The podium and the lectern. We hear these two terms all the time when it comes to public speaking. What is the difference between these two mainstays of public speaking? And when speakers refer to them, are they referring to them correctly?
A podium (pl. podiums or podia) is the raised platform on which the speaker stands to deliver his or her speech. The word is derived from the Greek word πόδι (pothi) which means “foot”. The word “podiatrist” (foot doctor) comes from the same source.
A lectern is a raised, slanted stand on which a speaker can place his or her notes. The word is derived from the Latin word lectus, the past participle of the verb legere, which means “to read”. The word “lecture” comes from the same source.
There are tabletop and standalone lecterns. They come in all sizes.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Colquhoun (nathancolquhoun / Flickr)
Photo courtesy of Andrew Feinberg (Andrew Feinberg / Flickr)
Photo courtesy of Jeff Hitchcock (Arbron / Flickr)
It is important to make the distinction between the two. And yet, many people say “podium” when they are actually referring to a lectern. (Conversely, I have never heard anyone say “lectern” when referring to a podium.)
There are those who will say that I am just quibbling over semantics. But let’s suppose you have an important speech at an unfamiliar venue. You phone the event organizer and ask if there will be a “podium” when you actually mean a lectern. If the organizer is not on the same (incorrect) wavelength and says “No”, you might end up needlessly scrambling to find your own lectern. If the organizer says “Yes”, you might arrive to find a real podium but no lectern.
To summarize: You stand at or behind the lectern; you stand on the podium.