Saturday, February 14, 2015

Battle of the Titans - Drop the Prop?

This is the first of what I hope will become an ongoing series: Battle of the Titans! In this series, I hope to compare and contrast speaking advice given by two giants in the field of public speaking to see the nuances that you don't get from either alone.

Our question today:
Drop the Prop?
  • Our first Titan is Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking. In his free three-part presentation on public speaking (you have to sign up for his newsletter to download it), Ryan gives the advice "Drop the Prop." Namely, you should not use props, and for two reasons. First, because they can be distracting. If you bring out a basketball, what will people be looking at the rest of the time? The basketball! Anything that distracts your audience from looking at you is Bad. (For the same reason, Darren Lacroix, 2001 World Champion, says the key to presentation slides is the "B" or "blank" key on your clicker; you want people looking at you, and not the screen.) Secondly, by not showing the prop, people can personalize it in their own minds. He gives the example of people wanting him to bring bunny slippers as a prop, but then demonstrates that the color was not what most people would have guessed. He didn't want them thinking things like "wow, that's an odd color" or "I always think of bunny slippers as being red." So, one of Ryan's rhyming points is "Drop the Prop."
  • Our second Titan is Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking. In his excellent Edge of their Seats Storytelling course, Craig suggests sometimes using a prop such as a statue to give a lesson. One reason is that, when people see the prop years later, they may think back to the lesson you gave. It can also cement that lesson into the listeners' minds.
So, do we have a conflict between the Titans? I don't think so, and here's why.
  • I suspect that any kind of prop Craig would recommend bringing up would be small, not brought out until you needed it, and put away and hidden afterward.
  • Craig's prop example (statue) was for a particular purpose in the story. It was to cement the story's lesson into the listener's mind, to serve as a reminder years later.
  • Ryan's prop examples (basketball, bunny slippers) were more or less for the purpose of entertainment. The bunny slipper suggestion, for example, was from somebody saying that putting bunny slippers around the stage would help the audience picture his mom better. But do you really need a pair of bunny slippers to picture somebody's mom?
The difference, I suggest, is not in actual advice. Craig is saying use a prop if it has a real, organic purpose in your story and will make a difference in the audience's lives. Ryan is saying don't use a prop for cosmetic, entertainment, or pure stagecraft purposes.