Manner of Speaking

When to reveal a prop in a presentation

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A few months ago, I began meditating on a daily basis. I had long heard about the different benefits that can come from practising mindfulness for just 20 minutes a day and decided to try it out. I am pleased with the results. 

Because this was going to be a new experience, I wanted a guided meditation, but I did not want whales chirping to sitar music in the background. At least not to start. After checking out a few apps, and based on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss, I decided to go for Headspace. I have not been disappointed.

Andy Puddicombe, the creator of Headspace, has a very interesting background which you can read about here. I like his simple and easy-to-understand approach to meditation and mindfulness.

While listening to Andy on the app, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had heard him somewhere before. Eventually, it dawned on me that I had seen a TED Talk that he had given. I went on the TED site and sure enough, I found it. You can watch the talk below.

There is a lot to like about this talk, but in this post, I want to focus on one thing: the juggling balls. As someone who can juggle three balls fairly decently, I appreciated the masterful way in which Andy used them to describe different aspects of mindfulness. It is not easy to give a big talk and it is not easy to juggle in front of an audience. It is incredibly challenging to do both at the same time. He pulled it off and it was effective.

What I did not like was the fact that Andy held the balls for a long time before using them. He held those three large, orange balls in his left hand for well over five minutes—more than half way through his nine-minute speech—before evening mentioning them. I found it distracting and kept wondering when he was going to start juggling. The fact that everyone could see the balls also killed the element of surprise. Indeed, at 5:39, as he gets ready to juggle, Andy says, “And that’s what these [balls] are for, in case you’ve been wondering …”.

An audience should not have to wonder. A prop should be a support, not a distraction. Instead of holding the balls for the entire speech, Andy could have set them off to the side on a small table under a black cover. Alternatively, he could have had someone hand them to him at the appropriate moment. Either way, he would have freed both hands for the first part of the speech and capitalized on the element of surprise when the balls were finally revealed.

When you use a prop in a speech or presentation, try to keep it out of view until you need it. Of course, depending on the size, shape or weight of the object, this might not be possible; however, where possible, you should do it.

For more on props, here is a post on how props help a presentation, and here is a post with ten tips for using props in a presentation.

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