A lectern (from the Latin lectus, past participle of legere, "to read") is a reading desk with a slanted top, usually placed on a stand or affixed to a some other form of support, on which documents or books are placed as support for reading aloud, as in a Scripture reading, lecture, or sermon. To facilitate eye-contact and improve posture when facing an audience, lecterns may have adjustable height and slant. Persons generally use lecterns while standing.
Lecterns used in academia - generally in seminar rooms and lecture theatres - may have certain features common lecterns lack, based on the technological sophistication of the venue. These features usually include a microphone stand, audio-visual controls, sometimes even an integrated computer and recording system. Lecterns of this sort are generally attached or integrated into a large desk, as the amount of support material tends to be larger in academic contexts than in straightforward public talks.
A lectern is not a podium and a podium is not a lectern. You lecture from a lectern and you stand on a podium.
In a church, the lectern is usually the stand on which the Bible rests and from which the "lessons" (reading from Scripture) are read during the service. The lessons may be read or chanted by a priest, deacon, minister, or layperson, depending upon the liturgical traditions of the community. The lectern is normally set in front of the pew, so that the reader or speaker faces the congregation.
Lecterns are often made of wood, and sometimes from brass in the shape of an eagle. The latter symbolizes the word of God being spread world wide. They may be either fixed in place or portable. A lectern differs from a pulpit, the latter being used for sermons. Churches that have both a lectern and a pulpit will often have to them on opposite sides. The lectern will generally be smaller than the pulpit, and both may be adorned with antipendia in the color of the liturgical season.
In monastic churches and cathedrals, a separate lectern is commonly set in the centre of the choir. Originally this would have carried the antiphonal book, for use by the cantor or precentor leading the singing of the divine office.
A common error among speakers is the mistake of referring to the lectern as a "podium". The podium is in fact the raised platform upon which both the speaker and the lectern are standing.