January 5, 2012 fm

Beer, Beans, Coins & Passports

This morning I stumbled over a great blog post by my friend John Zimmer – Ten Tips for Using Props in a Presentation. His article inspired me to think about some of the creative props I used in the past.

Props or visual aids are an indispensable tool for any public speaker. They make your message more memorable.

Here are four examples of props I used in the past – three of them from the experimental world of Toastmasters, the last one from the “real world”.

These examples are not meant to be copied. They shall rather help you become more creative every time you plan to include 3d objects in your speeches and presentations.


The beer – a fun prop

I’m from Bavaria and I love beer. Never will I hide my passion. Once I decided to devote a Toastmasters speech to my love for hop and malt.

The first sentence was not a first sentence at all. Instead, I opened a bottle of beer, smiled at my audience, poured the beer into a glass and drank the whole glass in one single gulp. Then – after a pause – I said, “I love beer!”

This might not be an appropriate move in a professional business presentation.

Or – maybe it might.

Imagine you are a fraude detection specialist and you give a talk to a number of French prospects. You might have a glass of red wine in your hand, take a sip, and say, “In vino veritas. – The Romans knew it, we know it. Our business is the truth.”

Why not? You know very well that French people love red wine. They might think your initial move is great. It always depends on your audience.


The beans – an interactive prop

When you are the emcee of the day at Toastmasters it is recommendable to come up with a theme for the meeting. I’ve seen a vast variety of mottos throughout the years – Olympic Games, quotes, christmas, the fall of the Iron Curtain, …

In one club meeting I chose “Secrets” as the leitmotiv. I wanted some of my fellow club members to reveal unknown facets about their lives. To give it a good push I had distributed one red bean to each of the attendees before the meeting.

When I took the stage I kindly asked the group to throw their beans at me.

Some of them threw those beans at me as hard as they could. I felt the dark side in several of my friends. When the painful shower ended I smiled at them and said, “You’ve just spilled the beans.”

Spilling the beans built the bridge to the motto of the evening – sharing secrets.

Interactive props are great, audiences love them. Again – make sure you adapt your interactive idea to the specific audience.


The coins – a dramatic prop

In another occasion I gave a dramatic talk in one of our club meetings. The talk was about a trip to New York which ended tragically.

At one point of the story I yell at this one guy and throw some coins in front of his feet.

Right in that moment I grabbed into my pocket, took out some real coins and smashed them at the floor in front of my shocked audience.

Again – make sure you adapt your actions to your specific audience. Toastmasters is a rhetorical laboratory. The coin prop, though, received great feedback. Remember, the benefit of doing something different in public speaking will always beat the fear of doing something wrong.

The passport – a metaphorical prop

On July 7 2010, I presented the European project The Festival. One Week, One Europe at TEDx Barcelona.

At the beginning of the speech I compare Europe with a football field. At 1:54 m I show my passport and say… Well – check it out yourself…


Whenever you plan to use visual aids in your speeches and presentations, have the following three points in mind.

Props shall always…

1) be unique,

2) support and strengthen your message,

3) have a surprise effect.

Now – do yourself a favor and read John Zimmer’s blog post for more information on the right use of props.

By the way, what were your most creative visual aids?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *