Was the Podium at Your Presentation Too Tall or Were You Too Short?

Anyone who saw the 2007 video of Queen Elizabeth being greeted by President George H. Bush will never forget that when the Queen stepped to the lectern to speak all you could see was her royal hat.

No one remembers what she said, but they remember her bobbing bonnet. It was a huge embarrassment for the president’s staff. They forgot to place a step-up box at the podium after the tall president spoke so the Queen’s face would be visible when it was her turn to speak.

The following day she addressed Congress and got a big laugh and a standing ovation with her opening line, “I do hope you can see me today.” This video shows that now-famous occasion when Queen Elizabeth “lost her head.”

Managing Your Environment

You’ve practiced your presentation to near perfection. But you too, could be remembered for the snafus and not your key messages.

Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler, traveled with his own lucite podium that had a button he could push that slid out a platform under the lectern. He could step up and be perceived as being taller than he actually was. He also had a fan installed to keep him cool so he always appeared calm and collected.

You’ll lose not only your stature but also your authority if you’re hidden behind the lectern or microphone at the podium. You’re at the right height if you can make eye contact with members of the audience.

Prior to your talk, check the sound system and the light dimmers so that your visuals are visible. It you’re speaking at an outside venue, insist that a technician be stationed in the room in case something goes wrong.

Even the little things count like having a glass of water to drink when your throat gets dry.

What Could Go Wrong

If possible, send an advance person to check the logistics. Even then something could go wrong, so make every effort to take a practice run before your presentation.

At lecturnWe were working with the new managing partner of a consulting firm and insisted that we visit the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel the day before for a practice session. It was the first time he would be speaking to the firm’s partners and was not familiar with the ballroom set-up.

The ballroom is quite large and had high steps on both sides of the stage for access. We practiced his walk from the audience to on stage. That hurdle cleared, the IT technician then tried to load the presentation only to find that the hotel’s computer was not compatible with the speaker’s slides. We spent a few hours reformatting the visuals and were thankful we took an advance trip to the meeting site.

On another occasion at the Waldorf, a magazine editor was scheduled to receive an award from the Magazine Publisher’s Association (MPA). We went early to check the arrangements. Walking up stage right, the branches of a huge flower arrangement almost knocked my eye out. We took action and removed the twigs to save someone else from that fate.

At that same rehearsal, when walking up the steps to the stage to check the light at the lectern, I literally fell on my face. The hotel staff then put yellow tape on the step as a warning to speakers so they would be mindful when walking up those stairs.

If you’re arranging a corporate event with several speakers, consider having two podiums, one on either side of the platform. One can be set for height challenged  speakers and the other for taller speakers and the audience won’t even notice. That way it won’t be necessary to interrupt the flow of the presentations by having to adjust the height of a single podium.

Sit Tall at the Table

These guidelines aren’t simply for major presentations. You want to establish your authority when you’re sitting at a desk across from another executive or in a small group meeting – especially if you’re short. Adjust your chair so that you can make eye contact with the other participants.

One young woman we coached was embarrassed to raise her seat because her feet didn’t reach the floor. We suggested it was more important for her to be at eye level with the others in the meeting. No one would see her feet.

Another executive told me that he once sat on his briefcase during a new business pitch when he realized he couldn’t raise the height of his chair. It wasn’t very comfortable, but he established his authority by going eye-to-eye with his client.

Have you ever had the experience of standing behind a too-tall podium? What tactics do you use to manage your environment during a presentation? We’d love to know. Just leave a note in the comment box.


Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>