Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to address you from the rectum!

Apparently this actually happened … somewhere in the world, a conference speaker got a little tongue-tied and couldn’t remember if he was standing behind a podium, rostrum or a lectern. The words merged and sadly “I am delighted to address you from the rectum”, became an accurate assessment of the ultimate value of his presentation!

True or false … it’s a great lead-in to the question … lectern or no lectern?

In my opinion, it’s hard to find any justification for using a lectern. Invariably it’s a clump of furniture that reflects an era of long-winded speeches and a level of formality that simply doesn’t fit the world we live in today.

Lecterns also have the effect of putting us on a pedestal and can disconnect us from our audience. There are stream-lined versions that look more like a music stand and you can get perspex see-through lecterns. However, presenting ‘naked’ is invariably the better option.

With the assumption, you have been fitted with a clip-on lapel or face microphone, you now have the freedom to move around … so you can cut the umbilical cord and get out from behind the lectern forever. Whilst this may have the effect of making you a little more vulnerable, your audience will appreciate the fact that you ARE VULNERABLE … for them this translates into being more credible. This is the real you … warts and all!

With your new found freedom to move, be aware of the location of both the screen and the projector. Unless the venue has a large elevated screen above you, watch that you’re not walking across what we call a ‘clear view line’. This is an imaginary line that demarcates a no-go zone. Stepping across this line could cast a shadow on the screen from your body, and secondly, could block the line of sight of the right most person, in the front row. Where possible, it’s best to stand on the left hand side of the screen (stage right) as the audience see you. Firstly, it’s more natural for the audience to read from left to right, so their eyes automatically return to you after reading a point on your slide. Secondly, this enables you to gesture to the beginning of any key points on your slides (if you’re standing on the other side you can’t do this without casting a shadow over your entire slide).

I have often put a strip of masking tape on the floor, in line with the bottom left hand corner of the screen, projecting at an angle out towards the right most person in the front row. This ‘clear view line’ marks the point you should not cross over or hover around, as you will then block someone’s view or cast a shadow. It’s very easy to catch sight of the line out of the corner of your eye and to avoid stepping into this no-go zone.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t deliberately and purposefully cross in front of the screen occasionally to engage with the other side of the audience – for a brief while. But don’t hover in the middle.

Another favourite pitfall we come across is a holding pen for the presenters.
This could be a ‘”top table” … on stage, just off to one side of the lectern. Conference organisers seem to love this, I guess because it allows them to show off their presentation line-up. But for the presenters, it’s a nightmare. By having you on the top table, you are on show every second of the conference. Don’t go there – you’re trapped.

It’s a much better idea to place speakers in the back row. Here’s why …

1. You can discreetly reach a speaker to brief them on any alterations. The most common reason is that the previous speaker has over run and you now want the next presenter to shorten their talk. It’s very distracting and unprofessional to attempt this on a top table in full view.

2. tension is mounting as each presenter’s turn draws nearer, and odds are they will suddenly become aware of their bladder being a little too full, and they they must go ! You can’t do this if you’re on the top table.

3. The most beneficial reason of all is the effect of walking up to the stage, from the back of the room. On the top table, when the MC uses the immortal words “it now gives me great pleasure to introduce our next speaker, Mr Stuffed Dummy (‘because that’s what we look like on the top table!), you now have to stand up in full view, adjust your clothing, scratch and take just three or four steps to the lectern – it’s the equivalent of asking an olympic high jump champion to clear the 2 metre bar with no run up.

It’s much better to have a relaxing walk-on from the back. You can already be discreetly on your feet before the MC introduces you – you’ve already tucked your shirt in, you’ve scratched, you’ve fiddled with your scarf or tie, all well out of view of the audience. You’ve stretched, you feel more relaxed, and you can eliminate excess nervous energy on the walk up.

Better still, why not walk on to music? This adds to the excitement and the pizzaz of any conference, and it can also add a theme for each of the presenters.

At a recent conference for a large oil company, we had the challenge of picking different pieces of walk on/ walk off music for each presenter. One particular fellow was a little on the large side. We knew he had a great sense of humour when he told us he nearly got run over by a bus because the driver said he didn’t have enough petrol to go around him! This gave us the cue to come up with a fun music track for his entrance … high energy aerobics music. I had asked for his permission to use this rather cheeky music track, but never dreamt he would buy into the whole spirit of the thing, to the degree that when we played the music, he burst into a full on high energy aerobics routine himself. Given his size, this created an immense amount of amusement with the audience, and in the process, made him very human.

He was so relaxed, he never went near the lectern!


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