By Paul Barton
I watched my friend Artesian Kirksey deliver an electrifying college commencement speech a couple of years ago. I had presented the commencement address at the same college the year before and had delivered it in a traditional manner, from behind a lectern. Commencement speeches are always delivered from behind a lectern, right?
When Artesian delivered his speech, the first thing he did was grab the microphone from the lectern and step out toward his audience. As soon as he did so, you could feel the excitement of the audience intensify. Even before he began to speak, you could feel the energy in the room increase. It was clear that this was not going to be a typical commencement speech — and it was not. He delivered a powerful and memorable speech.
Artesian’s bold move reinforced something I have believed for a long time: A lectern is a piece of furniture that gets between speakers and their audiences. And Artesian’s decision to ditch the lectern to deliver something as traditional as a commencement address shows that we can rethink all situations that seem to demand the use of a lectern.
You might not be called upon to deliver a commencement speech anytime soon, but you might find yourself giving a business presentation, offering a wedding toast, or presenting in any number of other public speaking situations where a lectern is present. Think about whether you really need that piece of furniture coming between you and your audience. Think about the audience engagement you can create without it. Think about how much more personal and authentic you will be without it.
Making connections with your audience and engaging them in your message are the keys to great speeches and powerful business presentations. Your decision to step out from behind the lectern might make the difference between a good speech and one that wows.
Speak up, step forward and stand out.