We have a saying in magic: “Props are your enemy”. I first heard it from the American magician Rich Bloch, who explained that it’s a bit like Murphy’s Law – ‘if it can go wrong it will go wrong’; and with magic props there is often an awful lot that can potentially wrong. Madonna’s tumble at the Brits was much more that a simple, embarrassing ‘wardrobe malfunction’; it was a full-on case of a prop biting back and threatening the whole performance. Like the best magicians, Madonna hardly let it affect her, carrying on like the true, hardened professional that she is, but how much planning went into managing the props?
I encourage business people to deploy props in their presentations – anything to break the screen-induced trance. And if you have the actual item to hand why not get it out rather than just project an image! My encouragement comes, however, with the stern warning that ‘props are your enemy’ and you may live to regret using one. Among the questions I ask are: How are you going to get in on stage? How are you going to unveil it smoothly; Will it need support? Can you be sure it will work properly? How are you then going to get rid of it to avoid it becoming an on-going distraction?
I had exactly this situation recently when coaching a packaging executive who was announcing a particular product going into his packaging for the first time. He had the first samples with him and was keen to open one on stage as the climax of his presentation. “OK” I said, with my usual provisos, “but we must rehearse that carefully because, with all due respect to your packaging, it’s not the easiest to open. And it will be even less easy without a solid surface, on stage, under the spotlights, in front of hundreds of people”. Sure enough, in rehearsal he fumbled in a way that would have be awkward in front of his colleagues.Then, when he emptied the contents, it was the wrong product. Potentially super-awkward!
So, for the actual show, we made small but definite slits in the packaging and also had peek to check that it contained what the labelling said it did. It all went perfectly and he received rousing applause – because we had approached the situation knowing that props – potentially at least – are your enemy. Madonna is clever enough to turn her tumble to her advantage in the long run, but I bet she still wishes she had planned that cape removal a little more carefully.