How to add impact to your presentation by using unusual props

December 11, 2018

and using them smoothly and seamlessly will add to the content and/or delivery of a presentation.

Here are some suggested types of props and how to use them for maximum effect. Make your presentation is one that will stay in your audience’s memory!


Use a prop that smells: Did that statement cause you to react? The sense of smell is one of the most underutilised senses when it comes to delivering giving a presentation. Whilst it is a difficult prop to use there are clever ways to integrate this into your speech.

In his 2014 world championship winning speech Dananjaya Hettiarachchi cleverly uses this sense by smelling a rose at the beginning of his speech. As most of his audience would have had the experience of smelling a flower, this serves to trick their olfactory senses into thinking they are having a similar experience.


A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth ten thousand. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic learners and the mind tends to recall things in pictures. This is one of the most effective props that can be used.

To add more layers, if your image has written words, use a slightly difficult to read font. Daniel Oppenheimer, associate professor of psychology, carried out research and found that texts written in hard to read fonts are usually remembered more than generic fonts.  You can utilise in your presentation especially if you’re using PowerPoint slides or a prop with words.

Sound effects

Vocal variety when delivering a speech breaks the monotony and keeps the interest of your audience. Using a prop that makes a sound adds even more variety to your speech and stimulates the auditory nerves to work harder to register another frequency. An unexpected noise can also elicit a physical response which involves your audience even more in your speech.

Sounds can also extend to an unseen prop that may provide background music and help to create an atmosphere for your speech. Imagine a movie trailer without music and the difference is quite startling.


Using a prop that moves or interacts with the audiencegets your audience to move their eyes, heads, or bodies consciously towards a focal point. It also focusses their attention to exactly where you want them to look.

If you can get your audience to move during your speech it provides a break from just sitting and listening and increased engagement and memorability. It’s why many speakers ask audience members to raise their hands or get up and move. Every presenter wants their audience switched on for their entire speech though we know attention span is quite limited. Therefore, getting your audience to respond or engage with your prop ensures they don’t lose focus.

Using something living

This is extremely risky and unpredictable but certainly unusual and potentially unforgettable.  An exceptional use of living things was when Bill Gates released live mosquitoes into the audience during his 2009 TED Talk. The audience were not only attentive but became emotionally connected to his speech by their fear of getting bit by a mosquito that could potentially cause malaria.  Risky but unforgettable!

Be specific

If you want to really engage with your audience and make them feel special, then use a prop that is specific to their culture, geographical location, or some shared passion. It will not only enhance your speech, but it will also help to build your credibility as a thoughtful, caring and well researched speaker. It will show your audience that you thought about them as individuals, made the effort to connect and help build trust and rapport.

You can use colours of a local football club, a song associated with your audience or a picture of a famous landmark.

Add controversy

If you are looking for immediate engagement or reaction with your audience, then select a prop that is controversial or unexpected like 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking Mohammed Qahtani, in his speech ‘The Power of Words’. The prop used was a cigarette. Smoking on stage?  The prop drew immediate attention and he cleverly diffused a potentially controversial start with humour then smoothly linked the use of his prop to the rest of his speech.

Create humour

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people is a quote by comedian Victor Gorge, and he was right. Laughter is one of the best emotions that human beings can ever experience. It relaxes the body and makes the mind more receptive.Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which make you feel good.

Laughter not only relaxes your audience, but it creates an emotional, psychological, and physical connection to the speaker. Experienced speakers will often get the audience laughing within the first thirsty seconds. Depending on your skills at delivery, a prop that results in laughter is a valuable tool to use. It could be as simple as showing an image or picking up an unexpected object.

Eliminate a sense!

John Hotowka does this very well in his signature speech which includes a bit of magic where a participant is selected, and they cannot see what is happening, but the entire audience can see what John is doing onstage. The result is total engagement and humour.

Always remember

If used correctly a prop provides the bridge between the abstract and the real world. For example, in his TEDx talk on ‘The Art of Saying No’, Kenny Nguyen  refers to the “sword of yes” and “shield of no.” and picks up a sword and shield to help demonstrate his points.  A prop should not just be an irrelevant addition to a speech or a distraction but a support. Props should blend effortlessly into the flow of your speech as they are introduced and removed.

And finally…

Remember to think about how you dress.Your attire communicates with the audience before you even utter your first word.  Think about your colours, patterns, styles, designs that may offend or endear you to your audience. It is an important prop that should never be neglected. Make a statement or play it safe.


Vinette Hoffman-Jackson is from Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit  @toastmasters

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