A lecture on lecterns

Modern AV technology can be a powerful tool for delivering a message via a multimedia presentation. However, if the technology is not carefully arrange then getting the thing to work can a battle that distracts from the business of getting a point across. Henk De Groot of Intelligent Lectern Systems makes the case for a better presentation environment.

Wasn’t it Lincoln who once wrote to a friend: “I apologize for the length of this letter, unfortunately I had little time, otherwise I would have written a shorter one”?
Presenting in a comprehensive manner is the key to effective communication. While not everyone is talented and gifted by nature to be an effective communicator, we can use tools to compensate. If you are not a politician, chances are that you are using slides to convey your message. 19 out of 20 presentations are delivered using Microsoft PowerPoint.
How do we do it? We write a lot of notes on the slides so that we know what to say, we bring our PC, plug it into the projector, find our presentation while entertaining the audience, and off we go! Right?
Professional audiovisual system integrators have already taken great pains to make conference facilities work with buttons to start the projector, close the curtains, dim the lights, sockets for the notebook PC and audio amplification, often all brought together in a nicely crafted podium ….
Getting under the skin of the presenter - and deliver the presentation - is usually out of the realms of the AV systems integrator.
Apart from personality and subject expertise, when presentations falter it is because somehow a notebook does not communicate with the projector, PC display-out settings are wrong, cluttered desktops are shown or an embedded animation or video-clip is not working as planned. The problem with that is: a. loss of productive time (= minutes x entire audience!); and b. the presenter’s great reputation as an expert in his field is reduced by the fact that he/she is a lot less of an expert when it comes to information technology…
We all witness seminars, meetings and conferences where things go wrong or where schedules are overrun, - despite professional support in the back of the room - and take it for granted.
Lecterns were once just a comfortable place to read from a book. Now the book is replaced by a display showing notes – and it still has a place for paper notes. When – in education or training – there still is a book to quote from, a document camera brings the page to the wall.
A low level definition of today’s lectern is ‘a construction that offers a place for notes on paper and a socket for a notebook (power & VGA/DVI sockets), a reading light and a microphone’. Because presenters should not be constrained to the lectern desk, an additional microphone is placed on the person, and a presenter remote allows for free movement. This construction is often stylish and architecturally integrated in its surroundings, and therefore of (often expensive) custom design.
Ergonomics require:
a. A line of sight perpendicular to the centre of the lectern display surface. To assist in this, height adjustment and/or surface tilt are basic essentials. USA ADA-compliance dictates that wheelchair-using presenters will be able to use the system without special provisions.
b. Comfortable grip: especially the male half of the population lends its comfort from being able to firmly grab the lectern. Close your eyes and hold your hands apart at presumed lectern height in the most comfortable position, they will be about 60-70 cm apart, so this is the best width of a lectern top surface.
c. Maximum body exposure from the waist up. The audience needs to see your arms waving, your body language is essential. However there is a trade-off as presenters also need to read their notes every now and then.
d. That a lectern is placed on the left side of the screen. We read from left to right, thus a presenter pointing at the screen points at the beginning of a line, except when a language is read from the right to the left, when the lectern is placed on the right side.
e. A high quality cardioid condenser microphone with easy to use mute on/off and clearly visible status indication.

A new category of solutions has emerged: Intelligent Lecterns and Presentation Systems.
More and more facilities include a fixed PC in a conference room. The intelligent lectern provides seamless integration of PC and a large interactive display in a lectern-like system, it is a presentation appliance. Earlier definitions still apply, but now add modern support tools: in fact the software support is more essential than the hardware. PowerPoint was not written with large touch screens in mind, but oriented to mouse and tablet use. A package like sho-Q was specially written to deal with multiple PowerPoint presentations on large touch screens in a seamless fashion. (www.sho-q.com) The system exploits dual graphics capability. The presenter gets to see his/her notes, the current, previous and next slide, and he/she can select from all slides and from all presentations with one single touch. The audience always views images with no apparent interruptions, even not when one presenter makes way for the next.
Ergonomics of the hardware: Tilt and height adjustment now become even more essential. The display is positioned at a low angle so a person can comfortably point at information or buttons on screen. A pen-interactive display such as Smart Sympodium needs to be positioned higher at elbow level for comfortable writing. A finger touch display needs to be lower (at least a fist below the elbow according to our recommendations) to create the angle that is needed to point with the index finger, and not have the little finger hit the touch sensitive screen first. The minimum screen size ideally is 19” – 22” for legibility at just wide enough distance from the eye. Display tilt is set to maintain the same angle for the hand on the lower and upper part of the monitor. Such systems can be cabinet based, installed on a height adjustable foot or more or less a portable desktop presentation system.
Now we can come back to the beginning: effective communication, productive meetings and conducting professional events.
Considering the intelligent lectern as a presentation appliance is truly a software consideration with the hardware contributing ergonomically:
Setting up a series of presentations is a matter of minutes and demands no specialist knowledge
Allowing for the last minute contributor who brings a presentation on a USB stick (auto start on insert – auto delete on removal)
Easy access to any presentations server over networks, archiving and streaming options
Absolute comfortable position and a graphical user interface that eliminates error and that is totally intuitive (no training needed at all)
Control buttons or functions that only show up when they are needed (context sensitive support)
Don’t bore the audience with extensive notes on the slides, but put them in the notes section of PowerPoint. The picture on the wall is in support of your speech, it is not the speech itself.
Better timing: Use the ‘preview of next slide’ feature and lead into the next slide without showing it just yet, to captivate the audience and then reveal it to release the tension. Show a black screen every now and then, when you want focus on your body language.
Walk away from the lectern, use the stage. The remote keeps your lectern notes in sync anyway.

Lecterns, room sizes, target audience, room control.
Lecterns are not restricted to auditorium and lecture halls. Lecterns should be seen as productivity devices fit for any board meeting, training session or meeting with a customer in a small conference room … It really belongs wherever people meet and feel the urge to present!
Lecterns come in many shapes and forms, but it is the interaction of software and hardware that eliminates technology problems and agenda overruns. This demands the support of truly converged AV and IT expertise and channels.
By developing standard appliance like lectern solutions, Intelligent Lectern Systems has taken a leading role in paving the way to new cost-effective and productive solutions. No doubt others will follow.
Back to where we started: There is a lot to consider in order for us to keep the message short!

Henk De Groot
Henk de Groot is the owner of ILS, Intelligent lectern Systems.

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