First, the square wooden object placed at the center of the room is properly called a lectern, not a podium. The word podium comes from the word podiatry which means: the care of the human foot, the diagnosis and treatment of foot disorders. Therefore, a podium is a stage you stand on not what you stand behind. Webster’s dictionary definition of a podium is: a small platform for the conductor of an orchestra, or for a public speaker. Now you are among only 9% of the speakers out there that will use the right terminology.
1. Never touch the lectern inappropriately.
Most of us would never dream of hitting, grabbing, or leaning on a child. Yet, I see speakers sprawled all over the lectern as they speak. Often new presenters are so nervous they grab the edges of the lectern so tightly their knuckles turn white. Then there are those people who beat or pound on the lectern to drive a point home, leaving the audience feeling very defensive. The major problem with treating the lectern this way, outside of offending your audience, is that it distracts your audience and prevents them from hearing what you have to say. It helps to stand 10 to 12 inches behind the lectern to avoid the temptation of touching it inappropriately.
2. Never leave the lectern unattended.
You would never walk away and leave a child alone in a supermarket or in a train station, would you? No, that would be absurd. Yet, how many times have you seen emcees announce the speaker and just walk away? Every member of the audience feels this public display of awkwardness. Not to mention the speaker having to either cover up or make up for the lack of interaction. And how about the speaker who ends his speech and marches off the stage, leaving the lectern alone? The emcee quickly and perhaps awkwardly rushes to take charge of the situation. When the speech is over, the speaker should return the lectern to the emcee. It works both ways.
In either case, this poor protocol can easily be avoided if you remember to treat the lectern as a child and never leave it unattended. Let me make myself clear. I’m not saying that you should deliver your entire speech from behind this wooded barricade. No. When the lectern is turned over to you as a speaker, you are free to move about, returning to the lectern from time to time as needed. I’m referring to when you are finished with your speech. Wait patiently at the lectern, enjoying the applause, until the emcee takes charge of the lectern. Think of a relay race where the runner passes a baton to another runner before slowing her pace. Once the baton is passed, the passing runner is finished.
3. If your job is to introduce the speaker.
After you announce his or her name, stay at the lectern until he or she arrives. In the United States, it is customary to shake hands as a professional courtesy. Stay at the lectern and greet your speaker; then gracefully leave without upstaging your guest. Since not all emcees and speakers will have read this article and know what to do, tell them; explain it to them before the event and eliminate a potentially awkward moment.
4. Best practices.
a. Take your time to prepare the lectern.
If you have time before you speak, take a moment and place your outline or notes on the lectern prior to your talk. If not, bring your notes with you and take whatever time you need to prepare them before you utter your first word.
b. How to use your script or notes on the lectern.
If you are going to use notes during your talk, do not staple them together. If you do your audience will see you flipping the pages and it could be a distraction. Instead, fold the top right corner and quietly move your page to the right, revealing your next page. No one will even know you are using notes.
If you need to return to your notes during your presentation, set a glass of water on the lectern before your talk. During your presentation when you need to look at your notes simply act as if you are walking back to the lectern to take a drink of water. Pick up the glass and drink while casually glancing at your notes.
c. How to stand behind the lectern.
It is never a good idea to give your entire presentation from behind the lectern. Why? It blocks you from your audience. This could prevent you from connecting with your listeners. However, in some cases you may be forced to stay behind the wooden blockade due to the need for the microphone or maybe because there is no way else for you to go. In any event, if you find yourself in this position, remember to stand approximately 10 inches away from the lectern and if you need to lay your hands on it, do so at the very edges closest to you and not the audience.
d. How to leave the lectern gracefully.
When leaving the lectern, leave your notes. Do not end your powerful presentation by gathering up your papers as you leave. Instead, end with a bang and enjoy the applause. You can always pick up your notes or props after the meeting has ended.
As mentioned earlier, wait until your introducer comes and takes control of the lectern.
e. When there is not a lectern.
In most business speaking settings there is not a lectern. Often times you may be speaking at a meeting that takes place in a restaurant or conference room. If this is the case, simply ask to be seated near the front of the room and put your notes on the table in front of you.
P.S.S. Check out the biggest event of the year: