In a meeting with a speaker the other day I heard, “I love using a podium because it gives me somewhere to put my notes.”
Fortunately, I had a whiteboard handy and I wrote down the following numbers.
7, 38, 55
I asked him if he knew what they represented, and he said no.
These numbers are well known to speakers and are the percentages of how people consume information when listening to a speaker.
I asked him how much of his body people could see if he was standing behind a podium. He said that it depended on if his laptop was on the podium.
“Laptop,” I asked?
“So I can see my note in presenters view and click my slides,” he replied.
So, right there he confirmed three bad habits. First, he hides behind a podium, eliminating most of the 55% of information from body language. Second, he doesn’t use a presenter’s clicker to move his slides. That means he’s tethered to the podium. And third, he’s constantly checking his notes, losing his connection with the audience.
Podiums are poison to presentations and come from a time where formality was the norm. If you want to be an effective speaker you have to be confident and own your presentation space. If 55% of your information is coming from your body language, why hide 75% of your body behind a piece of furniture?
If you plan to roam the stage and own your space you need to get used to a presenter's mouse. Even if you are just in a meeting, it will free you from leaning over your laptop. Go to Amazon and search for “presenter’s mouse”. The one I use was just the cost of a couple large lattes. It's a great investment.
Finally, notes are fine, but they are usually a sign of insufficient rehearsal. You don’t want to use too many data points at once. A good speaker can casually drop in major points such as, “Sales up by 32% last quarter,” or “Jim was having a meeting in Leeds, England.” By not constantly referring to notes you’ll be seen as an expert and not a reader. But, if you have to reference a piece of information on a slide, take a quick look confidently and then refocus on your audience. We’re all human and sometimes we forget things. Be definitive.
Podiums are a crutch. Most people use them because they are afraid of being out in the open. If you’re ever tempted to use a podium remember the 7-38-55 rule and ask yourself, “Would I ever leave out 55% of my words?” If you use a podium that’s how much information you’re not giving your audience.
Robert is a speaker coach, actor, director, author, speaker, executive and overall marketing guy. He writes about all aspects of presenting and connecting with audiences.