Episode 108: How to use podiums, lecterns and the entire stage when presenting
Intro: Hi I am Shawn Doyle- and across from me is the lovely and talented Racheal Doyle. I am the CEO of Shawn Doyle Training and Rachael is the COO. Welcome to Winning Edge @Work .Glad you could join us. In season one- we are going to be talking about Presentation skills. Today: How to Use Podiums Lecterns and The Entire Stage When Presenting.
Shawn: So today’s topic is rife with controversy. I wrote an article for Entrepreneur recently and some people commented that I was wrong to dismiss lecterns in that article. What I actually said was people were thinking it was a rule that you have to stand behind it. I was saying it’s not a rule. So what we want to talk about today is using the space, the podium, the lectern and the stage. So let’s start by defining a few things: Rachael I know you looked this up right? Lets go to our reporting center for a report on definitions…over to you Rachael…
Rachael: Well Shawn, here is a state of the union report on podiums and lecterns… A podium (pl. podiums or podia) is the raised platform on which the speaker stands to deliver his or her speech. “Podium” is derived from the Greek word (pothi) which means “foot”. The word “podiatrist” (foot doctor) comes from the same source. A lectern is a raised, slanted stand on which a speaker can place his or her notes. “Lectern” is derived from the Latin word lectus, the past participle of the verb legere, which means “to read”. The word “lecture” comes from the same source.
Shawn: So a podium is something you stand on- a lectern is something you stand behind. There are also some other words people use for lecterns- synonyms like Ambo, Pulpit, Dias, Rostrum, Stand, Platform, Speaker stand. So let’s first focus on lecterns and podiums…
Rachael: Shawn I know that you are not personally a fan of lecterns in most cases?
Shawn: Yup- I will be Frank here- I think they are awful.
Rachael: So don’t hold back… say how you feel! As a professional speaker why do you feel that way about them?
Shawn: Well first of all if the meaning is derived from lecture and “ to read” that tells you a lot right there. But here are some compelling reasons: A lectern - 1) Puts an object between you and the audience 2) Makes you static 3) Can eliminate gestures 4) Lowers your energy 5) I can only see the top 1/3 of the body of the speaker 6) It’s what everyone else is doing 7) It can become a crutch and lastly 8) The dreaded “lectern lean”.
Rachael: Please explain why the object between you and the audience matters so much?
Shawn: It is a proxemic barrier between you and them. No one would ever stand behind a tree and present- but they will stand behind a block of wood. (part of a tree) if you want to connect, eliminate physical and psychological barriers.( tell CEO story )
Rachael: So we don’t want to create a proxemic barrier. Got it. You also mentioned about being static.
Shawn: We live a world of sight sound and motion, and then we park behind a lectern and don’t move. Being static and not moving can be boring.
Rachael: So what about the top 1/3 you mentioned?
Shawn: Well if you are in an audience and you are watching a speaker you can probably only see the top 1/3 of their body. If a large part of communication is body language then we have cut that off as a source. So we are limiting ourselves. There is visual wall between them and the audience and if they have a laptop open.. then we have even more blocking visually.
Rachael: Since body language is so important when presenting- I think I have quote on that.
Shawn: Of course queen of quotes!
Rachael: Here is a good quote about body language. “Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.” Deborah Bull
Shawn: Yes that is why we walk away from a conversation sometimes and say “that didn’t feel right” it’s our brain decoding body language. What was said was not what was being said.
Rachael: Hmm… a good point, a lot to ponder- not just in presentations but in everyday communication. I have to ask about something you mentioned earlier- what is “The lectern lean”?
Shawn: It is when someone uses the lectern to hold onto like they are having on for dear life! So this limits their gestures, and affects body language.
Rachael: Yes I know what you mean- I have seen people do that. So let’s talk about what some people are thinking now… are there exceptions to the lectern rule, when there is an appropriate time to use a lectern?
Shawn : Such as?
Rachael: At college or high school commencement speeches for example. Speakers are always expected to be at a lectern.
Shawn: Yes I saw a commencement speech by Denzel Washington and he was at a lectern- so yes sometimes we don’t have a choice. ( Discuss) It is a challenge though because if you are at lectern you are going to have to be that much more energetic, dynamic and use all the other tools such as vocal variety and stories to keep it lively.
