Grammar Podium vs. Lectern vs. Pulpit: What Are the Differences? |
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Podium vs. Lectern vs. Pulpit: What Are the Differences?

Let’s say you need to stand and deliver a speech tonight. Will you be behind the podium, lectern, or pulpit?

Most of us have heard these words, and we generally understand they relate to public speaking. However, some of us might be uncertain about the distinctions among a podium, a lectern, and a pulpit.

We’ll help to clarify that in this post.

What Is a Podium?

Traditionally, a podium is an elevated platform that a person stands on. The word relates to the Greek prefix pod, which means “foot.” The raised area for a public presentation is technically the podium.

In today’s usage, however, we also refer to a podium as a stand for public speaking, usually put in place for notes, a microphone, or possibly a bottle of water. It might include a visual element (e.g., a presidential seal) or support audiovisual aids as well.

This modern usage of the word brings us to the next question.

What Is a Lectern?

A lectern is a stand that supports books, notes, or sometimes a microphone. It is generally meant to be stood behind while one delivers a speech or set of remarks. We often see politicians, organizational leaders, and legal representatives stand behind a lectern when addressing the public.

You might already be intuiting where the confusion can arise. Our contemporary use of podium has made it synonymous with lectern. That is why the two words have become so interchangeable.

Podium or Lectern

Most people say “podium” when they mean “lectern.” One stands on a podium; one stands behind a lectern.

A podium is a raised platform. A speaker or conductor or performer stands on the podium for increased visibility.

The words lectern and lecture are both from the Latin legere, meaning “to read.” Speakers delivering a lecture place their notes on the slanted surface of the lectern.

What Is a Pulpit?

The most distinctive of the three words, a pulpit is traditionally a raised and enclosed platform. Pulpits have long been associated with priests or pastors delivering sermons at churches.

As with a podium or lectern, a pulpit might have space for notes, water, or a microphone. However, a pulpit tends to be larger and more ornate. It also often surrounds the speaker rather than just being in front.

So Which Word Do You Need?

In most current settings, the terms podium and lectern can be used interchangeably. If your employer or instructor has a preference, simply follow that guideline. If they don’t have a first choice, you can include the one that feels best to you in the context you are using it.

You will likely use pulpit most often in reference to speaking or presenting at a church or religious service. Beyond the fact that a pulpit’s meaning and physical characteristics differ from the other two words’, using it mainly in that framework can help others differentiate it even more.

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