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How to Use a Lectern

Some time ago, we posted an article on the difference between a lectern and a podium:

This article presents some ideas on how to use a lectern. In general, we want the body to be as open to view as possible. Having said that, our beloved Leo Buscaglia almost always spoke from a lectern... with notes... AND audiences loved him. In this clip, watch how he uses the lectern sometimes, just hanging out on it to demonstrate a feeling of casual.


One of my two Toastmasters clubs I attend has a monsterously safe wooden lectern that rolls, with four wheels that swivel, similar to the one below.

It's easy enough to roll. I am 5'11" and fill the room with sound, so it doesn't seem to hinder me in reaching the kind eyes with my own and to share in poignant moments and laughs. As Toastmaster (emcee) recently, I concluded the training session in front of the lectern with piously open arms and some poignant thoughts about entering the snowy week with childlike eyes and wonder. After the session, someone grabbed my arm, "Oh, I loved how you ended the meeting in front of the lectern.  We could really feel it."

Despite my size and ability to fill a room with sound, being more proximate to people gave them a feeling of closeness and emotional intimacy. Let's go with the generality that lectern-free is emotionally more connected.

I've seen where the lectern was off to one side to conduct the session and speaking occurred in the middle. That worked.

I've also seen where the lectern remained in the middle and the Sgt at Arms moved it seamlessly between speakers, as required. That worked too.

I have also seen where people fumbled around unsure when to move it or speakers tried to move it mid-stream. That didn't work (in the Toastmasters learning lab, those moments are good learning experiences).

One time, as I started speaking from behind a lectern, I realized that I wanted the lectern moved and hadn't taken care of it, so I stood to one side of the lectern and posed an enrolling question. As we considered the question, I leaned against the lectern (while maintaining my eye attention with the audience and without drawing attention to what I was doing), forcing it to move to one side. It was a risky manoeuvre, but... it worked.

If I need a portable lectern, I too use a music stand... a full back music stand, not a folding music stand!

Turn the surface down to 5-10 degrees so that it creates the smallest profile. Mind you, T. Harv Eker and Jordan Goodman use a folding music stand in the video below because they travel, so far be it from us to argue with extreme wealth and success!

Tony Robbins uses a full back music stand, or in the example below, an acrylic lectern that provides maximum visibility. The video starts at 6:59 to show you the lectern, so feel free to roll it back to the start and benefit from Tony's message.

If you are in a situation that requires you to speak from a lectern (a wired lectern mic duct-taped into position atop the wooden buttress), stand back enough to move your body easily. Speak with the intention to be heard without the mic and let the sound technician adjust the mic gain and main volume.  If you haven't got the vocal projection, then remain in close and give it all you've got. Audio systems support sound; they don't generate sound. If using notes, print them large enough for you to easily see them without straining, say 14-16 pt.

Bullets or pictures are better than a full script. Use the bullets or pictures to indicate what to say next, then speak from your knowledge.  If wording is critical for particular passages, repeat them often enough that they come out intuitively and often enough that they sound naturally expressive.

If using a full script, insert line breaks at the pauses. Read during the pauses, look at the audience, and say what you read vs saying the words as you read them.  People care less that you read and more that when you speak, you interact visually and vocally with them.

Experiment and please share what you learn with us, so that we can share it with others.

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