Following up on my post about where to put your notes, here's my quick tip about using a lectern: Don't.
Okay, that's a little harsh. And I'm the first to admit that I hate absolute rules about public speaking. It's most important to use the tools that work for you and your audience.
But using a lectern is problematic for several reasons.
1. It creates a physical and psychological barrier between you and the audience.
2. It restricts your movement and obscures your body language (unless you're using one of these).
3. It's too tempting to lean on the lectern or grasp its sides for comfort.
A lectern is great for holding your notes or hiding your props. Otherwise, it's best to avoid standing behind it.
What about those times when the only microphone is attached to the lectern? If you must use a lectern, follow these tips:
1. Only speak when you are looking at the audience. Of course, you must look down to find your next idea or point, but don't speak while you're doing it. This is an example of why preparation and practice are so important. If you don't know your next point, you'll spend a lot of time looking up and down.
2. Keep your arms and hands loose, and avoid gripping or leaning on the lectern. You can rest your hands lightly on the lectern, so they're in a logical place from which to make gestures.
3. Make your gestures visible to the audience. If you use small gestures, they will be hidden behind the lectern. Be aware of the visibility of your body, and bring your gestures up or out to a place where the audience can see them.
4. Make sure to adjust the microphone to the proper height and distance away from you. If someone speaks before you, you might have to make the adjustment at the beginning of your talk, and it's fine to adjust it as you're speaking.
And while I'm on the subject, let me remind you that a lectern is not a podium. You stand on a podium; you stand behind a lectern.
The word "podium" derives from the Latin podium, "elevated place," or "balcony" and from the Greek podion "foot." In the mid 20th century, "podium" came to refer to the "platform or dais at the front of a hall or stage, especially one occupied by the conductor of an orchestra." (From the OED.)
Are you brave enough to come out from behind the lectern?
More on lecterns here:
Another reason to avoid the lectern
The great lectern debate