Your Friend the Lectern

The lectern is your friend if used correctly.

However, there is one major question; should you use a podium or not?

In most cases, the best choice is not to use the lectern as it creates a physical and psychological barrier between you and your audience. If you want to motivate and inspire, it is best not to use a stand, as you can engage with your audience more effectively without
the barrier.

The lectern is your friend when you need to project power and show authority. For example, presidents and prime ministers often choose to stand behind one. Executives tend to use a lectern on occasions where data needs to be shared or when delivering bad news.

The use of a stand is appropriate when you need to rely on notes to deliver a eulogy or to read a provided text. A podium also comes in handy for your notes in situations when you have not had sufficient practice, and you need to read the speech. Additionally, there are times when the stakes are very high and every word matters. In such circumstances, having a place to rest your notes, is reassuring.

Technology set-ups, visual displays and camera videoing may also limit your movement and dictate how you use the podium.

The following are tips on the effective use of a stand.

Prior to the presentation

If possible, arrive early to the venue, and check the position and height of the podium. Test a part of your speech before the audience is seated.

If the lectern is moveable, move it to a position that suits your needs. Do not forget to consider the lighting, and make sure that you and the lectern are not in the line of projected slides or images.

If it is possible, adjust the height of the lectern, even if you are a follow-on speaker, your audience will wait.

If you are short relative to the height of the lectern, consider using a hidden stool, stand at the side, or avoid the podium altogether. Facial and eye contact are very important, so, ensure the stand does impede your connection with the audience.

Positioning your hands

Before using a lectern decide on your default hand position, that is, the place you are going to put your hands when you are not gesturing. You can loosely and comfortably rest your hands on the podium when you are referring to notes to enables you to turn or slide your pages from one side to another quickly. Alternately, you can place your hands together in a comfortable resting position, and stand about 30 centimetres behind the lectern if you are speaking without notes, but using an attached microphone.

Do not lean on or rest your elbows on the stand, nor, tightly grip the front or sides of the podium, as these gestures do not present you as a professional or confident speaker.

Use of notes

When using notes, use a large font with text only on the upper half or third of A4 pages, this makes eye contact easier, enhances voice projection, and reduces the need for you to look down at the bottom of the page.

Avoid using ALL CAPS as this is much more difficult to read. Also, number the pages in case the pages drop on the floor at any time.

To minimise movement and distraction slide the pages across the lectern rather than flip them.

If possible, it is best to move away from the lectern when you want to motivate and inspire. However, standing back from the podium is not always possible if the microphone is fixed to the stand. Your requirement for notes, the formality of the occasion and the technology will also determine your move away from the lectern or otherwise.