In the context of public speaking, a prop is any concrete object used by a speaker in the delivery of a speech or presentation. The main purpose is always to add value, clarity or emphasis to a point or an idea in a presentation or speech. 

If used correctly a prop provides the bridge between the abstract and the real world. For example, in his TEDx talk on 'The Art of Saying No' Kenny Nguyen does this very effectively. He refers to the "sword of yes" and "shield of no." and picks up a sword and shield to help demonstrate his points. A prop should not just be an irrelevant addition to a speech or a distraction but support the content and/or delivery.  They should blend effortlessly into the flow of your speech as they are introduced.

The ending is also important; what happens to your prop after it has been used and has served its purpose? Ideally it should be seamlessly removed from the stage or hidden away to avoid possible distractions as you continue your speech - unless its visibility adds value.

Here are some suggestions when it comes to the use of props that will help you to use them more effectively to enhance your presentation or speech. 

1.     Imagery: A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth ten thousand. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic learners and the mind tends to recall things in pictures.  This is one of the simplest and most effective props that can be used.

To add even more layers, if your picture involves written words, try using a slightly difficult to read font.  Daniel Oppenheimer is an associate professor of psychology who carried out research and found that texts written in hard to read fonts are usually remembered more than generic fonts. You can utilise this fact as part of your presentation especially if you're using PowerPoint slides or a prop with words.

2.     Clothing: One of the best, unusual and most effective prop you can employ is the clothes you wear when delivering your speech.  Your attire communicates with the audience before you even utter your first word. Choose clothing that is comfortable and facilitates easy movement. Don't limit yourself to rehearsed movements as there may be unplanned movement during your speech. Think about your colours, patterns, styles, designs that may offend or endear you to your audience. It is an important prop that should never be neglected.  Make a statement or make it play safe.

3.     Smells. Use a prop that smells: Did that statement cause you to react? The olfactory sense is one of the most underutilised senses when it comes to delivering a speech or giving a presentation. Whilst it is a difficult prop to use there are clever ways to integrate this into your speech. In his 2014 world championship winning speech Dananjaya Hettiarachchi cleverly uses the sense of smell by smelling a rose at the beginning of his speech.  As most of his audience would have had the experience of smelling a flower, this serves to trick their olfactory senses into thinking they are having a similar experience.

4.     Sounds. Vocal variety when delivering a speech breaks the monotony and keeps the interest of your audience. Using a prop that make a sound adds even more variety to your speech and stimulates the auditory nerves to work harder to register another frequency.  An unexpected noise can also elicit a physical response which involves your audience even more in your speech. Presiyan Vasilev in his 2013 winning world championship speech ‘Changed by a tyre' used his voice to create a noise made by a broken jack. Whilst changing the tonality of your voice does not exactly qualify as a prop this speech shows how it adds value.Try making a sudden or unexpected noise and observe the reactions of others.  Sounds can also extend to an unseen prop that may provide background music and help to create an atmosphere for your speech. Imagine a movie trailer without music and the difference is quite startling. Now practise your speech with an appropriate background music track and experience the difference music can make. Once you gain confidence and experience you can even try changing the tempo to reflect distinct parts of your speech.

5.   Movement and Interaction. Using a prop that moves or interacts with the audience has the same effect as laser lights to cats. It gets your audience to move their eyes, heads, or bodies consciously towards a focal point.  It also focusses their attention to exactly where you want them to look. Getting your audience to move during your speech provides a break from just sitting and listening - this engages the audience and make your speech more likely to be remembered. It is why most speakers ask audience members to raise their hands or get up and move around a bit. Every presenter wants their audience switched on for their entire speech which can be quite difficult because the human attention span is quite limited.  Our minds tend to wander at the best of times. Therefore, getting your audience to respond or engage with your prop ensures they don't lose focus.

6.   Living things: This is extremely risky and unpredictable but certainly unusual and potentially unforgettable.  The best use of living things in a speech was by Bill Gates in his TED talk in 2009, Mosquitoes, Malaria and Education where he released live mosquitoes into the audience during his talk. This one prop made it into all three categories of the best, the unusual and the most effective prop. The audience were not only attentive but became emotionally connected to his speech by their fear of getting bit by a mosquito that could potentially cause malaria. Risky but unforgettable!

7.   Eliminate a sense! 

John Hotowka does this very well in his signature speech which includes a bit of magic where a participant is selected, and they cannot see what is happening, but the entire audience can see what John is doing onstage. The result is total engagement and humour.

8.   Be specific:

Maya Angelou, the American poet once said, ‘People may forget what you say, people may forget what you do but they will never forget how you made them feel'.  

If you want to really engage with your audience and make them feel special, then use a prop that is specific to their culture, geographical location, or some shared passion. It will not only enhance your speech, but it will also help to build your credibility as a thoughtful, caring and well researched speaker. It will show your audience that you thought about them as individuals, made the effort to connect and help build trust and rapport.

You can use colours of a local football club, a song associated with your audience or a picture of a famous landmark.

9.    Create humour: Laughter is the shortest distance between two people is a quote by Victor Gorge, comedian, and he was right.  Laughter is one of the best emotions that human beings can ever experience. It relaxes the body and makes the mind more receptiveLaughter triggers the release of endorphins, which make you feel good.

Laughter not only relaxes your audience, but it creates an emotional, psychological, and physical connection to the speaker. Most experienced speakers will usually get the audience to laugh within the first thirsty seconds on stage. Depending on your skills at delivery, a prop that results in laughter is a valuable tool to use in your speech. It could be as simple as putting on a hat or showing a slide.

10. Controversial or unexpected: If you are looking for immediate engagement or reaction with your audience, then select a prop that is controversial and unexpected like 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking, Mohammed Qahtani, in his speech 'The Power of Words'. The prop used was a cigarette. Smoking on stage? The prop drew immediate attention and he cleverly diffused a potentially controversial start with humour, then smoothly linked the use of his prop to the rest of his speech.

The list of props and ideas presented here are by no exhaustive, but it provides a good starting point when you decide to integrate props into your presentation or use them in a speech.

Vinette Hoffman-Jackson is from Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924.