How Should A Speaker Use A Lectern?

A lectern is a tool that speakers need to know how to use
A lectern is a tool that speakers need to know how to use
Image Credit: George W. Bush Presidential Center

When we stand in front of an audience to give a speech, not always, but many times we are actually standing behind a lectern. We all know what these look like; however, has anyone ever told you how to go about using one? No, there are no buttons to press or levers to flip. However, it turns out that a lectern can help you to give a more powerful speech – if you know how to use it correctly.

Say Hello To The Lectern

The lectern is part of your speech even if you are not aware of it. If you end your speech and just walk away, you’ll leave your audience wondering what comes next. If you spend your speech grasping the lectern, your audience will find themselves becoming as tense as you are. Some speakers even treat the lectern as though it may explode and will walk around it but not touch it. As speakers we need to understand that the lectern is not a crutch or a black hole; it is a tool for us as speakers to use to show the importance of public speaking. What we need to understand is that the manner in which a speaker approaches, greets each speaker, speaks at and leaves the lectern is important.

Lectern etiquette and use are leadership training tools that teach speakers discipline, enable us to demonstrate good manners, provide for smooth transitions between program segments and help establish a sense of order. In order to maximize the benefit that we can get from using a lectern, first we need to understand what one is. We need to understand that there is a difference between a lectern and a podium. The lectern is a stand that holds notes, and the podium is a raised platform on which a speaker would stand. When we are starting our speech, we need to approach the lectern and greet our host. Once you are introduced, don’t spend a lot of time approaching the lectern. If you can, avoid making side comments to people along the way. Approach in a confident manner, and shake hands with your host.

If you are carrying materials to the lectern, keep your right hand free so that you can comfortably shake hands. If both hands are full, put the objects down on or near the lectern and then shake hands. Visual aids should be set up before you are introduced – and prior to the speech, if possible. While you are making your speech you are going to want to control the lectern. When you take control of the lectern, you are assuming a leadership role.

Managing The Lectern

During the time that you are giving your speech and you are standing behind the lectern, you should always be prepared, confident and in charge. This, of course, means that you must never apologize to your audience – you can do no wrong while you are speaking. Here are some suggestions on how to get the most value out of your lectern:

  • Once you have greeted the host – and as your host is leaving the lectern – make sure that you acknowledge him or her with applause. Next, turn to the audience members and greet them as you start your speech.
  • Step back a few inches from the lectern to make sure that you don’t lean on it. Next, spread your feet to shoulder width so you won’t rock back and forth during your speech.
  • Set anything you are holding, including a pen, eyeglasses, notes or other objects on the lectern. Unless you intend to begin your speech by displaying one of these potentially distracting items, your goal is to free your hands before you begin to speak.
  • As a speaker, avoid leaving the lectern unattended. However, certain situations may require you to leave the lectern briefly, for example to help set up visual aids, retrieve an object or in case of an emergency. If you must leave the lectern, always announce your intentions before you go – don’t just walk away

As speakers, we need to understand that it is our responsibility while speaking to make sure that we always leave the lectern in good hands. What this means is that it is never proper for a speaker to abruptly leave the lectern after speaking. If you are about to relinquish control of the lectern, always do the following:

  • You should stay at the lectern until the next person arrives – either the host or the next speaker – to take your place.
  • Shake hands with the person who is taking your place, pick up your materials and then relinquish the lectern.
  • If you must cross paths with the person who has just approached, step back and walk behind the host. Never walk in front of the speaker taking control of the lectern.

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers, we don’t have a lot of tools to use when we are giving a speech. It is pretty much us and our words as we look out over our audience and attempt to deliver the benefits of public speaking. However, we do have one piece of furniture in our corner: the lectern. The lectern can either help us or hinder us when we are giving a speech. We need to understand how to use this device in order to give the best speech possible.

Two things that you don’t want to do with a lectern are to just walk away from it when you are done speaking or hold on to it for dear life when you are giving a speech. The lectern is a stand that holds notes. Always make sure that you are able to shake hands as you approach the lectern. When you are standing behind the lectern, you are in charge. Place anything that you have in your hands on the lectern. Make sure that you stand back away from the lectern so that you are not tempted to put your hands on it. You are responsible for managing the lectern. Stay there until the next speaker shows up.

The lectern can provide us with a place to place the notes that we’ll need in order to deliver our speech. It can also provide us with protection from our audience. We need to be careful to be aware of the lectern. During our speech we need to find ways to use the lectern while not allowing it to interfere with our speech. If we are able to learn how best to use a lectern during our next speech, our speeches will become even better than they already are!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should ever step away from a lectern during a speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’ve got some good news for you: you are a powerful speaker. This means that you are brilliant. You have incredible ideas. Every question that you ask is insightful. You have compelling ideas to contribute, important businesses and organizations to build, and provocative questions to share. However, there is the possibility that the way you speak fails to command your power when you are sharing the importance of public speaking. You may equivocate, apologize and look away as you speak. What you are doing is subtly undermining yourself with your words and body language. As a result, your ideas do not have the impact they could.