Rachael: Yes I saw Dolly Parton give a commencement speech at The University of Tennessee and she was at a lectern. So if someone has to use a lectern – give them some tips.
Shawn: Ok.. first there are mechanics to look at 1) Look at lectern height if you can control it. If the lectern is too tall and you are too short you have to request a step or riser to stand on. 2) Microphone- go to the lectern and adjust the microphone- it needs to be so it is by your mouth. If the mic is too high or too low it makes your body language a little awkward 3) For clear (ones made of plexiglass) lecterns be aware that they can see your entire body (tell story about executive) so you have to be aware of that.
Rachael: So that is the mechanics, anything else about lecterns we should know ?
Shawn: Yes- beyond mechanics a few things.. look up- it is too easy to keep looking down at notes when at a lectern.
Rachael: Yes I have seen people forgetting to look up and pause. I see that all the time. People are reading and not looking up. Our next tip?
Shawn: Make your notes in large type so you can refer to them easily without looking down so much.
Rachael: That is a good idea. A question just occurred to me… why do politicians almost always seem to use lecterns? Are they hiding something?
Shawn: Well.. that is an entirely different show! But let’s get back to lecterns.
Rachael: Your thoughts about why they use them?
Shawn: They are the ONE exception. My guess it that it is three things 1) tradition 2) they are trying to be consistent on the campaign trail so they want to give a written speech- word for word- so this is where the lectern comes in 3) there is a device that projects their words on two pieces of Plexiglas- so they have to stand at a lectern to read it. With rare exception most political speeches are not as riveting as the Gettys burg address.
Rachael: So another question people may have- if I am at a lectern- is where do I put my notes?
Shawn: That is a very common question. 1) You can request a small table in front of the room (that is what I do) 2) You can put your notes at the lectern and just walk there to refer to them.3) You can have them in your hand if you like. One other piece of advice about notes- just a one page with key points.
Rachael: I will add- as Jim Rohn once said: “The goal of effective communication should be for listeners to say ‘Me too!’ versus ‘So what?'”
Shawn: Good one!
Rachael: Shawn, we have talked about lecterns and have covered that- what about the podium and the space?
Shawn: I always have said that space is part of your presentation. You have to use it and make it an asset not a liability. The first is too arrive early or go before and check out the space.(tell Downingtown story) This way you can eliminate surprises and be prepared .
Rachael: Do all pro speakers do that?
Shawn: Yes all the ones I know do, whenever possible.
Rachael: So check the space in advance- then what?
Shawn: Own the space! If you are at a podium get down and walk around the audience. If you are in a big room, walk around. Don’t hide! Walk around like you own the joint! It’s yours for the taking. Do you remember when we went and saw Trans Siberian Orchestra in concert?
Rachael: I know I had a birthday recently… but I’m not that old yet. Yes I remember.. they were amazing.
Shawn: As you and I saw and as anyone who has seen them will observe- they take the space- meaning they are on stage center stage, right stage , left stage on different parts of the arena on rising columns in the back. That what’s is meant as owning the space. Figure out where and when you can use all of it.
Rachael: Are you suggesting people should have flame throwers and swing their hair around when they do presentations?
Shawn- No of course not but… One of the subcategories of nonverbal communication is called “proxemics,” – which we mentioned earlier. A term developed by American anthropologist Edward T. Hall. This is the study of the effects of using physical space and distance between individuals. It’s how a certain person perceives intimacy when interacting with somebody else.
According to Hall, there are four main zones of physical space: intimate (a foot and a half to zero), personal (four feet to a foot and a half), social (twelve feet to four feet), and public (twelve feet or more).
Rachael: Simply said what your saying is we can use space as a tool to make a presentation more powerful. Any other tips?
Shawn: I think there are two things 1) experiment with space 2) watch other people as they use space both good and bad. (Covey story) so the idea is to watch other presenters and note how they use the space and - learn from both.
Racheal- That is a wrap for this show…thanks for joining us on Winning Edge @work.
Shawn: Remember as I always say “ you are the architect of your own life!”
Rachael: Now go out there and make those choices- otherwise someone will make them for you. – Bye!