The History of Lecterns and Podium

Posted by The Lecterns and Podiums Team on 10/18/2017 to General Educational Articles

Gothic Revival Pitch Pine Table Top Lectern Circa 1850 EnglandLecterns, podiums, and other public speaking platforms are essential products for millions of people on a daily basis. Whether for entertainment, business or religious matters doesn’t matter. They serve the function of helping the speaker command respect from an audience. Meanwhile, they also aid organization and stage appearance.


Modern lecterns may carry a modern flavor, but people have used platforms to aid public speaking for centuries. The long and rich history of podiums and lecterns is a fascinating one that touches the realms of politics as well as cultural and social events. Despite being a seemingly humble piece of equipment, its impact on the world has been nothing short of remarkable.


The benefits of lecterns also extend to the idea of hiding shyness. Aside from offering a chance to prepare notes or speeches, it encourages the speaker to avoid walking around the stage. Furthermore, foot movement and other bad habits can be blocked from the audience’s attention.


Lecterns don’t only help millions in the modern age, though. In fact, they’ve played a crucial role in society for virtually the whole of human civilization as we know it.


Lecterns V Podiums


Before looking at the history, it’s vital to understand the differences between the two key types of public speaking platforms.   


A podium is a raised platform that elevates the speaker to a higher position than the audience. A lectern, however, is a stand that boasts a slanted edge. Lecterns can be freestanding items or smaller table top variants.   

Both are used to address large groups of people with the speaker normally facing the crowd. Essentially, the main difference is that the lectern is something you’ll stand behind while the podium is a platform to be stood upon. In some cases, the lectern will be on a raised platform too.


The alternative, and often basic, forms of speaking platforms include soapboxes and similar items.   


The Origins


From a linguistic perspective, the word ‘lectern’ derives from the Latin ‘legree’, which translates into ‘to read’. One of the noticeable differences between a lectern and other platforms is that the speaker stands behind them. This is because the public speaker uses the apparatus to place their notes or scriptures. The earliest recordings of people doing this relate to religious readings and teachings.


Christian priests and noteworthy spokesmen would read passages from the Bible to public crowds. There is no set date on how early the lecterns, in their primitive form, were used. However, the history of the public speaking platform for scripture readings is vast. And it covers centuries of human and cultural development. Their infancy is placed long before the start of the AD eras.


Given the time of their production, lecterns would often be built from stone or wood. This is still the case today, although it is also true that brass lecterns have been a common feature at various periods. Interestingly, even the early lecterns used the tilted surface that shields scripts and other items from the audience.


Lecterns have continued to play an important role in Christianity throughout the centuries. Churches and cathedrals have used lecterns during readings and religious talks for centuries. They were commonly fixed to one spot throughout the ages. However, portable versions have been a fairly common feature since the 20th century.


Aesthetically, lecterns often depict an eagle as a link to John the Apostle. Meanwhile, some churches boast a second lectern in the center of the choir. Sermons and ceremonies, however, often take place at the pulpit rather than a lectern.   


Still, the importance of lecterns to Christian teachings throughout the centuries is undeniable.


Lecterns In Other Religions


Christianity isn’t the only religion to have used lecterns and podiums for several centuries. Judaism has often utilized them for reading scriptures. Not least because public speakers would struggle to hold the Torah scrolls. This is why the lecterns often found in synagogues throughout the ages have been wider than the Christian counterparts.   


A raised bimah platform is often elevated, establishing the reader as the central focus at all times. The etymology of this term comes from ancient Greek ‘bema’, which translates to ‘raised platform’. This further underlines that podiums dat back centuries, well into the B.C years. The Jewish lecterns are often made from wood, as has been an ongoing tradition for many generations.


Variations of lecterns have also been used by Buddhist priests and Islamic teachers. In one shape or another, lecterns have been a crucial item for religious studies across the globe for so long that nobody can even put an exact date on it.


Lecterns In Ancient History


As the etymology of ‘lectern’ and ‘podium’ both suggest, ancient cultures used them heavily. While religious studies were at the heart of those activities, there were several other uses. Ancient Greeks and Romans positioned podiums and lecterns made from stone in crucial landmarks.   


Lecterns and podiums were used throughout various ages for a host of reasons. These range from dealing with social issues such as diseases to barking orders during war times. In those scenarios, they helped people in power address their people.   


Few ancient lecterns are still used today, although the remnants of some do remain in ancient places that have been preserved. Meanwhile, variants of the early podiums can sometimes be found in history museums around the globe.


On a more gruesome note, some societies would gather to watch public executions. Early variants of lecterns weren’t only used during the trials but would have also been used during the events themselves.


Lecterns In Politics


While religious lecterns may provide the longest-serving examples, the most iconic one often come from the world of politics. The U.S presidential lectern is probably the most recognizable. While the design has evolved over the decades, the big lectern depicting the famous badge is known by everyone.   


