I have been a speaker and/or an attendee at hundreds of conferences and events and it often surprises me how many presenters are happy to stand behind a lectern and deliver a speech; it really doesn’t do them any favours when it comes to communicating their message effectively.
Here are 8 problems connected with presenting from behind a lectern:
- It creates a physical and psychological barrier to what you’re saying
- It can seem like you’re hiding which can portray a lack of confidence (you may well be feeling less than confident but in most cases you don’t want your audience to know!)
- When your hands are not in view it can create a mistrust of you
- It restricts your movement and gestures, therefore limiting an essential part of your communication
- It can feel like you’re giving a lecture which in most people’s minds equates to boring so they switch off and don’t listen to you
- You will be tempted to lean on it or grip it instead of using gestures
- It can be more difficult to see the audience and their reactions to your presentation
- It can be more difficult for the audience to see you and if they can’t see you they are less inclined to listen to you
It can also look ridiculous if you're short like me as the photo above taken at Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre shows. Compare that with the image below which really highlights the difference stepping out from behind the lectern can make.
Whilst in some circumstances the lectern can define a position of power and credibility that you may not have, in most cases the benefits of coming out from behind the lectern are far greater. For example:
- It portrays the message that you are pleased to be there and that you want to communicate effectively with your audience
- It shows that you know your content and that you don’t need to hide behind a lectern
- It makes you seem more approachable
- It helps you to build rapport and create a better connection with your audience
- It helps you appear more natural
- It increases trust
- It helps you to make good eye contact with your audience
- It adds visual interest for your audience
- It stops you relying on your notes and helps you to speak from the heart
- It ensures people can see you and your entire body, therefore you have more of your communication tools available to reinforce your message with your gestures and movement - behind a lectern you only have your voice and face (if you’re tall enough for people to see you!)
- It gives you the opportunity to anchor different parts of your speech to different parts of the stage or presenting area e.g. walk to a position and stop to deliver your next point before walking to another part of the stage
I don’t know about you but as an audience member I always find that talks and presentations delivered without the lectern are far more engaging; the speakers may make themselves more vulnerable but there is power in that. As a speaker I like to move about the audience where possible and when I do so I find I get a much better connection with people. There are of course challenges with that, such as moving out of the light, away from the microphone or out of camera shot if it is being filmed. However, if the organisers know in advance that you want to step out from behind the lectern they will usually be keen to make sure you have this option; just make sure you give them plenty of notice of your requirements and always ask for a lavelier microphone where possible to give you the most flexibility.
As a presenter it can sometimes be scary stepping out from behind a lectern, but the benefits to the way your audience relate to you and receive your message are so great that I encourage you to give it a try (even if you’re usually a lectern gripper like the woman in the cartoon below!)
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction. She is a multi-award winning speaker, trainer and coach and the founder of Grow Your Potential, which specialises in supporting individuals and organisations to design and deliver winning pitches and presentations.
Mel’s background includes over 20 years’ experience in public, private and not-for-profit organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom and she has also worked as an actor, presenter and singer. To find out more about Mel’s talks and programmes go to www.grow-your-potential.com or for public speaking and pitching tips follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_