« Typography: Going back to the future | Main | Dick Cavett on improving your speeches »

April 02, 2008



Is it the lack of control or the obscurity of having to read in a different position (rather than typically looking down) that causes people to have the most trouble?

I would think the lack of control/power, as CNN suggests, is the most difficult to deal with. If this is the case, is a wireless control a good solution? Politicians are typically behind a podium, which has room to hide the control.

If it's the position, I fear that it's just a matter of practice and experience that one must gain.


I think what Olmo is suggesting is that the speaker control the scrolling while behind the podium? That's way too difficult. The speaker is trying to read, look natural, look at different audience members, use gestures, and be animated. No way can he/she also control the scrolling. One has to take the time to practice with the person controlling the scroll. Politicians rarely have the time.

Dick Cavett, in his New York Times blog, had this tip for using teleprompters:
Tip #3. I feel almost silly when I do this one, but it works. Grab a bunch of words off the prompter and, instead of staring straight ahead, glance down and to one side as you do — in real life — when thinking just what to say next. Then look back and deliver those snatched-up words to the camera. It works like a charm. (As a beloved childhood magic catalogue of mine used to say — with unintended ambiguity — “We cannot recommend this trick too highly.”)

Garr Reynolds

Yes, I agree with that. There is too much going on as it is. Putting the speaker in control of one more thing is just too much. But it is important that the person controlling the screen is paying attention (which is what the CNN piece talked about). In John McCain's case above perhaps having three screens rather than just one in the center is too distracting. I love the comment about Dick Cavett -- one of the masters to be sure.


My experience using teleprompters myself and coaching executives to use them is this - if the speaker is quite comfortable with the material and is using the prompter primarily as a reminder of key points and backup in case he forgets something crucial then it can appear quite natural. If the presenter is more or less pitching the material for the first time then the probability of natural results is near-zero.

The only exception to this rule is when the speaker is "presenting" to a television camera and the prompter is mounted right on the lens. In that instance the presenter can read the material and be looking directly into the camera - that can be beautiful.


The McCain video is no longer availible...
Does anyone know another source for this video?

Paul DiBenedetto

I came across your blog while doing some research. As a professional teleprompter operator, I would agree with a number of your points, and would like to make an additional suggestion to enhance the teleprompting experience.

First, thank you for making the distinction between reading a speech and delivering a speech, and especially the need for practice. When working with a client I always tell them to tuen off that portion of their brain that is trying to search for the words, as I am providing that to them on the prompter, and to put all their energy into DELIVERING the message, using pauses ... emphasis ... and cadence. There are some speakers that will never get it, but most often we are able to coach speakers into delivering great speeches.

And that is where my suggestion comes in. The teleprompter operator is the most critical component to consider. Often, the teleprompter operator is an available member of the crew, perhaps a grip drafted for teleprompter duty. I've spoken with many people who's first experience with teleprompting was under similar circumstances and it was usually a disaster!

In order to have the best experience, the operator should be a professional, one that has been trained in, and participated in speech preparation and delivery. They love language. They understand what the client is going through in front of the audience or camera. They can anticipate the speaker's needs, especially is the speaker goes "off prompter" for extemporaneous comments.

However, one recomendation I would make is to severely limit the use of telepromting to completely scripted speeches. While "bulleted points" can be "scrolled", the complete bullet is often not fully on the screen at one time, therefore limiting the speaker's ability to snatch the thought from the prompter. The analogy is trying to pound a nail with a screwdriver. It can be done, but it isn't the tool for the job. A prompter shines at scrolling text. The best thing is to use it that way.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Search this blog

Get the books

TEDx Talks

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Amazon Affiliate Disclosure

    • Amazon Affiliate Disclosure
      Amazon Affiliate Disclosure This website contains Amazon affiliate links to products I use and recommend, which means that I receive a small commission on the sale of books and other products featured on the site. I only recommend books or other products which I have personally used unless otherwise noted. The purpose of this website is not to make money, but the small commissions do help to pay for the support of this website.