The Power of Show and Tell:  3 Ways to use Props in your Sales Presentation or Pitch


Show and tell

For many of us, bringing a pet, a favorite toy or even person to school for show and tell was our earliest experience using a prop.  Why didn’t the teacher just have us tell a story?  Because teachers know that a verbal story alone is not enough to hold the attention of a room full of children. While your prospects are likely a bit older, show and tell is still one of the most powerful ways to gain an audience’s attention and improve recall.

According to Toastmasters, listeners only retain 10% of what they’ve heard one week later.  This percentage increases to 67% when visual aids are added to the equation.

I’ve seen a lot of presenters use props, some successful, and some…not so much.  Using a prop simply to grab attention at any cost is a cheap trick that often backfires in a presenter’s face.  Like anything in a presentation or pitch, a prop must serve a purpose.

Show and Tell:  3 ways to use Props in your sales pitch or presentation

  1. Emphasize key points

Props are great at underscoring important points.  Most presentations are delivered entirely on PowerPoint.  While you might spend a little more time on one slide, it still garners roughly the same attention as the rest.  To make a point truly stand out from the rest, think “outside the slide.”

In one of my workshops a seller wanted to make the point that resting on past success as a company was dangerous. We worked on a quick story and prop combo.  He started off by recalling the quick decline of Kodak’s stock.  “At it’s peak,”  he said,  “the company’s stock was worth ninety dollars a share.”  After a dramatic pause, he then pulled a nickel out of his pocket and showed it to the audience.  “This,” he said, “is what Kodak’s stock is worth now.” A simple prop that cost him – I’m guessing a nickel – highlighted a key point in a simple yet memorable way.

  1. Simplify complex information

Like a good analogy, the right prop can quickly convey a complex concept that might otherwise take many slides or graphs to explain.  In the movie The Big Short, Ryan Gosling gives a great “grown-up” example of show and tell.  He plays a spray tanned investment banker who uses a game of Jenga to demonstrate the volatility of the mortgage bond market.  There’s a real “aha” moment when he pulls out the fateful block that causes the whole structure to collapse.  A complex subject previously understood by financial experts only is suddenly grasped by a much wider audience in a matter of minutes.

See the Big Short Jenga clip here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hG4X5iTK8M

Consider what you could use in your presentation to visually demonstrate your message to your prospect.  Perhaps you have a product or solution that replaces the need for numerous other products.  Holding up a similar item, like a smartphone or swiss army watch quickly and memorably illustrates how a single device folds multiple functions into one convenient package.

  1. Refresh attention

No matter how compelling your subject, your audience’s attention will start to wane throughout your presentation or pitch.  By using a new prop at strategic times, you can keep your audience’s attention high and keep them from tuning out and missing an important point.

To refresh attention, a prop can be as simple as moving from PowerPoint to another medium, like a whiteboard, or video.  A new focal point is a welcome and refreshing change for your audience, especially if they’ve been staring at slide after slide of content. Here are some other ideas to get you thinking about what might make a good prop for your pitch:

Effective sales props
: iPad/tablet, white board, flip chart, video, book, photo, audio recording, product models or samples, handouts.  Don’t be limited by convention.  Consider the message or theme of your presentation, the prospect’s industry or interests.  These may open the door to creative prop choices.

Although some props are entertaining or visually stunning, props for props sake run the risk of alienating your audience.  They can also make them wonder why you are trying so hard to distract them! Make sure your prop is  relevant and your audience doesn’t have to work too hard to make the connection.

Get more tips on how to use props here. 

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