Podiums can pose quite a dilemma for public speakers. They can lead to the dreaded….
On the one hand, podiums can be helpful: a place to put your notes, provide a place to stand, and add some formality to your presentation. On the other hand, podiums can become a crutch: a place to hide behind, a physical barrier, a wall of protection, between you and your audience.
CUT THE CORD
“Between cutting the podium umbilical cord and creating a new speaker introduction, you’re pushing me outside of my comfort zone, but that’s a good thing.”
– J.H., President & General Manager
Recently an executive, who was preparing to give a keynote speech at an upcoming professional women’s conference, shared a personal goal with me. She wants to move away from the podium, allowing herself to move more freely as she speaks. She finds the podium makes her appear stiff and unapproachable. She sent me an email recently expressing gratitude for the presentation coaching tips and encouragement. She’s ready to cut the podium umbilical cord. Perhaps it could be a good thing for you, too?
Podiums can lead to other presentation pitfalls
Podiums are associated with #10 on the list of the most common presentation pitfalls-Death Grip Security. You’ve seen speakers who literally hang on to the podium when presenting. You can see the white-knuckled tension in their hands which sends nonverbal signals of their anxiety and stress. We see them reading their notes from the paper or in some cases from the teleprompters. They attempt to look up and out at their audience every so often while they are stuck behind that podium. The audience knows exactly what the speaker is doing-reading from a script and trying to make it appear natural and authentic. But the net effect is anything but speaking from the heart.
Of course, there are certain situations where podium speech delivery is expected and appropriate, such as president elections, press conferences, commencement speeches. But do we really need podiums during town hall meetings at your organization, or a motivational speech to your troops, or a sales/marketing update?
It’s time to rethink the podium and find new ways to communicate that are more engaging to our audiences.
What does using a podium say about your confidence?
If you confine yourself to the small area around the podium and treat it like your home base or safety zone, you may be sending the signal that you lack confidence and are afraid of the audience. Or perhaps that you don’t know your material well enough to communicate it without notes?
If you are short in stature (as I am, standing 5″ 4″ on a good day), podiums can make you look even smaller and reduce your physical presence. Without a podium, standing free, there’s nothing to compare you to size wise. You and your ideas can appear to be ten feet tall!
Try moving into the audience to engage them and demonstrate your mastery of the message. You will project more confidence this way.
Moving beyond the lectern and into the audience can make a powerful statement about you, the presenter. It suggests that you are fully confident, comfortable in your own skin and you know your stuff. You are not tied to your notes.
Speaking without a podium also sends the signal that you want to connect with your audience. It allows you to make more eye contact and helps to attract your audience to you.
Hint ? ? Looking for a creative use for a podium? Turn it around and use it as a book shelf on stage. You can store the materials that you want to access during your talk (such as books, props, handouts, bells, toys, etc.). Let your audience see what you have coming for them. Have some fun with it.
Where you stand and how you move says a lot about you.
It’s important to keep these tips in mind when you present away from the podium:
- When you move, do so with purpose and intention. No random walking about like a nervous zoo animal.
- Don’t ever shuffle or drag your feet as you take the stage to begin your presentation.
- Hold your head up in the correct position, with your chin level to the ground.
- Don’t look down at the floor or at the screen when speaking. It sends your voice in the wrong direction (away from your audience).
- Make sure you serve “both” sides of the audience. Be careful not to favor one side only…..move across the stage freely to engage with both sides.
- Stand or sit in stature when you speak. It helps you better project your voice.
Your posture says it all
Without the use of a podium, you have to support your own body weight. Good posture is an important quality for projecting a strong leadership presence when speaking in public. It’s also important for your overall health. I found this great illustration a few years back on the web site of Workers Compensation Board, Alberta, Canada. Of course, I also recommend that, when you present in public, you wear more clothing than the Posture Subject is wearing!
Always use proper posture when standing and presenting. Hold your body so that the top of your head, the center of your torso, and the bottoms of your feet create a straight vertical line. Try not to keep your body in any one position for too long. Periodically adjust your body to prevent fatigue.
Source: Workers Compensation Board, Alberta, Canada
What to do with your arms and legs
Without the security of the podium, presenters often don’t know what to do with themselves. I get them to use to what I call default stance – that is when you allow your arms and hands to rest comfortably down by your sides (photo 3). You can move in any direction, perhaps to gesture, when appropriate. Try not to wrap yourself up or put yourself in off-balance positions (e.g., photos 2 and 6)
In default stance (photo 3), you should have your weight equally distributed between your two feet, about a shoulder width apart. Don’t allow yourself to get tangled up in folded hands or hands behind the back, or weight shifted to one side or the other. Ground yourself in the Earth. Get comfortable in this confident, neutral stance. It will do wonders for your credibility and your energy.
But isn’t it just easier to use a podium?
If you gotten this far in this blog, you may be thinking to yourself,”Would it be a lot simpler to just use a podium?” Perhaps it would be. But I want you to make a conscious choice knowing that you have other options. Sometimes what appears to be the easy or more convenient option is only masking our fear and discomfort. Be courageous. Step out of your own comfort zone. It’s time to cut your podium umbilical cord!