By acrylic podium, in this context, is actually meant an acrylic lectern. Strictly speaking a podium of any material, style, or design is simply a platform used to raise something above the surrounding surface. Olympic athletes stand on a podium to receive their medals. Orchestra conductors use them to direct musicians; architects use them in buildings for aesthetic effect. It is, of course, not uncommon for a public speaker to be upon a podium, however that other item upon which they keep their papers and behind which they stand while giving their address is properly referred to as a lectern. The word lectern is falling out of usage in popular speech.
An acrylic podium is a lectern made of acrylic plastic; often with beveled and polished edges. Unlike wooden podiums or podiums made of other opaque materials, an acrylic podium is transparent –you see straight through it. Depending on the nature and location of a public speaking event an acrylic podium can add an aura of sophistication. In an appropriate setting an acrylic podium tends to add a streamlined and a symmetrical (crystalline) quality that maintains the authority of the speaker while at the same time disallowing the speaker a solid wall to stand behind. The image of openness and receptivity is very much in line with some emerging corporate cultures. The acrylic podium is at the present time also extremely popular with churches, as they provide an ‘invisible’ lectern that does not obstruct the rest of the altar.
On the other hand, the sophisticated and slightly futurist look of an acrylic podium can look quite out of place in some settings and situations. In such cases the ultra-modern tone of an acrylic podium can come across as too streamlined and too sophisticated, that is over-groomed, which can then create the impression of a patronizing speaker and an organization more concerned with image management than customer service, information, or content.
A podium is a centerpiece, and should be approached with all the levity afforded any decision of design. When and where to use an acrylic podium is a matter open to interpretation and the specifics of the event, its content, location, audience, etc. There are, in fact, many situations where an acrylic podium can be a positive decorative bonus that accentuates some attribute of the speaker and attached ideas.
Acrylic podiums come in a number of sizes and shapes, and to a lesser extent tints. In the case of tinted acrylic podiums the transparent effect will be replaced with a translucent, slightly opaque coloring. This maintains much of the ‘high-modern’ look of the clear acrylic podium while at the same time softly re-instating the barrier between speaker and audience. Another interesting style in some acrylic podiums is that of mixed material. For an exceptionally contemporary look a combination of acrylic and aluminum is very much the rage. This particular combination of finished metal and polished acrylic seems especially conducive for speakers engaged in highly technical discussions as this style of acrylic podium itself looks as though it was designed in and for a lab in Silicon Valley.