How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
'Props' is short for 'properties', which are the physical things used on stage in drama productions, from telephones to chairs. They are thus the 'property of the drama company'.
Story props can be anything from handy items such as balls and books to pictures and pieces of clothing.
Props can be actual things being told of in the story, or can by symbols, physical metaphors used to indicate something else
If you are talking about a knife being used in the jungle or as a deadly weapon, you can pull one out and say 'just like this'. Real actions thus create a visceral quality, making the story immediate and hammering home an important action.
You could also use the knife symbolically, for example if you wanted to talk about separation of a father and son, you could solemnly cut the air with the knife. Likewise, you could take a picture of the father and son and rip it down between them.
Note how props can be used to enact physical actions in the story. Thus the knife can stab, cut, slash and so on, either recreating physical acts or symbolizing change.
Props, when well-used, can have a powerful impact on what you are saying. However, they are 'silver bullets' in that you can only use them once, so you should think carefully and use them at the right moment.
Pop music uses a technique called the 'hook', which is a particularly memorable sequence and which drags listeners into the music. Props can do the same for storytelling. Used well, the prop acts to ignite the imagination of the listener, bringing a sense of concrete reality into the fantasy.
In storytelling and persuasive situations, you can use props to enliven and give at least some physical substance to your stories, where they effectively can become a 'physical metaphor' that is used to symbolize something important.
Ziglar (1982) tells a story about a colleague who used to take a marble, a baseball and a beach ball on sales visits. He would give the marble to the customer and ask them to put it in their pocket and then tell how easy it would be to forget. He would then do the same with the baseball and tell how it would be difficult to forget such a heavy item. He would then blow up the beachball (whilst the customer looked on, intrigued) and show how this could not be held in the pocket.
Then, making the metaphorical leap, he would declare this to be the same as a financial policy. If bought early, it would be like the marble, quickly forgotten and easy to carry for the rest of one's life. Bought later, it would be heavier and always noticeable, but at least it still could be carried, unlike the beachball, whose unpocketability was analogous to buying a policy too late in life.
Zig Ziglar (1982). Secrets of closing the sale, Berkeley Books, NY