When it comes to standing up in front of a room and speaking, there are certain things that can be extremely useful to any speaker, but one poor aid seems to get very little love. People are so confused by this particular piece of furniture that 99% of them can’t even pronounce its name correctly. I’m talking about the lectern.
For some time, arguments have been made for, and against, the use of lecterns. The key argument against the lectern is that nervous presenters have a tendency to hold onto them. This not only eliminates mobility, but it also impacts the speaker’s ability to gesture freely. Without question, that is a habit you need to avoid. When you look at the advantages of using a lectern, however, you will find that this problem seems somewhat trivial.
The lectern’s most important advantage is that, with a wireless lavalier microphone, it actually allows you more mobility. Let’s begin with the assumption that you need to look at your notes when you speak, or at least have some sort of guide to help you. With a lectern, you can actually get comfortable strolling back and forth across a stage knowing that you can work your way back to the lectern when you need to glance at your notes.
The key here is glance. A lectern is typically taller than a desk or table, so it allows you to peek at your notes in a subtle way. That ability to sneak a little peek makes the lectern worth its weight in gold. It gives you the confidence to leave your notes, knowing that help is only a few steps away. If the material is located on a desk, and unless you have super vision, you will probably have to bend over to take a look. Through my thirty plus years as a professional speaker, and the many, many subtle sideway glances I’ve made as I have strolled by the lectern, I have developed my own version of a super vision. I’m not sure how great my normal vision is looking straight ahead, but I can truly read my notes better when they are raised and to the side of me than straight ahead of me!
The lectern gives you another advantage; you have the ability to conceal strategic materials from the audience. If you have an object you’d like to conceal, or if you are planning a competition with some prizes, the lectern provides a great place to store those little surprises. There are many things you may want to store in the lectern; a clock, your laptop, your remote, a bottle of water, Post-It reminders, or almost anything else you can name. Those objects can often fit on top of, or inside, a lectern. As a matter of fact, I can usually learn all I need to know about a presenter by what he or she has put inside the lectern.
There is one last point that I would like to clear up: People often confuse the words “podium” and “lectern.” Ninety-nine percent of the people you meet will call the thing that a presenter stands behind… a podium. For the record, Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a podium in this way:
A low platform, esp. for the conductor of an orchestra.
Although presenters can perform many exciting tasks in a presentation, I’ve not heard of someone who has conducted an orchestra! A lectern is defined this way:
A tall stand with a sloping top to hold notes, a book, or a written speech, etc., as of a lecturer.
Used properly, a lectern can be one of the most helpful presenting tools available to a speaker. You can even purchase portable lecterns that fold up and can be carried like a briefcase. So when it comes to using a lectern, my recommendation is this: Don’t leave home without it. Regarding the habit of holding onto the lectern, just leave yourself a note on the lectern that says something like this: “Hands off and move!” That should do the trick!
If you are interested in more tips like these, there is a list of over 60 tricks of the trade and creative ideas on how to improve your speaking skills in the newest edition of How to Run Seminars & Workshops. The book was launched this past weekend, so you can order the book now. Once you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think!