Podiums Look Like Coffins. Don’t Use Them!

Great public speakers master intimacy with their audience. They inspire people by connecting with them. Not as group but in each person’s memory. They avoid anything that gets in the way of gaining a sense of connection.

If you are trying to take your public speaking or pitches to the next level, anything that gets in the way of intimacy with your audience should be removed. Podiums must be your first casualty. They create a physical barrier between you and your audience.

There are exceptions. Presidents stand behind podiums, with their big official seals because they want to appear “presidential.” They want to exude the sense of authority, power and distance. But ask yourself, how do you want to be perceived? Do you want to be seen as distant, formal and aloof.

So, you might ask, why do podiums exist? The simple answer is that most conference organizers (and audio-visual technicians) think you need them to present. Most people speak using slides. So the thinking goes that you need a box for your laptop, notes and wires.

Here are the top three reasons you should never use a podium to deliver an inspiring talk, pitch or speech.

1. Connect with the audience

All great speakers have one aim: to influence. They seek to change the minds of their audience. They seek to empower them, inspire them and embrace truths. Building a connection with your audience is therefore vital. The signals you send with your body language, tone of voice and word choice all build intimacy. What greater signal can you give to an audience than abandoning yourself to the “safety” of the podium?

Think of it. The speaker walks away from the podium, leaving their notes and computer behind. Just a few steps. But think of the message it sends? Confidence, yes. But more importantly vulnerability. You are stepping out. You are not going to give a “canned” speech. You are going to be candid, open and “unscripted.” You are going to be more authentic, honest and human.

Walking away from the podium is a winning formula. The global Ted Talks phenomena was built on it. Experts from a thousand backgrounds entertain and inspire us with their ideas. We feel connected to leading minds like never before. Rarely (and it is very rare) does a Ted Talk speaker talk from a podium. Connection, the Ted Talk organizers know all too well, comes from having no barriers between you and audience.

2. Command the Stage

Shakespeare knew a thing or two about stagecraft. The Bard played to tough audiences. Bad performances met with rotten vegetables flung at the actors.

Hopefully, your audiences will not be that hostile. But you can learn from actors about how they “command the stage”. Put simply, the most important spot on the stage, the most commanding, is dead centre at the front. You are seen by everyone. Your voice projects further. All major action happens in the middle. Minor, lesser characters, are always placed to the audience’s right. A “side show” to the main action.

So where are most podiums at conferences? You guessed it. Podiums are usually directly to the audience’s right: the weakest spot on the stage. This is this done because we have given the projected slides a “staring” role. In this set-up, you have become just the “voice over” to your slides. A bit player in your own talk. But ask yourself, who is more important you or your slides? If you believe the answer is you, then step forward and centre, into the limelight, speak with confidence for all to see and hear.

3. Master your Content

Few talks require you to make a verbatim recitation of a written word. So unless you are delivering a legally sanctioned brief, where every word must be read exactly, you will always depart from your given text.

Many professionals fear walking away from the podium because it abandons the reassurance of their notes. This is often the greatest source of fear in public speaking, forgetting what you to say and looking like a fool. But the reverse is the case. Most audiences are more forgiving of speakers who have stepped away the “scripted text.” The expectations are not lower, just different. However, you talk or pitch will be more enlivened, heart felt and authentic.

So how can you have the confidence to step forward? The answer is simple: practice. Before they go on stage, all of the great performers know their material down pat. Improvisation follows recitation. But practice means not just reading the words. The spoken and written word are different. With tone, cadence and twists of the tongue, we speak totally unlike the way we read. So practice out loud, as you would deliver the actual pitch, talk or speech.

Final Thoughts

Great public speaking is about influence and influence starts with intimacy. When an audience feels connected to your words, ideas and your message, you are successful. People fumble and grip podiums like life rafts because they have not learned to connect with the audience, to be vulnerable, command the stage or really know their content. Hiding behind a wooden box at the edge of the stage is never a recipe for impact. Your greatness, to inspire and change minds only comes when you step forward and speak as a leader.

About the Author

Simon Trevarthen is Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of Elevate Your Greatness (EYG). EYG helps individuals, teams and organizations unpack the secrets of success by becoming even better versions of themselves through dynamic keynotes, seminars and workshops on innovation, inspiration and presentation excellence.

To learn more about Elevate Your Greatness see www.elevateyourgreatness.com

Follow EYG on twitter: @Simon Trevarthen

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