In truth, some of the most famous presidential images involve them standing by the lectern surrounded by the stars and stripes. Whether those public declarations are made in famous halls or outside the white house, the lectern is always a key part of the picture. This is something that unites all 45 presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump.


Politicians across the globe use lecterns too. Some of the most significant images of the 20th century involve figures from both sides during WW2. Whether it’s Sir Winston Churchill’s famous war cries or Adolf Hitler’s public addressing of German crowds, lecterns are always there. Meanwhile, leaders from around the globe use them too.


Many political debates have embraced the use of lecterns too. It can be argued that their regularity increased throughout the 20th century partly due to television coverage. However, they date back long before the invention and popularization of TV. At its core, the political lectern establishes trust and authority with the live audience.


Lecterns In Showbiz


Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, showbusiness has offered huge cultural significance. Award ceremonies almost always utilize lecterns to help hosts and guest stay on top of things. Moreover, those platforms form a part of the stage design that people have become familiarized with over the decades.


Any theater or space used for public speaking can look a little strange, especially on TV. However, the idea of using a lectern in entertainment is far from a 20th-century addition. Plays and other pieces often included a lectern of some sort to the side of the stage. This would be for the narrator to read aloud. Before the days of public speaker systems, the ability to address the entire audience at once was crucial. Without it, the whole production would fall flat.


Lecterns are also depicted in several movies set in the fantasy world. From sci-fi thrillers to fantasy adventures, even figures from the world of fiction need those items. Given that humans have persisted with the item for centuries, that element is hardly surprising.


Lecterns In Education


Teaching isn’t limited to religious studies. It may cover a whole host of subjects and ideas. Given that this is a form of public speaking, lecterns have made a regular appearance throughout the ages. The concept of teaching children at school dates back to the middle of the last millennium. While the presence of podiums and lecterns was far from universal, they were used.   


Throughout the centuries, the DNA of a classroom has changed. Still, assemblies and lectures have been used for teachings. From kids to mature students, this has been evident for generations. Not least in university learning throughout the western world.


Education is, and has been, a key part of business too. The concept of public lectures has evolved over the generations. Back in the days before technology, company owners would often address employees all at once. In many situations, especially when reading a prepared speech, lecterns would be a very useful addition.


Lecterns In Law


One of the main purposes for lecterns is that they establish authority and keep the attention where it should be. Courtrooms are among the most important venues to ensure this happens. As such, lecterns have been used for centuries in law, as has already been mentioned through the public executions of ancient times.


Judges have used lecterns throughout the history of legal matters as we know them. Likewise, lecterns are often used by people taking the oath, especially when reading statements and other key notes. This is true in most western countries and has been for centuries.


In fitting with the design aspects of most courtrooms, the history of this arena shows wood to be the most common material. However, plastics and acrylics have been known to be incorporated in the courtroom too. Ultimately, though, lecterns are used to maintain good law and order during those legal matters.


The Design Of Lecterns


Lecterns come in various shapes and sizes. This is especially true when contrasting the materials used in different areas through the centuries. However, the designs benefit both speaker and listener.   


The slanted surfaces remove distractions for the audience. But speakers can also use the lecterns for promotion. After all, the big space in front can carry the logo of a religion, business, or cause. Meanwhile, being stood up aids posture throughout the talks while encouraging a greater sense of confidence.


Podiums, however, are perhaps simpler but are good for off-the-cuff speeches. Likewise, speakers that want to use a stage or interact with individuals may take this alternative. For professional, authoritative talks, the lectern has been the winner for centuries.


Lecterns In The 21st Century


In truth, the fundamental features of lecterns and podiums have changed very little over the course of history. The type of people seen using them may have evolved, not least in the modern age of celebrity and advanced business networking. Still, they very much remain a resource used to help those addressing the masses in both public and private environments. Moreover, they continue to offer great function in some of the fields mentioned above.


Contemporary lecterns can look vastly different from those of previous generations. Acrylic lecterns and other modern materials offer an entirely new look. Meanwhile, even wood lecterns and podiums using natural materials boast far greater style. This is especially noticeable when they utilize adjustable heights and professional engraving. Essentially, the versatility of size, color, and material puts the individual in greater control.   


Aside from the esthetical upgrades, modern day lecterns can boast electrical speaker systems. With the use of wi-fi systems and other advanced tech, the 21st-century is now miles ahead of those from previous generations. In many cases, they host computer screens so that the user can see what is being shown to audiences on the screen behind without turning away.


Lecterns continue to be seen in political debates, courtrooms, and a host of important scenarios. For professional public speakers across the country, their significance is sure to remain for many more years to come. After all, the human and social evolution isn’t going to progress much further than it already has.

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