Sometimes you can’t control it. You have to use a podium. You can still use it well.
Podiums serve two major purposes:
- They give the presenter a place to put notes.
- They give the event organizer a way to use one, stationary microphone, instead of needing multiple wireless microphones or a hand-held mic with a cord.
The Real Problem with Podiums:
Here’s the big problem with podiums: They put an object, a barrier, in between the presenter and the audience. That never improves communication.
Given the choice, I prefer not to use a podium, but as the presenter–or as one of the presenters in a larger program–you don’t always have a choice.
Four Tips for Using a Podium:
When you have to use a podium, these tips can make the program more enjoyable for the audience:
- Shorten your comments. A speaker tethered to a podium runs a higher risk of boring his audience than one who doesn’t use a podium. No one ever said, “Wow, I wish he had talked for longer from behind that podium.”
- Move the audience’s attention away from the podium. When you are behind the podium, you want to be the narrator more than the person in the spotlight. When you can, direct the audience’s attention to other things in the room. In the photo below, I’m at the podium, but I’m not the focal point of attention, I’m narrating the groundbreaking ceremony.
- Make more eye contact with the audience. The audience knows your notes are on the podium. They don’t mind. But they will mind if you put all of your attention on the notes and not on them. Use your notes, but don’t become a prisoner to your notes. Look at the audience. Make and hold eye contact. When you finish a thought, look down to your notes to move forward.
- When possible, move away from the podium. In the video below, watch Dr. Jay Perman, the president of the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus. At a ceremony honoring him, Dr. Perman moved in front of the podium to deliver his comments. After all, there’s no rule that says you can’t do that. He broke down the barrier between him and the audience. In doing so, he changed the energy in the room. He created a more intimate, warm, personal atmosphere. Notice how engaging Dr. Perman is talking about a young man and food art because he’s in front of the podium instead of behind it.
A Final Thought on Podiums:
Podiums have their place. But if you learn to use a podium instead of letting the podium dictate the terms of your presentation, you will find you have a far greater connection with the audience. And isn’t that really the idea behind the presentation in the first place?