Lecterns are for Losers – Public Speaking Tips
This is not just about lecterns – it is about removing distance and barriers and distractions and getting close to your audience. Talking TO people is old fashioned and ineffective – talking with people is natural and human and real and normal. Audiences have always wanted to be emotionally involved in speeches. Now they demand it. Today they will simply leave the room, change channels or escape your preaching and make themselves a coffee or a sandwich while you drone on.
Public speaking conjures up images of grand stages and huge crowds – but the best speakers speak to every person like they are only talking to them. If you get this right, everyone who hears you speak should be able to close their eyes and imagine you are speaking just to them.
So as a first step in getting close to your audience, leave the lectern behind and get close to your audience. Let them see you close up – let them see your face and your expressions and your hands. Good speakers get rid of distractions as well as barriers. Physical closeness demands attention, rules out the use of notes, builds rapport and reminds the audience that you are human – like them. It also makes you vulnerable and vulnerability and authenticity are best buddies.
If you are speaking on the radio – imagine you have just one person listening. If you have to be on a big stage – speak just to one person.
Sometimes you have to use a lectern – but the other rules still apply. Move around it like Obama does rather than hide behind it. All the speeches I have given from behind a lectern have been inferior to the ones where I took a risk, went without my notes, got close to my audience and spoke from my heart.
Working on the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s speech to the United Nations, which was by definition protocol-rich and sort of demanded the use of a lectern, we had to work incredibly hard on the content and his delivery to make this behind-the-lectern speech human and real and relevant.
Front of the lectern speeches are almost always more effective and more powerful. David Cameron’s leadership speech was in front of the lectern. TED speakers hardly ever use lecterns.
Clinton and Obama lean on them like comfortable old pieces of family furniture rather than formal, official hard-edged barriers between them and their audience.
In this video Bill Clinton, arguably the best speaker in the world today, shows how getting close and destroying barriers and distance builds empathy and helps him get what he wants.
Update. After writing this post, I checked with my friend Denise Graveline who is a Washington based speaker coach and also a TEDMED coach.
“TED talks are nearly always ‘walk-and-talk’ rather than lectern-based. A few exceptions have been made for older speakers or those who need something to steady them–a favorite of mine is 84-year-old Harvard biologist E. O Wilson’s TEDMED talk–and in those cases, almost invariably, a clear plexiglass lectern is used, to make sure you’re seeing the speaker. Connecting with the audience is the hallmark of any TED conference, from the lack of lecterns to the proviso that speakers stay through the entire conference to interact with attendees.”
She added that the TED Commandments and the TEDMED Hippocratic oath call for one not to read, but to talk which she writes about on her blog The Eloquent Woman