Prop Up Your Presentations

Our presentations, that is, when we speak to clients, owners, stakeholders, boards, councils, students, and colleagues, typically include traditional visual aids. PowerPoint is heavily used, or perhaps more accurately, over used.

On reflection, many of us have access to highly-varied potential prop material, the use of which could enhance our communication effectiveness, especially for visual and kinesthetic learners. These learners prefer to understand by, respectively, seeing and touching or handling objects, in contrast with auditory learners who tend to focus on spoken words.

Given that we rarely know the learning preferences of audience members, we should anticipate that all three types-auditory, visual, and kinesthetic-are likely to be present and plan our presentation accordingly. Accommodating all three learner types will increase the overall listening level of your audience.

Consider these actual illustrations of using props to enhance communication:

o An engineer was trying to explain various consequences of leaks in municipal water distribution systems. To illustrate one kind of damage he brought to the meeting and used a large, heavy brass valve that had been deeply eroded-several inches-as a result of proximity to a water jet issuing from a hole in a water main.

o A city administrator occasionally brought a baseball bat to meetings to, as he said, “get attention” (hopefully symbolically).

o A consultant was speaking to college seniors about “10 Tips for Achieving Success and Significance.” A memorable prop was used for each tip. For example, the speaker held a crystal vase drawing parallels between it and one’s reputation. Each person’s reputation, like a hand-crafted vase, is unique. Major time and effort goes into building a reputation and in creating a crystal vase. Once shattered, a reputation, like the vase, is impossible to restore.

o A professor used a rectangular cross-section foam beam, with longitudinal parallel lines drawn on it, to show tension and compression.

Perhaps my thoughts about recognizing different types of learners, especially the visual and kinesthetic learners, reinforced with the prop examples provided above, will stimulate you to think in a fresh way to use props to fully utilize your speaking opportunities. As noted by consultant Mel Hensey, “communication is not what is intended, but what is received by others.” Judicious use of props will help others receive what you intended them to receive.