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Public Speaking Tips When Using A Lectern

Lecterns are one of those things where we see them all the time, but we never really pay attention to them.  When you were watching the news this morning, what was the police officer using in the news conference?  Or what about the other day when you were watching the President speaking.  What was he standing behind?  

Graduation ceremonies, weddings, churches, or sadly, even at funerals.  These are all times when podiums are commonly used, and you may never know when you'll be the person speaking behind one.  

New man, president, and graduate speaking from behind a lectern

It's weird though because we usually don't know how to use them.  Is there some type of lectern school you can go to, or maybe a lectern book you can read?  I'm pretty sure there's one out there, but that's not usually how it goes.  They usually just throw you on stage, and you're supposed to magically know what to do.  

This could be disastrous when you're looking over a crowd of hundreds of people, and you don't know the dos and don'ts.  Good things you've found this article though, because today I am going to teach you how to speak publicly when using a lectern.

Podium Or Lectern

Most people call lecterns podiums, but the definitions are quite different.

A podium is a small platform a person stands on to be seen by an audience.  For example, the winner's podium you see at sporting events.  A lectern on the other hand, is a stand to hold notes or books, from which a person speaks from.  A speaker would step onto the podium to speak from behind the lectern. 

Person standing behind a lectern and people standing on a podium

It can get really annoying saying lectern a million times.  So throughout, I will be using podium and lectern interchangeably.  Please don't hurt me.

1. Practice and Preparation

 If you're going to be a good speaker behind a lectern, practice is mandatory.  It's like you have a championship basketball game, and before you don't work on your jumpsuit, or ball handling.  How do you think you're going to perform?  

It's the same scenario here.  Preparing is always a good thing because it usually leads to better performance.  Lecterns are quite expensive, so it might be hard to emulate actually speaking behind one, but this is where you get creative.  In one of his articles, Mr. Daniel Kennedy talks about two excellent methods.  

DIY Lecterns

You need a desk, or table, and a stack of books.  Place the stack of books on top of the desk, and use this as your practice lectern.  This will give you that elevated view that you get when speaking from behind a lectern.  If you don't have books, you can use shoeboxes.  Place your papers on the books or shoeboxes, and there you go.

Person standing behind desk

Keep in mind that most lectern's reading surfaces are slanted, so if you can find some creative way to emulate that, even better. 

 Another exercise you can do is to use a chair for your hands practice.  When speaking behind a lectern, you can place your hands on it gently (we'll get to this eventually).  The chair imitates the feeling of it, and gets your hands used to the placement. 

The Day Of

Can you arrive at the event a little early?  This way you can actually practice the real thing.  How does your body fit to the podium?  Are you too short, or too tall?  Maybe you can see if the height can be adjusted.  If not, you have to improvise, and get creative again.  See if the place has a stool you can stand on if you're too short.

A woman standing on a stool while giving a speech

It's super important that the audience can see your face, and vice versa.  Did you see that time Queen Elizabeth came to the White House, and spoke after President Bush?  

The lectern's height was perfect for the President, but the queen is way shorter.  During the speech all you could see was the Queen's hat.  The crowd doesn't care what your hat has to say.

If you're too tall, try to do what we did at home.  Maybe you could see if you could stack a couple books on top.  

Another thing to consider is lighting and sound.  You don't want to be blinded on stage when you look into the crowd, so see how the lights line up from where the lectern is.  Also, don't use a clear sheet protector for your papers.  The lights can make it hard to read using one.  

 Will there be a microphone?  If it's a larger event, most of the time there will be.  Unless you can break a Guinness world record for the loudest voice, the crowd won't hear you without one.  

people speaking with a microphone

Practice using your voice with the microphone, and try to get a feel for it.  

2.  Learn Lectern Etiquette

Do you remember the first time your mama yelled at you for putting your elbows on the dinner table?  Or was it just my mama?  It was because I didn't know any better.  There are some dos and don'ts that are like manners for a lectern.  You can't say you didn't know them because I'm about to tell you right now.

Mama yelling at her child

Never Leave The Lectern Unattended

Let's think of a scenario.  You and your husband are having a date night, and you guys hire a babysitter.  You're not going to leave early with the baby by itself, and just let the babysitter get there whenever.  You wait until the babysitter arrives, and then you guys can go enjoy your date.  Same here with the lectern.  It is the baby, and somebody has to be there with it at all times.  

