Have you ever thought about using a “prop” to add a little pizazz to your panel discussion?

I have, ever since I saw Sally Hogshead drag out a bottle of Jagermeister on to the stage at NSA’s Influence ’11, (which you can view below about 7 minutes in).

The panel topic was about branding, riffing off the TV Show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  But this time, it was “Real Time with Scott McKain” along with Brendon Burchard, Bill Bacharach, and Sally Hogshead.

Sally was telling a story about how brands can be fascinating, using Jagermeister as an example.  Rather than just tell us, she showed us the bottle!  And then, true to fascination form, Sally pulled out four shot glasses and challenged the panel to take a shot!  What a hoot!

Do you think she got our attention?  Yep!  Did she make her point?  You bet!  Am I still talking about it five years later?  Check!

Afterward, I asked Sally about the decision to do this and if she gave anyone a heads up.  Her answer?

“I didn’t tell anyone in advance, because I wanted it to be a surprise for the panel and the audience. But I did get the okay from Scott McCain while we were backstage, just to make sure I wasn’t stepping on any toes.”

So what is a prop?

The term is actually derived from the theatrical term “property” and is any object handled or used by an actor in a performance. Simply put, props bring your words to life. You can use props to strengthen your audience’s ability to visualize, understand, accept, and remember an idea, concept, or theme during the panel discussion.

There are several different kinds of props you can use:

  • Enhancers. Remember show-and-tell from grade school? Enhancers add life and energy to what you are describing in your presentations. This is the kind of prop Sally used.
  • Theatricals. Actors use props to help the audience believe and follow what they are saying. You can too. For example, you can hold up the magazine you are quoting from.  (BTW, if you’d like to quote yourself from the book you want to promote – DON’T DO IT!)
  • Metaphors. Metaphorical props are used to make or reinforce your point. For example, show a Slinky to illustrate the need for flexibility or a telescoping spy-glass to show how the family of strategic, business, and operational plans all need to be integrated with each other.
  • Models. A model is a representation (usually smaller) of an object, person, or concept. Although you cannot bring a Caterpillar bulldozer into the room, you can certainly bring a toy model bulldozer with you. Doctors often point to an organ model as they explain a physiological occurrence.

How do you use a prop? Easy!

  • Keep the prop hidden until you are ready to use it – unless you want to keep it onstage to arouse the audience’s curiosity.
  • Ask the audience to agree with you on something.
  • Get them to nod.
  • Introduce the prop to the audience. Hold it in front of you; hold it high and hold it steady. Move it slowly so it can be seen from all parts of the room. Do not talk to the prop! Talk to the audience.
  • Don’t hesitate to share the prop with your fellow panelists – or even with the audience (if it’s not too fragile or valuable)!
  • Put it away or out of sight when you’re done. Resist the temptation to pass it around, because the handoff from person to person and each person’s close inspection will be very distracting.

Next time you are invited to be a panelist, think about how a prop might contribute to the conversation!

For quick tips and techniques from industry professionals to help you moderate a lively and informative panel discussion at your next meeting, conference or convention, visit the Powerful Panels YouTube playlist, “Powerful Panel Discussion Tips.”

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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator shares her best practices for interactive, interesting, and engaging panel presentations. For more resources like this, or to have Kristin moderate your next panel visit the Powerful Panels official website.