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On the Teleprompter

#69 - 02/01/2005

"Words are but the signs of ideas." -Samuel Johnson, (1709-1784)

"There's a Teleprompter? All I have to do is show up and read? No problem!"

It's a popular misconception that reading a speech from a Teleprompter is easy and requires no practice. Wrong! While it may be simple enough to read from a scrolling text, it is not so easy to turn that into an energetic, rapport-building speech that successfully moves your audience to action.

Speaking is more than just parroting words, isn't it? In order to really communicate, you need to build a relationship with the audience. Most first time efforts at Teleprompted speaking are wooden, monotonous and deadly dull. As my colleague and media coach, T. J. Walker puts it, they sound like "Dead Men Talking." Here are seven suggestions that will make your Teleprompter performances better.

1. The pause that refreshes. The great danger of Teleprompter is the relentless roll of the words. You must impose your rhythm on the speech – not the other way around. The most important element in rhythm is the pause. Remember, the prompter will follow your lead. If you stop, it will stop. So pause, look away from it and re-establish eye contact. Pausing is a sign of confidence in a speaker.

2. Read in phrases, not word by word. Good phrasing is essential to overcome a monotonous rate of speech. You must interpret the speech, enliven the words with energy and emphasis.

3. Make the writing terse. Keep the sentences short and simple. The idea to be expressed must be quickly grasped by the listener. Compound sentences and convoluted syntax are fatal traps for the speaker. Repetitions are positive qualities in a speech. Restate your points in different ways. These are good ideas for any speech, but especially for one on Teleprompter.

4. Perform with energy. To avoid the typical "wooden monotone" so often found in speeches from Teleprompter, the speaker must speak through the screen to the audience beyond. It's vital to endow the glass on which the words are reflected with a personality and express yourself with extra energy to that personality.

5. Rehearse on video. One of the most valuable tools in my coaching kit is my camcorder. Videotape your rehearsals to discover the energy level of your communication. Are you talking to someone, or simply droning on? Is your face animated? Play it back with the sound off and see. Is your voice expressive enough? Cover the screen and just listen to the playback.

6. Give yourself stage directions. The new versions of Teleprompter allow you to use different fonts, colored text, and many symbols to indicate emphases, emotions, gestures and facial expressions (Smile!) Your operator will be helpful in suggesting and creating useful and personal text notes for you. Of course, you should practice these thoroughly.

7. Consider other ways to use the Teleprompter. It's not always a good idea to have an entire speech written out on the prompter. Suppose you have a favorite story, or you want to insert an ad lib conversation with someone? You can break away from the prompter and return when you're finished. Some people just put an outline of their talk on the prompter to help them stay on track. Do not feel compelled by other speakers to copy their style. . . find your own.

Teleprompter is a valuable tool for speakers in live situations, and indispensable to broadcasters. As useful as it is, however, it comes with a cost. In live situations, eye contact will suffer and rapport with the audience will be diminished. Find ways to break away from the prompter as often as possible and re-establish contact with the audience. On television, you must think of projecting your energy through the words on the prompter screen and the camera lens behind them.

Speaking is not merely reading words. It is a performance to communicate ideas. If those ideas are important to you and you want them to be important to your listeners, you must fill them with your passion, commitment, and the force of your personality. It's ironic that the communication of those ideas is so often impeded by the gadget scrolling the words.

A Thought to Ponder
This little tidbit contains all you really need to know about government and bureaucracy.
Pythagorean theorem: 24 words.
The Lord's prayer: 66 words.
Archimedes' Principle: 67 words.
The 10 Commandments: 179 words.
Lincoln's Gettysburg address: 286 words.
The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words.
The US Government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words.

- source unknown