Brandt Krueger

Freelance Technical Meeting and Event Production, Education, Speaking, and Consulting. Geek Dad, Husband

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Host, GatherGeeks - A Podcast by BizBash

On Teleprompters- What are they, and when should you use them?

It is no secret that being a good communicator is key to success in business. We value those who have the ability to communicate well, and that often includes public speaking. One proven tool to aid in the delivery of a speech or presentation is the teleprompter. However, knowing when and how to use one may be just as instrumental in earning that standing ovation.

History of the Teleprompter Simply put, a teleprompter is a device that “prompts” the person speaking with a visual text of a speech or script. This allows the reader to read the text word for word, ensuring a consistent and accurate speech, while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.

In the 1950s, Fred Barton, Jr. came up with the idea of a teleprompter as an actor. He later helped found the TelePrompTer Corporation, which built the first devices. Although in some countries it may be referred to as an AutoCue (a UK brand name), the TelePrompTer name has become the generic term for these devices in most of the world.

The earliest teleprompter was nothing more than a scroll of paper with a script printed on it that was then run over a mechanical device operated by a hidden technician. It wasn’t long before the initial version was improved upon by becoming automated and mounted on a television camera. These improvements, though better than cue cards and a standalone prompter, were not enough because the speaker was still looking slightly off camera. Thus came the next, and most important improvement: reflective glass.

Instead of being mounted facing the speaker, the prompter was mounted below the camera and facing up, or mounted above the camera and facing down, with the text reflected off a piece of glass directly in front of the camera lens.  The placement and construction of this glass prevented it from being seen by the camera and allowed the speaker to look directly into the camera while reading.

The computer revolution in the 1980s brought many advances. Scrolling paper rolls were replaced with monitors and computer-generated text as early as 1982, but were still in use as late as 1992. The advancement of technology has also enabled teleprompters to become lighter and thinner, straying away from old bulky ray tube monitors to ultra-slim flat screen monitors. Voice recognition software has also played a part. For example, high-end news organizations are testing teleprompters with the ability to be voice activated, ensuring that the prompter is always going the right speed for the speaker.

Today’s Types of Teleprompters The three main modern types of teleprompters are camera mounted, presidential, and floor or stand mounted.

  • The camera mounted teleprompter, as we’ve already discussed, works with text being bounced off special glass placed in front of the lens. This type of prompter is used mainly for pre-recorded videos for speakers, guests, or top-level management. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights and need to be coordinated with the AV provider to make sure that the right type is used and matches the camera.
  • The presidential teleprompter works basically in the same manner as the camera mounted monitor, except the mirrored glass is mounted at the end of a thin pole instead of on a camera. However, just like the on-camera models, the speaker is able to look directly at the audience through the glass as if it were not there. This is great for a live event. They are almost always used in pairs - one to the left and one to the right of center - encouraging the speaker to change focus and look at the entire audience.
  • The floor/stand teleprompter can be placed at an angle on the floor, mounted on a stand, or hung from rigging points in the back of the room. When using them by themselves, floor mounted prompters can be just as good as presidential prompters but it can cause the speaker to look down more or make them appear as if they are only talking to the first two rows of attendees.

In addition to the actual teleprompter itself, there are some other components that are also essential -- the software and the remote control. Both camera mounted and presidential prompters require images to be reflected off of a piece of glass, which then requires that the original text be reversed.  All professional prompter software should have this feature. Teleprompters also require a way in which to stop, start, and manipulate the speed of text.

When should/shouldn’t you use a Teleprompter? Using teleprompters, such as a presidential monitor, infers professionalism and makes a speaker look more “presidential.” In general, prompters make the speaker look better as they allow them to connect with the audience, whether live or prerecorded, through eye contact, and studies have shown that eye contact can be a major factor in whether or not we trust someone.

The average person (not a trained actor, or someone with a photographic memory) has a difficult time memorizing large chunks of text. This is why many speakers use PowerPoint or notecards to keep them on-track. However, these methods can be cumbersome and make the presenter feel the need to add graphics or slides when they may not be relevant or useful. Teleprompters are also used when a speaker needs to convey a lot of detail or technical specifications.

Just as knowing when to use a teleprompter is important, knowing when NOT to use one is just as essential. The budget of an event can play a very big part in the use of a teleprompter, because you not only have to pay for the equipment but you have to pay for the person to operate it. Cost is not the only factor when considering a teleprompter; the environment is just as important. If the room and audience are small, the use of a teleprompter might be awkward. Imagine being in a small breakout session and having the speaker behind a pair of presidential monitors.

Preparing Speakers for a Teleprompter Picking the right equipment is only half the battle when it comes to delivering a good speech. The speaker and the speech itself have to be a finely tuned machine. Options include hiring a speechwriter, which is surprisingly inexpensive, and they can work with the speaker to hone a message and to use language comfortable for the speaker. It is very important to write as one speaks, because if the language isn’t familiar, it often sounds stiff and awkward.

Not only does the speech have to be well written, the speaker delivering it has to also be well trained. The speaker should rehearse in the space before the event and allow plenty of time with the prompter itself. Even the most experienced speaker can find a prompter a little unsettling for the first time. Otherwise, a prompter will likely hurt the presentation, rather than help it.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that the speaker knows they are in control, not the teleprompter. It’s the operator’s job to make sure the speaker has the words they need, when they need them, not the job of the speaker to try and “keep up” with the prompter.

Conclusion In conclusion, knowing your audience, your prompter equipment, and your speech will ultimately reward you with a successful presentation. It is wise when budgeting to accommodate for not only the equipment itself, but for the operator and a possible script writer as well. Also, make sure that plenty of time is allowed for rehearsal and practice. Practicing with the equipment and with the operator can help make or break a perfect prompter presentation.

Originally published at metroConnections.com