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Tuesday
Feb282012

What is a Lectern or Podium?

Ever wonder about the difference between a lectern and a podium? Many people are confused and use the words interchangeably.  While getting them straight will not make anyone love your speech more, it can contribute in a tiny way to creating a smoother speaking event.

Lectern

A lectern is a flat, raised surface upon which to lay speaking notes. They are available in tabletop and standalone models. A speaker stands behind a lectern. Here are a couple:

Photo: FullCompass.comPhoto: PodiumPros.com

My preference is a full-back music stand:

 

Podium

A podium is a platform upon which a speaker stands while speaking. If that sounds like a stage, you are correct. It IS like a stage. A podium can have a lectern on it, so can a stage. You could have a lectern on a podium on a stage. A speaker stands on a podium.

Some other places we see a podium:


  • conductor of an orchestra

  • award recipients at sporting events


It took a while, but I finally found a podium:

 

Photo: WengerCorp.com

This difference doesn't matter a whole lot until you need to work with a meeting planner, hotel, or audio/visual supplier. You want to get it right and ensure they also get it right.

As a master of ceremonies, I walk through the venue, agenda, and procedures with the meeting planner or stage manager, and audio/visual technician. We christen the ground, so to speak, naming each of the pieces of equipment and parts of the room. We detail the difference between lectern, stage and if it's used, the podium. The consistent response I get is it puts them at ease when I demonstrate that I know what I am doing.

This is a tiny detail, but many tiny details handled with excellence and confidence adds up to a smooth event, bringing credit to all involved and enjoyment for the audience.

P.S. If you are a master of ceremonies, please don't welcome people "to the lectern," "to the podium," or "to the stage"; just welcome them. They will know where to go.

In this video, John C. Maxwell experiences what most of us would consider a disaster of an equipment malfunction, not a wardrobe malfunction, and handles it masterfully. The outcome was more entertainment than most speakers could ever plan for and an endearing moment for the audience.

 

Google searches you might find useful:


Some links to companies that sell mostly lecterns and maybe some podiums


See our follow-on article How to Use a Lectern.

Craig Senior

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Reader Comments (6)

Thanks for taking the time to explain the difference -- especially as it relates to hotel meeting planners and a/v suppliers. It's a tip that can be incorporated nicely into educational segment on emcee etiquette.

Feb 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShelley Baur, DTM

Craig:

I think that the difference you are emphasizing practically disappeared a long time ago.
Also, you didn’t mention the more obscure rostrum.

See: http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/02/what-are-you-standing-on-or-behind.html

and also: http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2009/07/visit-from-lecternpodium-police-patrol.html

Richard

Mar 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichard I. Garber

I didn't mention rostrum because the article was between the frequently confused terms, lectern and podium. I also didn't mention dias, pulpit, platform, stage, soapbox and probably a few others. Hm, it's a great idea for an expanded article!

Dec 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterMessage Masters

The difference may have "disappeared a long time ago", but it stands to be corrected. Both terms have different roots and are in fact, specifically assigned names for two different items. Ignoring the distinction is language laziness that creates confusion.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
I once heard a speaker in toastmasters get dinged for referring to the lectern as a podium -- it is this type of petty nonsense that should be let go. Who cares?
Jul 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGrammarPolice

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