Leave that lonely lectern alone

Andrew Klein, pro­fes­sional MC and pre­sen­ta­tion skills speaker and di­rec­tor of SPIKE Pre­sen­ta­tions, presents his front line ob­ser­va­tions on con­fer­ences in a reg­u­lar fea­ture in BEN.

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AS A Pre­sen­ta­tion Skills speaker and trainer, I read pretty much ev­ery ar­ti­cle and book on the topic that I can get my hands on. TED TALK books, public speak­ing books, Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cles on how to pitch, pre­sen­ta­tion skills blogs, books on Pitch­ing, Pre­sent­ing, Pow­erPoint – I have prob­a­bly read them all.

Al­most all of them sug­gest that speak­ers do not use the lectern. Leave the lectern alone they say, the lectern shields you from the au­di­ence, the lectern cre­ates a bar­rier to good, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, use the stage they urge, walk to the au­di­ence so you can en­gage bet­ter with them… and so on.

Well I am not em­bar­rassed to ad­mit but I love the lectern and be­lieve that it is one of many use­ful tools avail­able to a speaker or MC. I don’t use it all the time and when do­ing a full key­note style pre­sen­ta­tion, I will spend the bulk of my time walk­ing around, us­ing the stage. How­ever, when MCing a con­fer­ence, for which I al­ways have moun­tains of notes, the lectern is in­valu­able for me and my style of speak­ing / fa­cil­i­ta­tion and it serves as a cen­tral lo­ca­tion to fo­cus the at­ten­tion of the au­di­ence be­tween speak­ers.

On the con­fer­ence cir­cuit, I reg­u­larly see many bril­liant speak­ers base them­selves at a lectern and emote beau­ti­fully, telling sto­ries, us­ing only the up­per part of their body to ges­ture, keep­ing an eye on their notes, lean­ing on the lectern, or sim­ply bas­ing them­selves there, be­cause, well, it makes them more com­fort­able.

While I also see many great speak­ers not us­ing the lectern and you have all prob­a­bly seen count­less won­der­ful TED TALKS fea­tur­ing bril­liant speak­ers stand­ing fully ex­posed on the round, red piece of TED car­pet, that in no way di­min­ishes the power of the lectern for oth­ers.

One of the great­est com­mu­ni­ca­tors this cen­tury Barack Obama uses the lectern and al­ways owns the room and one of Aus­tralia’s best and best-loved pre­sen­ters Ita But­trose speaks elo­quently from be­hind a lectern. Last month at a NAB event I saw Jeff Ken­nett hold 1000 peo­ple spell­bound, with­out ever leav­ing the lectern.

I strongly be­lieve that a pre­sen­ter should do what­ever makes them more com­fort­able, pro­vided that en­gag­ing the au­di­ence re­mains their prime fo­cus. If you are in your com­fort zone, your au­di­ence will ben­e­fit.

That does not mean that us­ing the stage is a no-no. On the con­trary, if you’ve never ven­tured out from the lectern, it is def­i­nitely worth a try. But ul­ti­mately, the lectern is also a great pre­sen­ta­tion tool, if used prop­erly.

So to the anti-lectern naysay­ers out there in pre­sen­ta­tion land, the anti-lec­tists, I say leave the lovely and of­ten lonely lit­tle lectern alone.

If you are look­ing for an MC for your next con­fer­ence or a speaker/trainer on pre­sen­ta­tion skills or pitch­ing skills, email andrew@lunch.com.au or visit his web­site at www.an­drewk­lein.com.au.

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