In this lesson, you learn to:
- Incorporate props to get laughs
- Use success strategies and weigh the risks relating to props
What are some of the benefits of using props?
- Helps you make your point
- Helps the audience understand or remember your message.
- Adds visual interest
- Focuses the audience’s attention
- Incorporates relevant funny and quirky objects
In May 2000, I delivered a speech that included a subtle point to increase family time by restricting television time. To drive my point home with a little humor, I went a little crazy! I decided I would end my speech with a huge television box filled with pots and pans sitting on a shopping cart. I placed a mound of talcum powder on top of the box. I thought I’d jokingly tell the audience to bring their TV sets to the front door and dump them on the curb. To make this point in a funny way, I planned to push the shopping cart to the edge of the podium and dump the TV box over the edge. I envisioned the pots and pans making a frightful noise and the talcum powder creating a dust cloud to simulate the “TV” disintegrating inside the box. I’d then end the speech by delivering my serious closing line. That was the plan…here is how it played out:
I pushed the shopping cart at a high speed towards the edge of the stage. The TV box fell off as planned, but it rolled, and rolled, and rolled until it hit an audience member. The amount of talcum powder I used was excessive to say the least. As the TV rolled, it produced a huge mushroom cloud that travelled into the audience. Some of the audience members coughed and spluttered in the talcum powder cloud while the remaining audience members laughed hysterically at the unplanned mayhem. I tried to deliver the last line of my speech with seriousness and sincerity, but with the audience laughing, I couldn’t keep a straight face and had to regain my composure.
This is a great example of creatively using a prop to deliver a serious point in a humorous way. It is also a great example of a failure! I did not practice enough with the prop to understand the risks and what could go wrong.
Here is an excerpt from this speech gone wrong. It was a great learning moment for me, and I’m glad the audience found it funny! (Note that the large prop was visible on the stage prior to me using it. I have no doubt that it was distracting. The audience was likely wondering, “What is in the box? I wonder what he is going to do with it?” If I were to try it again, I would find a way to keep it hidden as I mentioned in the introductory video.)
Success Strategies Relating to Using Props:
- Incorporate comedic timing, gestures, facial expressions, and pauses when revealing a prop
- Keep the prop hidden until you are ready to use it. This gives it more emphasis and prevents it from becoming a distraction
- Use a silk scarf when possible, as it can typically be removed in a single (and swift) movement
- Pause to provide more emphasis immediate after revealing the prop
- Ensure your props are in a good location, are easy to access, and visible to all the audience members
- Use props that are simple and do not require a lot of arranging. This can interrupt the flow of your speech. (Picture a speaker fumbling with a paper bag trying to find the props and assemble them in the required order)
- Keep engagement with the audience and do not turn your back to retrieve your props
- Stay in sight of the audience and do not let a prop block their view
- Ensure your prop is big enough for the audience to see. Iff you have a large audience or a wide stage, be sure everyone will immediately understand what has been revealed
Preparation & Rehearsal
- Practice using your props to get the right timing and coordination
- If your prop is hidden by a cloth or other wrapping, can it be easily removed?
- Ensure the room can accommodate your prop
- Is there a table on which to put your prop?
- Is there a hiding place for your prop?
- If the room is long or wide, can the entire audience see your prop?
- Practice enough so that you know what can go wrong
Risks of Using Props
As we discussed, there are always risks when using props. Here are real examples of things that can, and did, go wrong for speakers I’ve observed:
- Speaker continued talking with his back turned to the audience as he went to get his prop.
- Prop was too small for the size of the room, was not clearly visible, and was distracting.
- AV Issues:
- As a speaker put a scarf prop around her neck, the lavaliere microphone gave a loud scratching noise.
- A presenter hid his prop near the A/V speaker. When he uncovered the prop, he spoke directly in front of the A/V speaker and the screeching feedback came close to collapsing my lungs
Other Things to Consider
- Size and weight of your prop: Are you going to arrive to the stage hot and sweaty after carrying it from your room or car?
- AV Needs: Does it need to be plugged in? Is there an electrical socket nearby? Do you need to bring your own extension cord as a precaution? Do you need to bring some duct tape to prevent the cord does from becoming a tripping hazard?
- Help from others: Do you need help with your prop? It can be beneficial to have someone assigned to do any heavy lifting and/or arranging prior to your presentation.
Here is another example of me using a prop. It is hidden from view until I needed it. Note the pause once I do the “reveal.” It could have been even more effective if I had simply hidden it in my suit jacket inside pocket and pulled it out in a single practiced movement!
- Read through a speech you have written to find some content where a prop could potentially be used.
- Highlight the areas where you feel a prop could be incorporated.
- Brainstorm what options you have to use a quirky or funny prop.
- Apply the success strategies in this lesson to determine how you might coordinate the use of the prop to make sure it is not a distraction and to manage the potential risks.