Lectern Lecture

RTD Photographer Bob Brown took this picture of me with the venerable Roger Mudd.

RTD Photographer Bob Brown took this picture of me with the venerable Roger Mudd.


Public speaking is not a sexy topic, but the one-to-many platform has been used since the time of Julius Caesar and it’s an important communication skill to have. Almost as important as finessing the skill of crafting and delivering an effective speech or presentation, however, is knowing proper etiquette at the lectern or podium.

And before we go any further, allow me to clarify the difference between a lectern and podium. A lectern is an upright desk or stand with a slanted top used to hold text at the right height for a lecturer. A podium is an elevated platform for an orchestra conductor or speaker. Podium comes from the word podiatry, care of the feet, so you might remember that a podium is a platform where you put your feet.

But I digress.

I’m blogging about this topic because I attended two awards events honoring communications professionals at the very height of their careers and I was shocked to see that many of these seasoned men and women were not familiar with lectern etiquette.

One such event was the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame, for which the emcee was Roger Mudd, the nationally known and well-respected television journalist and broadcaster, most recently the primary anchor for The History Channel. The 84-year-old Mudd knew exactly how to handle himself on the podium and at the lectern, but some of the people being honored did not. (Granted, I did not receive a Hall of Fame Award, but I am not bitter.)

Mudd gave an interesting biographical sketch of each award recipient hitting the high marks and adding personal observations without reading entire resumes. When the award recipient came up on the stage, Mudd looked the person in the eye, shook his or her hand, handed over the award and took a photo.

Award recipients were not as consistent. I would not be bringing this up, but I saw the same behavior just a few weeks later at another star-studded event.

Here are five steps that will make you look like a pro not only when you deliver your well-rehearsed acceptance speech, but when you greet the emcee and receive your award as well.

  • Walk up to the lectern and first acknowledge the emcee with a smile and a handshake.
  • If you are receiving an honor, you shake hands first and wait for the presenter to hand the award to you.
  • Pause with the handshake and the award for a photo op.
  • When the emcee turns the lectern over to you, thank the emcee, shake hands, and deliver your speech.
  • When finished, wait for the applause, signal the emcee with a nod that you are done, shake hands again and exit. Proper protocol demands that you never leave the lectern unattended.

If you are interested in improving your public speaking, presentation and award-receiving skills, Toastmasters is a wonderful organization that will give you plenty of opportunities to practice. When you do finally earn your “lifetime achievement” award, you will look like you have a lifetime of on-stage etiquette and good common sense manners towards your fellow man to boot.

And to Roger Mudd, who I was fortunate enough to meet at the event, I promise to look you in the eye, shake your hand and never leave the lectern unattended should I ever reach the Hall of Fame.