If you ever took a speech class in high school or college, you were probably told (and shown) to stand and deliver a presentation behind a lectern. Standing behind the lectern is “old school” speaker protocol that doesn’t fly with today’s audiences. You were taught that by an instructor that was either more traditional and believed in lecturing or by someone untrained in proper presentations skills, which is normally the case since schools stopped offering offer public speaking classes in the past 15-20 years and require presentations in other classes like English and History. (But not teaching students how to present gives me a reason to coach presentations, so it isn’t all bad.) So you’re probably wondering why you shouldn’t stand behind the lectern and potentially what is a lectern, in case you’ve always called it a podium.
First off, a lectern is a tall stand with a sloping top to hold a book or notes, and from which someone, typically a preacher or lecturer, can read while standing up. That stand is not called a podium, which many people mix up. A podium is the raised platform that a lectern may sit on top of so the audience can see the presenter better. (I wrote about it a few months back – Presentation and Public Speaking Terms to Know)
9 Reasons NOT to Present Behind a Lectern
- It creates a physical barrier between you and your audience, which leads to a psychological barrier in both your mind and in the minds of your audience members.
- If you’re short like me, a tall lectern could make it challenging for you to see your audience and it could dwarf you, minimizing your power as the thought leader,
- A lectern prevents you from engaging your audience,
- Encourages you to lecture your audience instead of educating them.
- Just seeing a lectern makes your audience feel they’re about to be lectured, even before you say a word, so they’re more inclined to tune you out.
- Entices you to lean on the lectern, the bad posture makes it difficult for your audience to hear you, especially if you have an accent because you will speak less clearly when too relaxed. Bad posture can make your audience struggle to hear you, even if wearing a microphone.
- Leads you grab hold off the stand with a “death grip”, which actually increases any fears of speaking in front of an audience.
- Discourages natural hand gestures, making you feel awkward and timid as a speaker.
- Encourages you to read a script or outline, which is boring for your audience to listen to and prevents you from engaging with your audience.
6 Reasons Why I Recommend You Presenting Without a Lectern
- You’re more approachable as the speaker and more trusting without the physical and mental barrier.
- You’ll feel more a part of the audience when you can move amongst the crowd and across the stage.
- You’ll be able to make better eye contact if walking amongst the audience and as you move around the stage. (Keep in mind that you don’t want to pace though.)
- Advanced presentation tip – use different parts of the stage to break up your story, such as standing in the back of the stage for the “before” and the front of the stage for the “after” or stand closer to the audience when sharing something personal.
- You’ll speak more naturally with your hands unrestricted because you can gesture with your hands, which allows you to settle in quicker because it feels like a conversation with friends instead of talking to a group of strangers.
- You’ll prepare better knowing you can’t read your notes (or slides), so your audience is engaged more and they will see you as the thought leader.
- You’ll be more engaging, create a connection with your audience, and have more fun presenting.
Oddly, standing behind a lectern makes you more vulnerable because you feel like it is you versus the audience, instead of being part of the audience. Your blood pressure and anxiety will increase instead of speaking naturally and having your fears subside after a couple of minutes.
Next time you’re presenting and a lectern is available, step aside and use up your stage (or floor if there is no podium) to engage your audience and have more fun. (Bypassing the lectern is another reason to use a presentation remote.)
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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.