Make Your Ideas Concrete by Using a Prop in Your PowerPoint

There are times when using a screen during a presentation can actually work against you.

Yes, I know that sounds like BBP heresy, but it’s true.

There’s no doubt that using multimedia can dramatically increase the ability of your audience to learn new information.

But using a screen also can have a downside.

When you project a 10-foot image on the screen it commands attention. The tradeoff is that when you keep your audience persistently focused on the screen, you miss the potential for even higher impact communication that you can only achieve through human interaction.

You can keep it real, and break the media trance, by integrating a physical prop into your presentation. I’m not talking about just holding up a book or another object at some point in the presentation, although that’s always an effective technique. I’m talking about seamlessly fusing the physical with the virtual in a way that is only possible when you use a screen in an in-person experience.

For example, I recently I worked with BBP Online member Mike to transform his presentation on “How to Increase Topline Revenue.” This presentation was the first hour introduction to a 2-day seminar where Mike teaches businesspeople how to increase revenue when times are tough.

Here’s a sample “before” slide with its conventional bullet points:

As Mike and I worked on his story template together, we discussed how he teaches his topic, and it emerged that he takes participants through a series of questions in a specific order that helps them analyze their business. It would become tedious to an audience to go through a list of questions, one after another, and difficult to keep track of the big picture of what the questions mean.

So we ended up placing the specific questions in the Detail column, then created groupings of questions in the Explanation column; and then ultimately three main groupings of questions in the Key Point column. Here’s how things looked in a snapshot of the story template:

What this allowed us to do was to consider how we could make the questions more engaging, because no one would be able to remember an hour’s worth of questions. We decided that we would get real index cards, and then print each question on a card and then hand out the deck of cards to the audience at some point during the presentation.

With the index card plan in mind, we imported the story template into the PowerPoint storyboard, then we sketched the index cards into the design of the slides in the lower right-hand corner so we would also have them in the virtual world of the screen:

Next, we in PowerPoint 2007 we built a custom layout on a slide master, including a stock photo of an index card, and the Title placeholder resting over the index card, as in this Detail slide layout (you can also do something similar in other versions of PowerPoint):

After we applied the slide master to this Detail slide, we added a graphic to the formatted slide to tell the story – here with a stock photo of customers representing market segments, and a duplicated stock photo of a $100 bill to represent potential market:

(This is an example of one Detail slide – we also placed index cards on the Key Point and Explanation slide custom layouts as well.)

With this approach, the “index card” motif ran across the slides on screen to tell a visually unified and coherent story, to explain abstract concepts and to illustrate each point in each part of the story. By extending the virtual motif into real index cards in the audience’s hands, the abstract ideas became a bit more concrete, and helped the knowledge sink in that much more deeply.

As Mike teaches the methodology during his presentation, the blend of the virtual and the real will help his audience to more effectively learn the concepts, and in practice they will walk away with a physical stack of cards to help them apply the ideas to their specific situations.

This is just one example of how to fully integrate a prop into a single presentation. If you have any more ideas on how you could apply this to other presentation topics, add your comments below!

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8 Responses to “Make Your Ideas Concrete by Using a Prop in Your PowerPoint”

  1. I love this idea. I’m giving a talk on preparation/performance rituals next month and I’ve been thinking of giving everyone a votive candle as a little gift to take home. I think an image of a short pillar candle on the screen could be used like the index card in strategic places. I’ll have to try it out and see how it looks.

  2. Cliff Atkinson says:

    Sounds like a great idea, Lisa! You could also use 3 votives on a front table that represent the 3 parts of preparation, and light each one at each Key Point. Or, place the 3 votives in 3 corners of the room to physical shift your audience’s attention to each point, and light them there. Or even use 2 (or even 3) screens, with one showing a flickering votive, and the other showing your PowerPoint. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Hi Cliff, great blog you have here. I like your book a lot, although I’ve given you some flak on occasions for the actual layout/presentation of the thing – sorry! The new edition seems to fix everything and checking your blog I can see that you really deserve the hero-of-the-bulletpoint-wars-status(tm).

    I enjoyed this post a lot, but I am among those who actually find that slides quite often can hurt the presentation, even when done well. The problem I find is the use of text. Even short snappy sentences draws the attention and when they’re displayed for a certain amount of time people will easily miss some of the points in the oral presentation. The right visuals will of course always help, but I also find that actually fading the screen to black/white on occasions to make sure the focus is on the speaker is a great way emphasize some points.

    Anyway keep up the good work, the war is not over yet.

  4. Cliff Atkinson says:

    Thanks Benjamin! I appreciate your kind words. In the second edition of the book that came out in October, I expand on a range of options besides using headlines and graphics, including: blanking out the screen as you suggest, using a physical prop, hiding the headline so there is only a graphic, switching to other applications, etc. There are endless creative things you can do, once the bullets stop flying and the war has been won!

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  6. I really like this post. Thank you! As a speech coach I am a big fan of using a prop. One amazing example of this is the Folsom Prison Scene from Walk the Line. Joaquin Pheonix brilliantly uses a glass of yellow water as a prop. I actually just blogged about in my speaking advice blog,

    http://sarahgershman.blogspot.com/2010/01/joaquin-pheonix-shows-us-how-to-use.html.

    I welcome your feedback!
    Thanks,
    Sarah

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  8. Kory Swarn says:

    My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web page and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to finding out about your web page repeatedly.

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