Public speaking tools and props
There are two categories of props - those you introduce yourself (e.g. something as simple as your notes on 3x5 cards) and those introduced by the venue, the sponsors or some other outside party. Each one is governed by a golden rule that will ensure the use or misuse of props will not have a negative impact on your speech.
Public speaking props you introduce
Golden Rule: Keep it simple. Don't over-rely.
I've attended many speeches where props introduced by the speaker brought the house down, from a group of Irish dancers to an embarrassing wall-to-ceiling photo of the groom in speedos to an hysterically funny powerpoint presentation. Of course, props can be simpler such as the ubiquitous 3x5 index cards with notes.
Ultimately a prop is an external element, even your own prop, and as such they are potential liabilities. My golden rule, okay, two golden rules, are designed to prevent a public speaking disaster when you make your speech and minimize the damage if anything does go wrong.
Keep it simple - The fewer moving parts and dependencies your props have, the less likely they are to go wrong. Don't get smart, don't get clever. Just keep it simple. Example: Don't bring a powerpoint presentation, 3x5 index cards and some notes to the stage. Use one tool and use it well.
Don't over-rely - Knowing that things can go wrong, you cannot over-rely on your props. A speech based entirely off a powerpoint presentation bombed when the screen failed and no backup print-outs were available. The public speaker who could not deliver his speech without his cue cards, discovered too late that they were completely out of order (quick tip - if using cue cards, make sure they are numbered, and you use large text that can easily be read at arms length).
Other public speaking props
Golden Rule: Be prepared. Be prepared for mishaps.
Be prepared - As discussed when we looked at knowing the public speaking venue, it's critical to know what props you will be expected to use. If you will be using a microphone, make sure you're shown how to use it first. If there is a large screen in use, make sure your powerpoint notes are available, or instead, a simple title page with your name and the name of your speech.
Be prepared for mishaps - So you know what props you will be required to use and you even know how to use them. You know how to use that remote control and infrared pointer? Great! But what happens if the batteries fail? If the microphone fails, will you know what to do? (move your location if it helps being heard, shorten your speech, if appropriate). Of course, it is impossible to legislate for every mishap, but minimizing the impact of mishaps can only make your job easier.
The I told you so stories are endless. Use props wisely, treat them with respect, but also with suspicion.
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