Eighteen years ago, I had the opportunity to present 10 minutes of my best material in front of a world- renowned speaking coach and get his feedback. I used props of my own invention and shared a very funny, well-told story with a clear message. I nailed it.
The coach first reminded everyone that he came from a theater
background (as did I). Then, he said, “Tim, you have talent, but if
you ever want to be a successful keynoter you need to dump the
props.” In the stunned silence that followed, he added, “In theater,
if the words are strong enough, the actors don’t even need clothing.”
I was just trying to get over that image when I blurted out,
“Strong words? So, you mean like Shakespeare?”
He answered hesitantly, “Yes, like Shakespeare.”
I continued with, “In Hamlet, do you remember Yorick? The dead
court jester? In Act 5, Scene 1, a gravedigger exhumed his skull. Later
in the play, it’s the sight of Yorick’s skull that sparks the famous
monologue from Hamlet on mortality when he examines the
skull and says: “‘Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow
of infinite jest …’”
He nodded, “I know the play.”
I then asked, “Do you think it works better with
the skull or without the skull?”
He retorted, “You don’t need the skull.”
I reiterated my point. “No, the question is: Which
works better, with the skull or without the skull?”
He never answered. He just moved on to the
I kept the props and my public speaking career
TO PROP OR NOT TO PROP?
A prop is anything that reinforces an audience’s ability
to visualize, accept, or understand an idea or concept
during your program. For me, anything can be a prop,
my clothing, my face … even my luggage.
An effective prop must pass this four-question test:
¢ Does the prop and how I use it add value or clarity?
If not, it diminishes or distracts.
¢ Will 100 percent of my audience be able to see it?
¢ Will the majority of the audience understand it?
¢ Is there any possibility it will offend someone?
Let’s go back to Hamlet. Does the play work better
with or without the skull? It is Hamlet seeing, touching, and interacting with the prop that prompts his
famous discussion of mortality: “To be or not to be?”
CREATE A RICHER, DEEPER
WITH THE RIGHT PROPS
PROP? NOT TO