Using Props

Using Props

I think I could write a whole book about the theories and uses of props in networking presentations. I have seen so many props used so badly, but also so many props used so well. It is a fine line between genius and madness, the same fine line separates the correct and incorrect use of props.

The fundamental reason for the use of a prop is as a memory aid, something that will either trigger a response in your fellow members in a certain situation or something that is so bizarre that you mention it as an interesting part of a conversation in general, and the mention of it triggers an interest in the person the member is talking to. Your prop, when used, needs to be memorable and within your group, it needs to be unique.

Bringing a prop can deliver a far more powerful message than words alone. Imagine the motorcycle dealer who brings a fractured helmet to explain the dangers of old worn out safety equipment, or the mechanic who shows a worn engine part he replaced as part of a scheduled service for a small amount of money and then produces the broken one he repaired for many thousands of dollars, or the plumber who presents a washer, worth a few cents, that caused a house to need to be completely rebuilt when it flooded. A prop, supported by a great story is very powerful.

There are two types of prop users, those who use one prop regularly and those who change their props regularly.

The one prop users have a prop that is so fundamental to their business that its use makes it easy to visualize what they do. For example, a carpenter who brings a hammer and uses it as a gavel at the beginning and end of his talks, or a doctor who wears a lab coat to imply clinical excellence. If you have a prop like this, you should work out how to best exploit it and use it consistently.

For many years I have used a builder’s hard hat with www on the sides. Each week I put it on and start my talk with the words that 'I was in the business of not just building websites, but building strong companies'. The prop worked if I put it on, or merely had it on the table in front of me.

How do I know the prop worked? Simple, I visited a referral one day and when greeted in reception I was asked where my hard hat was. I said it was in the car, but also asked how the person knew about it. As it transpired the person I was meeting with had visited our group some 18 months previously. My hat had made an impression on her, and when the time was right she knew I was the right website designer for her.

Some industries lend themselves to either seasonal or changing props. For example, the florist who brings a different flower each week and gives it to members of the group who in turn give it to their loved ones. Or the caterer who brings in seasonal dishes to illustrate their different menus.

Similarly, auto repairers and other mechanical services can bring examples of spare parts to illustrate their message, all to great effect. Computer people tend to do this very well, when they bring the parts that we normally only hear about within our computers, and explain their role and function, and how upgrading them will increase the speed of our machines.

These props give the members something to talk about in conversation and these conversations may trigger a referral.

One of the greatest props I have seen used consistently is by a surveyor (he inspects the soundness of houses) in the UK. Mark Jennings used a fold up ladder every week as his prop. The ladder was an essential part of his daily work allowing him to get into roof spaces and down holes etc, so bringing it was no extra effort for him. Each week for two years he would climb to the top of the ladder and deliver his one minute speech. It was pure genius. By climbing the ladder he got the complete attention of the assembled meeting and ensured he was listened to. I left the Chapter to move to New Zealand, but when I returned for a visit two years later Mark was still using the ladder and it still had the effect it deserved. As I say, one of the best and most consistent uses of a prop.

Another kind of prop is the skill prop, where you use a prop to do something skillful. For example, I could not juggle but I brought some juggling balls and without practicing I delivered a one minute speech explaining how we were often called upon by customers to do things we had never done before, but because of our thirst for knowledge we always learned and delivered to the customer what they needed.

I spent the next seven days practising four of five times a day for five minutes, and a week later when I went back to the group I stood up and successfully juggled for 60 seconds (almost). I had done what I said I would do. The next week, I took along three very sharp knives and when I stood up to do my speech I adopted a stance indicating my intention to juggle them, the crowd looked on, and I started to move my first hand up and then stopped. I turned to them and told them that we are good, but we also know our limits, and did a talk about the types of people I didn’t want to deal with.

Over the years, I have used shopping baskets to talk about online shops. Suitcases to talk about travel websites. I have ripped phone books in half to talk about the rise of the search engines (you need to prepare them correctly). I have even done completely silent one minute talks, just holding up signs that the meeting read aloud.

In short you need to do what you feel you need to do. One interesting thing came out of a training session I ran once. One of the attendees (after I had told her about my antics) seemed to take exception to my ideas about doing whatever it took to get your message across. I believed she thought I was trying to tell her to be a clown. That was right for me, but not for her. I really believed I had insulted her without meaning to. Eventually the discussion moved on and for the rest of the training she was a little quiet. I thought I had really put my foot in it and delivered my message in entirely the wrong way.

At our next meeting she stood up and sang a song she had written to the tune of ‘Hey Big Spender’, which told about her services perfectly. She got a two-minute round of applause. Since then for the duration of her membership, in three out of four weeks Danielle from EmbroidMe, Hamilton, sang her one minute presentation.

By making a skill your own within your group you build your association with it in the minds of your fellow members, and every time that skill is seen or mentioned outside the meeting, they will feel the need to tell everyone around them about the singing embroiderer, or the juggling website designer.

Another important thing to remember is that once a member uses a skill or prop to illustrate their message, it is very bad judgement to copy or steal their ideas. All that will do is lower your standing in the Chapter as people will consider you nothing but a copycat.

Your meeting location will also determine your prop use. Obviously, if you meet in a hotel that has residential guests, they would not take too kindly to the tree surgeon starting their chainsaw at 7 am in the morning.

So to summarise props, do what you want, make it relevant and memorable. If you are going to claim a skill or talent and make it associated with you, you need to keep doing it. Have fun and make a lasting impression.