There it is: your entire presentation, sitting in front of you on a teleprompter like a warm, comfortable, digital security blanket.
Politicians use them. Television hosts use them. Why shouldn't you?
The most direct answer is that speaking from a teleprompter is hard. If most speakers who read from a prepared script sound like they're reading from a script, imagine how much tougher
it is to read one from two small panels of glass, flanked on the speaker's
left and right sides, located feet apart from one another.
Because it's difficult for most speakers to develop a rapport with their
audiences while using a teleprompter, we typically discourage their use. In
limited circumstances, though, the teleprompter can be a useful
tool. (An example: a high-stakes event at which the precision of your
words—which will carry to a much broader audience outside the
room—matters more than the connection you forge with the live audience inside the room.)
President Ronald Reagan, 1988, with a traditional "presidential"
teleprompter setup (via Reagan Library)
[RELATED: The 2017 Speechwriters Conference features a panel of four former presidential speechwriters.]
Consider these guidelines when using a teleprompter:
control the pace:
Teleprompters typically display four to six lines of text at a time. Most
presenters prefer to have the line they're speaking in the middle of the
glass. If it's too close to the top, they rush to say it before the line
disappears (teleprompters scroll from bottom to top); if it's at the
bottom, they worry that their next line won't arrive in time. To make sure
your lines appear exactly where you want them, practice several times with
the person scrolling the teleprompter for you. This part is crucial: The
teleprompter operator should follow your pace, not the other way
around. When you slow down, the prompter's scroll should slow down. When
you speed up, so should your text. Rehearsing will help the operator get
familiar with your flow and give you confidence that you are in sync with
one another. During your rehearsal, make sure you're comfortable with the
font size and panel height, which can be adjusted.
Avoid the ping pong match:
Because most teleprompters have a left and right panel, speakers tend to
turn their heads back and forth in a predictable manner as if watching a
fast-moving ping pong match.
Dallas Prompters, a company that specializes in the technology, advises speakers, "Push
yourself to stay with each panel for longer than (at first) feels
comfortable; use the start of a new sentence—or, even better, introduction
of a new topic—as a reason to change the direction of your gaze."
Consider adding extemporaneous holes:
There are advantages to leaving your script occasionally to add brief
portions of extemporaneous speech. Make sure you clearly mark the script
("PROMPTER STOP - TELL CLIENT STORY"), and practice those moments with the
operator in advance. The operator will stop scrolling upon seeing that cue,
and your next scripted line will be waiting for you when you finish the
story. One note: Inserting a planned extemporaneous hole is different from
extended spontaneous ad-libs, which can confuse the operator and leave you
staring at the wrong part of the script when you're ready for it again.
Mark the script:
You can add clear emphasis and reminder cues, just as you would use in a
paper script. Because teleprompters can malfunction (always bring a printed
copy of your speech with you to the stage.), there's one additional mark
you should insert—page endings. Because there are no clear markings of page
endings on a prompter (all the words run as continuous text), add a mark
such as three backslashes (///) to signify to yourself that you've reached
a page break. Every time you see those three backslashes on the prompter,
subtly turn the page on your paper copy. That way, if the prompter dies,
you will be on the correct printed page can find your place quickly.
You can also use prompters for brief bulleted memory triggers rather than a
complete text, which allows for a more extemporaneous style.
More commonly, you'll find that approach used with "confidence monitors,"
or TV screens mounted to the stage floor that contain your brief bullets,
often alongside an image of the PowerPoint slide being projected behind
you. Look closely at the video of many TED Talks, and you'll see them at
the foot of the stage.
You can see confidence monitors at the front of the stage in Amy
Cuddy's 2012 TED Talk.
You might also use a blended teleprompter approach that contains bullets and a few scripted sections if you'd like to read a few quotes or
Brad Phillips is president of
Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of
Mr. Media Training Blog, (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books:
The Media Training Bible" and "
101 Ways to Open a Speech."