The art of using props in a business presentation has become something of a forgotten art, partly because it is all too easy just to slip an image into your PowerPoint deck.
Including props as well slides in a presentation can, however, bring many advantages, not least of which is breaking the ‘media trance’ of all the attention being sucked into a screen. It refocuses attention on you and your prop and even has the potential to re-energise your presentation at a key moment.
Above all, the strategic use of a good prop adds so much more impact than an image on a slide ever can. I was once helping a very senior logistics executive in the retail sector prepare for a big presentation to his CEO. “Basically, it’s all about cardboard boxes”, he said. “Take these chocolates”, he continued, “we deliver them to stores that sell six per week and stores that sell 600 per week – all in the same-sized boxes. There has to be a more effective delivery solution”.
To illustrate his big point he put up a slide depicting some brown-ish splodges. “What’s that’? I asked. “Pictures of the cardboard boxes”, he replied. Now, certain things – such as cardboard boxes and TV sets - can be surprisingly difficult to photograph. You need very good lighting to bring out any sort of contrast or perspective; and he was proving the point very effectively.
My recommendation was as follows: Set the scene by talking about the great variance in the size of your outlets, ideally pointing to the CEO’s own local store as an example so that it is personalised to him. Use the screen if it helps, but switch it off when you come to the key moment of talking about boxes. Then, produce actual boxes from under the table and plonk them down right under the CEO’s nose – with some force if it feels right at the time. Now you will have the boss’s attention – and it will be focusing very directly on the matter in hand.
My own most memorable use of props came when I was running my own PR company and going through the process of buying out my partners. For technical reasons my accountant advised me to apply for a new bank account but warned me that this might be difficult in the midst of a buyout. So I asked him what the bank manager would perceive as my strongest selling point. “Undoubtedly your blue chip client base”, he replied. So I wrote a list of all my clients, most of which were in the drinks sector, on a sheet of paper. Impressive as they may have been, they weren’t exactly ‘jumping off the page’. I tried logos and that just looked a bit messy. So I went for props.
I arrived at the bank manager’s office with a sports bag that I discreetly slid under the table. When the right moment came I said: “Let me tell you who I have as clients”, as I reached under the table and produced a bottle of Cockburn’s Special Reserve. I followed up with bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Champagne Pommery, Holsten Pils, Gaymer’s Olde English Cyder, K and Babycham. When I got to the packets of Typhoo tea he exclaimed: “OK. I get the point. You can have an account”.
So, if you want to make a real impact, consider using props, but be warned: as any actor will tell you, props can be your enemy as well as your friend. Their deployment requires careful planning and practice. I shall return to this topic on another day, but for the moment, don’t even think about taking a prop and handing it out for inspection. You will progressively lose the attention of each person you are addressing and your prop will be working against you, not for you.
Adapted from Nick Fitzherbert's book Presentation Magic