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Seven Tips for the Teleprompter

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

"All I have to do is read off the Teleprompter? No problem!”

Many speakers mistakenly think that reading a speech from a Teleprompter will be easy, so they stint on the practice. That is a serious miscalculation. 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.

A public speech is much more than merely words read into a microphone. It is a performance intended 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 necessity of reading the words. 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. If you are a business speaker and would like to avoid a "Zombie-like” performance, here are seven suggestions that will make your Teleprompter performances better.

1. The pause that refreshes. The great difficulty of speaking from the Teleprompter is in overcoming the relentless roll of the words. A hypnotic inertia sets in that turns a perfectly intelligent speaker of good English into a mindless parrot. 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 insert pauses into the text. The Teleprompter operator will pause with you and resume scrolling when you resume speaking. Pausing is a sign of confidence in a speaker.

2. Read in phrases. Of course the pauses are not the only way to control the pace of the speech. In your rehearsals, look for figures of speech, groups of words that work together, and read from phrase to phrase rather than word to word. Good phrasing is essential to overcome a monotonous rate of speech. You must interpret the speech, enliven the words with energy and emphasis. Good phrasing ventilates a speech, making it easier to understand.

3. Make the writing terse. Short, simple sentences that move quickly to the point, are more easily grasped by the listener. Compound sentences and convoluted syntax are fatal traps for the speaker. Find interesting, dynamic verbs, and beware of slumping into a passive voice; "meetings were held. . .” would be stronger if written "the board met often.” 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 on which the words are reflected, to the audience beyond. If a good speech is a "conversation amplified,” then the speaker must provide both halves of the conversation. Thus, by pausing, phrasing and seeming to listen to the other half, the audience’s half, you bring the speech to life. Be positive and optimistic in your conversation, with an open demeanor that invites agreement. Smile!

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? Is it too expressive, are you mugging? Play it back with the sound off and see. Is your voice expressive enough? Are you shouting? Cover the screen and just listen to the playback. Remember, the purpose of rehearsal is to make the speech seem easy.

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 that will appear right on the screen along with your text. For instance: "(Point to chart)” or "(Gesture to the Chairman)” 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. You might have a favorite story that you know well and do not need to read; or you may 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. And be sure to take good old paper notes to the lectern with you. Teleprompters, like any technological device, can let you down.

Teleprompters do indeed make life easier for the business speaker. More and more executives these days find themselves reading from a scrolling white text on a dark background when delivering a speech. As useful as it is, however, it comes at a cost. Only by being aware of the pitfalls, can the savvy speaker prepare and overcome the dangers of this important speaker’s tool.