We may call them lecterns or podiums or stands. Whatever you call them, there are many differing ideas on whether or not speakers should stand behind a lectern. I generally remind speakers that whatever comes between you and the audience, comes between you and the audience. It’s essentially a barrier.
Making the issue more difficult is the fact that a lectern is something that is unique to presenting which means we can’t easily draw from our natural conversation skills in those instances. But there are a few things we can do if we find ourselves speaking from behind a lectern.
Remove or Reposition
First and foremost, if you can remove the lectern, do so. If you’ve always been used to speaking behind one, this might be a little frightening. For some people, a lectern offers a practical solution for holding notes. For others, it’s used to hide knocking knees or to give shaking hands something to hold on to. But think about this, how does a lectern benefit the audience? It doesn’t. So speakers should adapt to what is best for the audience.
Granted, needing a place to set your notes or even a laptop is understandable and often necessary. In those cases, you might move the lectern off to the side a bit. That way, the majority of your speaking is done in the center without the barrier. Then, you can simply move to the lectern when you need to reference your notes or use technology. You might even consider purchasing a small, sturdy music stand that you can transport with you to speaking events so you will always have an acceptable lectern available. The key is to do whatever you can to reduce the barrier between you and your audience.
Sometimes you won’t have the option to remove or reposition a lectern. When faced with a stationary lectern, you might feel locked into place. The lectern seems to shout, “This is where the speaker belongs! Here and nowhere else!” But don’t let it bully you into staying in that one spot. Move out from behind it. Simply walking out to where the audience can see all of you will help you appear more approachable and trustworthy. In some cases, however, the lectern you are using has a microphone attached to it, one that you must use in order to be heard. In that case, it’s necessary for you to stay behind the lectern.
Show Your Hands
If you find yourself speaking behind a stationary lectern that has a microphone, you will want to position yourself so that the audience can still see your hands. Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, author and executive coach, explains why:
Hidden hands make you look less trustworthy. This is one of the nonverbal signals that is deeply ingrained in our subconscious. Our ancestors made survival decisions based solely on bits of visual information they picked up from one another. In our prehistory, when someone approached with hands out of view, it was a clear signal of potential danger. Although today the threat of hidden hands is more symbolic than real, our psychological discomfort remains.
So make sure your hands are visible. If you have the ability to lower the speaking lectern to around your waist level, do so. That will allow your hand gestures to fall into the natural, mid-body range. However, if you can’t adjust the height of the lectern, you’ll need to adjust the height of your gestures raising them closer to chest level or adjust the placement of your gestures by moving them out to your sides so that the audience can see them.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you should always work to remove or reduce any barrier, literal or figurative, between you and your audience.
For more ways to remove barriers in your presentation, check out our online presentations skills course.