Presentation and Public Speaking Terms to Know

Every industry has jargon (words, phrases, or expressions used by a profession, industry, or group specific to itself; terms which can be difficult for others not familiar with the group to understand), including the presentation world. Instead of giving you a school-like list of definitions from the dictionary that you’d find in a high school public speaking class or speech & debate club, I wanted to define commonly misunderstood presentation and public speaking terms you should know as a speaker.
For this list, I will be brief to give you a basic understanding of each term. I’ve added links to blog posts I’ve written about that topic to give you a deeper knowledge.

Presentation & Public Speaking Terms to Know

  • Lectern – Technically, a lectern is a skinny desk or stand with a slanted top that a speaker stands behind, commonly used when reading. Many people use it synonymously with a podium, which is actually incorrect because the podium is a raised platform that a speaker stands on during the presentation. A lectern would sit on the podium. A podium has more in common with a stage than a lectern.
  • Lavaliere [Microphone] – A small microphone attached to a speaker’s clothes, otherwise known as a “collar mic” since it is generally worn on a suit or shirt collar. [Learn more – How to use a Lavaliere Microphone]
  • Keynote Presentation – Technically, a keynote address is “a policy, speech, or idea is the main theme of it or the part of it that is emphasized the most.” However, most people consider a keynote the main presentation to the entire conference (opposed to smaller breakout sessions). A keynote presentation is generally on a podium or stage with screens flanking it and it is given to large audiences. Keynote speakers are held in high regard because they usually present often as a highly regarded person and many keynote speakers are professional speakers that do 100-250 paid presentations a year around a central theme (usually related to their book).
  • Reference Monitor / Index Monitor – A small screen viewable only to the presenter[s] to use as a reference to which slide is appearing on the screen and sometimes which slide is next. The term comes from giving the speaker a “point of reference” to where they are in the presentation and to prevent them from turning around to look at the screen to see where they are at or to confirm the slide changed when they clicked the remote. For keynote presentations, the monitors are usually small TV screens on the floor or at the front of the podium. When to presenting to smaller audiences, most speakers use a laptop screen on a lectern as their reference monitor. [Learn more – Why I Use Presentation Remotes]
  • Visual Aid – Although many people generally think a visual aid automatically means a PowerPoint slide deck, that is just one type of visual aid. Any visual reference to aid the presenter in communicating his or her message such as a poster, graph, demonstration, charts, video clips, and even a slide deck such as PowerPoint, Keynote (Apple’s equivalent to PowerPoint), and Prezi can be a visual aid. [Learn more – Do I use a visual aid or not?]
  • Prop – A prop is similar to a visual aid and the use is the same, but a prop is usually an object instead of a communication device such as a replica model or musical instrument. When I worked at the zoo, my props were the animals I presented with and spoke about to the general public like the hawk, snake, and opossum. [Learn more – Props to your Presentation Props.]
  • Thesis – Like an essay, a presentation needs a central theme or main point that is the backbone of the message. Many times the thesis is in the title, but that is not required.
  • Call to Action – A suggested action you want the audience to take such as to give the speaker a business card, sign up for a program, or purchase something. [Learn more – Presentation Calls to Action (CTAs)]
  • Body Language – The non-verbal communication a speaker shares with the audience. I break body language down to these aspects:
    • Eye Contact – Just like speaking to someone one-on-one, making a connection with your audience requires looking them in the eye. Staring at the back of the room or at the ceiling, makes a speaker seem uninterested and unapproachable. Great speakers make the audience feel they are talking specifically to them and no one else by having great eye contact. [Learn more – Why Eye Contact is Important]
    • Facial Gestures – A speaker shares emotions via the face including smiling, winking, and raising the eyebrows. Your facial gestures need to match the tone of your voice and your message. Smiling during a somber story gives the audience mixed signals.
    • Gesticulation – This word is the technical term of making gestures by moving one’s body parts, such as arms, hands, and legs, as a way to share an expression. Most people naturally “speak with their hands” and you want to make sure you’re not over-emoting with your gestures because they can distract your audience. [Learn more – 4 Body Language Secrets to Know Before Your Next Presentation]
  • Glossophobia – The fear of public speaking. Although commonly known as America’s biggest fear, it is actually #20, and this fear can easily be overcome with proper preparation. [Learn more – 5 Quick Tips to Overcome Presentation Fear]
  • Impromptu/Extemporaneous Presentations – Speaking or presenting with little or no preparation, which I do not suggest. An experienced speaker can pull off an impromptu presentation because they have mastered the physical aspects of presenting, but an audience can tell when a presenter is not prepared because the message is off and the order bounces around causing confusion and misunderstanding. [Learn more – Proper Presentation Preparation with a Presentation Checklist]

I know those are a lot of presentation terms to wrap your head around, but I’m sure you already know some of them. Take your time and dig into the related blog posts to learn more about improving your presentation skills.

If you think of another public speaking term, let me know and I’ll add it to the list. Just email me or comment below.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.


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