do the most rigorous activity…and still not stink.”

Got your attention didn’t it?
It most certainly did. And props—when properly used—will always get the attention of the audience, no matter whether you use a prop that’s connected or disconnected to your business. So the next time you’re making a presentation, don’t just blah-blah.

Use a chair.
Or two large pieces of paper.
Or a skunk for that matter!

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Find the entire series on speaking secrets in text and audio with cartoons!
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  1. says

    Well, it was an entrepreneurship presentation and every group had to come up with a detailed plan of the same. Most people went traditional and used powerpoint, video & spoke. Inspite of having the most boring entrepreneurship idea (of a CD recycling unit) I scored the max as I actually went a step ahead and demonstrated the entire process with chemicals & CD’s, LIVE. I captured everyone’s attention from start to finish. And that, I realized, was the key to getting the audience to listen to what you’re saying!
    (Same is the difference between text and video. Most people prefer to watch than to read)

  2. says

    The shock value of the unexpected prop is the best kind. When I think back to the most memorable presentations that I’ve attended, it was always the visuals that brought me back.

    If you want to be remembered or have your product purchased, give people a visual they cannot erase.

  3. says

    Sean, must say this is soo true!
    I recall one of my college presentations where, in front of a 200+ audience, I used a prop connected to my project & the entire auditorium just sprang to life. (And because I used the prop, I guess I got a standing ovation at the end… other groups didn’t make use of any)… so props do work. Period.

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