March 8, 2012
CRITERION #3: PODIUM
Crutch… or a tool? Don’t cling to it.
Sing to it.
Very often, your public speaking opportunity will take place on a stage with a podium. In point of fact, the podium is really a glorified paper holder, designed to give you somewhere to put your notes. However, in the age when video teleprompters often replace the necessity for paper, the podium is still there. It’s an anachronism, but a comfortable one to have around, I guess. So, if you’re sharing the stage with a podium, make sure you put it to use – not as a crutch, but as a tool.
Don’t hide behind the podium. Your presence is a vital asset that gives physical form to your words. The last thing you want is a barrier between you and your audience. In fact, if you happen to be a small person (and many powerful speakers are) do not hesitate to put a box or riser under your feet to raise you up a few inches. If there is anyone taking care of the staging of your event, mention it to them, and they’ll likely provide you with the top of one of their staging cases.
Don’t grip the podium. If you do, it tends to look like you’re hanging on for dear life… and ironically, your speech will become lifeless. Without the movement of your hands, the whole body seems to solidify into a rather uncomfortable looking form of “rigor mortis”. Becoming one with the podium is not a good idea. Very often the podium is made of wood, and that’s exactly how your speech will look and feel.
Do use the podium as a stage prop. You can lean on it, pound on it, sing to it, flirt with it, dance with it. Try and pick at least one point in the speech when you can cut the umbilical cord and get away from it completely. Walk to the middle of the stage… and right to its edge. When you do so, you are literally getting as close to your audience as you possibly can. It might feel a little scary, but it will be exciting for your listeners. And stepping out into the wide world is never quite as scary if you know you can go home again. Think of the podium as home base. You know you’ll always be able to wend your way back there, and into its warm, familiar embrace.
Consider this. You’ve moved to the front of the stage… and you’ve delivered a brief ad lib section to the audience. Then you realize you’re done with that bit, and you’re drawing a blank about what comes next in the script. Don’t sweat it (and I say that literally). Is it so unusual for you to take 5 seconds or so to leisurely stroll back to the podium and pick up where you left off? No. It adds an interesting dynamic moment to your presentation. It gives everyone a moment or two to reflect, and it gives you a chance for you to enjoy the pause that refreshes.