Imagine if someone would refuse to talk to you unless they had notes and something to put in between you during the conversation. That would probably make you feel uncomfortable.
Yet, so many speakers do the exact same thing: hide behind their notes and a lectern.
Let’s talk about why you should move aside from the lectern in the majority of your speeches, starting with the exceptions to the rule.
Exceptions to setting aside the lectern
1. If you’re very nervous without it
If the prospect of speaking without a lectern is rather terrifying to you, you might not be ready for it. A smooth speech delivered behind a lectern is probably going to be better than a stilted one presented out in the open.
Once you’re more comfortable speaking in public, you can transition away from the lecture, like a kid ditching the tricycle wheels.
2. If you’re using a manuscript
When using a manuscript that you haven’t memorized, you’re going to end up looking down at it for reference frequently. Now, instead of looking down at your notes, you’re looking down and to the side at your notes. This is far worse.
If you need to use a manuscript, keep the lectern. (Alternatively, consider using a small outline prompt instead of a full manuscript, and keeping it in a small sticky note that you can hold. This is a far superior option for most occasions).
How to pull off speaking without a lectern
If you have a choice ahead of time, let the event coordinators know that you don’t want a lectern.
If not, when you go up for your speech, move the lectern to the side if it’s fairly light and portable. I once saw someone move a large glass lectern on a stage before their 8 minute speech, and I can tell you that’s not a good idea. It’s not a big enough deal to fuss over like that. Plus, you can just step away from the lectern, instead of moving it.
How far you move it is your choice, but generally within a step is a safe bet. If you still need to use some materials from it, consider angling the lectern towards yourself so you can see it from where you are standing.
When I used this technique in debate rounds, I would simply prescript my introductions and conclusions, and outline the rest of my speech. I’d basically memorize my introduction and conclusion so I wouldn’t have to read it, and glance briefly at my outline to keep on track for the rest of the speech.
Another thing you can do is write an outline of your speech onto a small note card or sticky note that you can hold in one hand. Hopefully, you won’t need to check it, but it’s there just in case.
The psychology behind it
1. It displays confidence
2. It makes you more confident
Acting confident makes you feel more confident. As long as this doesn’t make you feel too nervous (see exception 1), it can easily boost your confidence.
3. It creates a connection with your audience
Putting the lectern in between you and the audience is creating a barrier between you two. Although lecterns can make someone seem authoritative, someone who stays behind the lectern the entire talk just looks like they are trying to hide from you.
Also, a huge part of communication is not just in the parts of you that the audience can still see (face, hands, sometimes feet), but also your entire body posture. Your words have more impact if the audience can see you in your entirety.
Don’t just take my word for it, here’s an entire article on the same subject.
4. It sets you apart from everyone else (for competition)
If your speaking context is a competition, this is important for you. Judges at competitions are often looking for the obvious signs that show that one speaker is better than another. Setting aside the lectern when no one else does is a very concrete action that judges can latch on to and give additional points for.