Thursday, August 23, 2007

prop up your point

What audiences see is "stickier" than what they hear, for the most part: You'll get your point across faster and and they'll remember it longer if you help them to visualize it using a prop. For truly memorable presentations, go beyond gesturing with your glasses or waving your pen. Find a prop that's easy to carry with you and that carries your point across to the audience. Some great examples we've observed -- or helped clients develop -- include:
-a scientist working on "electronic paper" holds up a sample as she describes her work, then asks the audience "Does anyone want to see this?" and walks into the audience to share it. The same size and shape as a clear plastic overhead, with computer circuits pasted onto it, this prop let the audience visualize exactly where she was in the research, focusing their attention while she explained how it worked.

- another scientist speaking to hundreds of college students about the value of chemistry in everyday life takes a poll of his audience at the start of his talk. Holding his own cell phone high in the air, he asks, "who in this room has the smallest cell phone?" prompting a fierce competition around the auditorium -- after which, he explains the role that chemistry plays in miniaturizing cell phone components.

- a television producer, explaining to public relations professionals how she prefers to receive material, holds up her Blackberry and says "your headline has to fit on this screen."

- an environmental official takes a glass of water on the podium and holds it up -- but instead of taking a drink, asks the audience "do you have questions about drinking this?" and uses this commonly available resource for speakers as the jumping off place for discussion on drinking water quality.
We don't recommend you use props every time, nor more than once in a given presentation. Let the task suggest the prop. If you're lucky enough to have an example of your work that's as colorful as electronic paper, or as convenient as your phone, take advantage of it. Your audience will thank you.

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