If I'm standing at the lectern, and the speaker is walking towards me, I wait until the speaker gets to the lectern.  I then shake his/her hand, and then I can leave.  Even leaving has rules.  When leaving, it's important to not walk in front of the speaker.  You can walk in the opposite direction, or behind them.  

Lead The Applause

If you're behind the lectern, and you're introducing somebody, you're the one that initiates the applause.  This makes perfect sense because it gives the crowd direction, as to when to clap or not.  

Do Not Say Thank You At The End

I know, I know.  Since we were born, we were always taught to say thank you.  Now you have an exception.  In the beginning of the speech is when you thank the person that introduced you, and greet the audience.  No need to do it twice.  When it reaches the end, deliver a strong conclusion, and hand it over to the next person with a lead applause, and a strong handshake.  

Remember, don't leave the baby ( the lectern) until that person gets there!

Don't Say Sorry

It's like lectern etiquette goes against all the rules we were taught as a kid.  If you make a mistake, don't apologize.  If you think about it, it's sort of making the situation worse because most people probably didn't even realize it.  Just continue on with your speech like nothing happened.  

3. It's Game Time

It's the championship game, and you've been waiting on this day for months!  All the jump shots, the free throws,  and the ball handling just for this very moment.  Your team is about to dominate, and take the championship home.  

Translation.  The host introduced you, you walked to the stage, shook his hands, and placed your notes on the lectern.  It's game time.  You look over the crowd, and there's literally hundreds, maybe thousands of eyes staring at you.  The lights are shining.  You can't go back now.  

Basketball player and woman speaking

 Your Stance

You want to be about 10 - 12 inches away from the lectern.  This gives you a little freedom of movement with your arms.  It also will keep you from leaning on the lectern which is a big no no.  

Stand shoulder width the part, and also stand straight up.  If you're leaning and slouched, it doesn't really look too professional.  

Your Hands

Your hands can do a lot of things when it comes to speaking.  For one, if you place one hand or both on the side of the lectern, do it gently.  Don't grip the lectern as tight as you can.  It doesn't really look too good, and it's probably going to create nervousness.  

If you like to make gestures with your hands, you have to adjust.  Unless your audience has x ray vision, they're not going to be able to see your hand movements through the lectern.  So raise your gestures, so that the crowd can see your hands clearly.

Three people speaking from a lectern

Your Notes

 Big fonts.  Think about it.  You're already standing about a foot away, and you're standing straight up.  It might be a little difficult to read with a size 9 font.  

I wouldn't say memorize your speech, but it'll be really good if you can look up from your paper.  Imagine somebody just reading strictly from the paper for a whole speech.  It's not as authentic, and the audience won't feel it as much.  

If you can make eye contact with those in the crowd, it's going to make it better.  

On the papers you're reading from, a good tip from Speakingsherpa, is to only write on the upper half of the page.  Doing this makes it a lot easier when you look into the crowd.  Reading from the bottom of a page, then having to look up is a lot of unnecessary movement.  

Notes on a paper from a speech

Instead of flipping pages, have it set up where you can just smoothly slide them over.  It prevents the audience from getting distracted.  


If you feel comfortable, stepping away from the podium can be a good thing.  It allows you to be more connected to the audience, for one.  When you're behind it, it's like a barrier between you and the audience.  Secondly, when you're moving, it allows for more energy throughout the body which can ease nervousness.

There's a couple of instances when you can move away:

  • It's an informal event
  • You have a wireless microphone to speak from, or there isn't that many people
  • The camera can be moved

What Type Of Event Is It?

If it's a more formal event, just stay put.  Things like graduations, award presentations, and funerals are more formal settings.  If it's a more casual setting, I would definitely suggest moving about.  


If there's only one microphone, and it's stuck to the lectern, you're probably going to have to stay put.  If you have a wireless mic, the audience will be able to hear you from behind or away.  

Three people speaking with a wireless microphone


Let's say the camera at the event is in a fixed position, and can't be moved.  If you move away, your video recording is just going to be a lectern with nobody behind it.  They might be able to still hear your voice on it, but still.  So, if the camera can't be moved, once again stay put!


"You did so great up there.  You looked absolutely amazing!"  That's what we all want to hear when we deliver a speech, or talk in front of a crowd of some sort.  

Some of our jobs require constant presentations and speeches with a lectern, but for most of us, it's like a shooting star.  It will rarely happen.  It's still better to be prepared, and to know how instead of just winging it.  

In this article, I tried to make sure to help you know what comes with speaking behind a lectern.  Please let me know what you think, and comment below!


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