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How might Carrot Top, world-renowned prop comic and Vegas resident, fare as a  learning and development professional? Would the zany onslaught of chips, dips, chains, and whips (figuratively speaking) contribute to the learning objectives or distract from the seriousness of the session?  The immediate response is, “It depends. I’d always keep it professional.” While that’s true, let’s explore the boundaries of props in a professional presentation. I don’t mean flipcharts and whiteboards. I’m talking about toys, costumes, canned goods, and the occasional water balloon. In regards to props, do we take ourselves to seriously?

Learning Aids

Props are basically another learning aid used to help our audiences absorb session goals. Serious props,(charts, etc.) have been welcome in our classes forever. Sometimes it’s a simple stress ball to combat nervousness or a small box of crayons to stimulate creativity. A well-utilized prop requires an understanding of the audience, alignment with the learning objectives, and a willingness to take risks. For example, I litter my in-person session workbooks with crossword puzzles, sudokus, word searches or memory games related to the session content.  I’ll include a message in fine print, “Turn this in after the session. All correct submissions are entered into a $20 gift card raffle.” This works great when attendees are on break, slightly ahead of the class presentation or in groups as a conversation piece during a breakout. These are generally safe props to use and easy to implement. Prop Silliness Risk = “Low”

“Dang, man. How much did you pay for that shirt?” asked an attendee, holding back laughter.

Clothing Optional

Before a “Price vs. Value” sales session, I ripped a white dress shirt to shreds on the back and arms. I covered it with my jacket and tie and proceeded to conduct the training. I started by telling attendees that I had spilled coffee on my shirt earlier that day and had to buy a cheap one at the pharmacy on the way to work. As we began to discuss the application of the session goals, I took off my jacket.

“Dang, man. How much did you pay for that shirt?” asked an attendee, holding back laughter.

The prop was effective at kicking off the learning objectives in an unexpected, yet appropriate manner. Since I’m the kind of person who loves cake, the visual was striking. This kind of prop, a “shock prop” if you will, was useful only because it adhered to the principles outlined above. The alignment was obvious and the sales people involved were outgoing. Prop Silliness Risk = “Medium”

Getting Personal

Bama Jenga
Saban approved construction.

If there’s enough planning time, a personal prop that speaks directly to session participants has several benefits. For example, if the room is split between Auburn and Alabama, the playing cards, stress toys and Jenga game will reflect that rivalry. Each of the aforementioned props has the potential to advance learning goals. Playing cards can facilitate several concepts like odds and probability. Jenga can support team building. The only limit is creativity and a willingness to have a good time. Prop Silliness Risk = “Medium-High”

Household Items

No prop budget? No problem. There are fantastic props lying around the house. Use your Rubiks cube to illustrate problem-solving. Break out your old shoe boxes to demonstrate time management skills. Borrow the Nerf football to practice objection handling responses. Take some duct tape, a screwdriver, multi-colored marbles and a copy of Kenny Loggins Greatest Hits to…. you get the idea. Each of the items listed here was a successful prop during a workshop. Inspiration, as always, is where we find it.

Props are used in the most serious of presentations, delivered to the most discerning of audiences. Think about how you can bring the silly, when appropriate. While all might not work as intended, I prefer to live in a world where presenters take the risk. What are some of your best “fun” props? How did the audience react? Leave a comment below and be entered in our monthly giveaway.

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