How to stand - and other useful presentation tips

How to stand - and other useful presentation tips

“Have you got any tips on how to stand at the lectern?”



I was a little taken aback when the customer on the phone asked this question, but she went on to explain.  She was due to give a presentation, and was something of a nervous novice.  She had read some criticism in the media of Donald Trump’s habit of leaning on his lectern, so wanted to avoid similar errors.

In recent weeks we have all seen Donald Trump at any number of public speaking events, and, judging from the pictures on social media, he is frequently to be found leaning heavily on a lectern, gripping both sides with a white-knuckle death grip.  Not a good look.  This posture will make you look either weak (if I didn’t have this lectern here to support me I’d fall over) or aggressive (if I don’t restrain myself behind this lectern I might just come over there and hit you).

So, we know what not to do.  But how should we be standing?

Think about great opera singers.  In order to produce such a volume of sound, their posture needs to be correct.  Feet planted firmly shoulder width apart, knees relaxed, back straight, shoulders back and down, head up, hands to the sides.  This opens up the chest to allow the singer to breath freely and deeply. Guess what? The same applies to you, petrified presenter!  You may not be singing a Verdi aria, but you do want your voice to be full and supported. So the same posture tips apply to you:
  • Feet planted firmly, shoulder width apart
  • Knees relaxed, not locked in place
  • Back straight
  • Shoulders back and down
  • Head up (think ‘giraffe neck!’)
  • Hands to the sides

As an added bonus, this open posture doesn’t just help you breathe more easily, it’s a confident, statesmanlike pose that says “I am in charge, and I know what I’m
talking about.”  Best of all, just standing in a confident pose sends positive signals to your brain – so you actually feel more confident as a result!

Don't hide!

A lectern can be a bit of a mixed blessing for the nervous speaker.  It makes you feel a lot less vulnerable up there on that stage, but it’s all too tempting to try and hide yourself behind it.  If you remain fixed firmly to the spot with only your head and shoulders peeking out, you’ll start to blend into the lectern.  Make sure your hands are visible – it’s fine to rest them lightly on the sides, but remember to avoid hanging on for grim death.  If the sound system arrangements allow it, try standing to one side of the lectern for at least part of your presentation.  Depending on the size of the stage, and whether you can manage not to fall over, take a few steps away from the lectern occasionally to reassure your audience that you are not completely frozen to the spot.

Look up!

The other temptation is to stare fixedly at your notes on the lectern for the entire duration of your presentation, then scuttle off and sit down before somebody notices you or worse – asks a question!  Remember what we said about posture and keep your head up, gazing directly into the audience.  Unless you are actually giving a reading, you should only need to glance down at your notes from time to time to make sure you’re getting key facts and figures correct, and that you are not straying too far from your planned presentation.  The rest of the time, make eye contact with your listeners, focusing on one person at a time for a few seconds before moving on.

Movement, gestures and eye contact are often big areas of concern for novice speakers, and will be covered in a separate blog entry.  Just standing correctly will make a big difference to the way you look, sound and feel, and is a great place to start if you are new to public speaking.

See our quick summary table below for the key pointers
to take away from this article.




Lean on the lectern, shift your weight on to one foot or cross your legs Stand like an opera singer!
Cling to the sides of the lectern for support Show your hands, resting them lightly on the sides of the lectern between gestures
Huddle behind the lectern Stand to one side of the lectern, occasionally moving around the presenting space
Look down at your notes the whole time Make eye contact with the audience

Did you find this article helpful?  Do you have any public
speaking tips to share, or disaster stories others could
learn from?  Leave a comment below.

Justine Posted by Justine

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