Twenty bucks says most people searching this blog already heard all the “I’m Ron Burgundy?” (emphasis on the question mark) jokes they can handle. Either you yourself are trying not to look like you’re being held hostage when you read a prompter, or one of your executives is forgetting to blink while reading a prompter and you need some tips…and visine. Here’s the down and dirty on what you can do to read a teleprompter naturally during your presentation, speech, or online course recordings.
It is not natural to read giant words on a screen while you talk, but you can learn how to be natural reading a teleprompter
Most of 2020 all live events and presentations transitioned to the virtual world and zooms, but now that the option for in-person is emerging, many people are remaining cautious and others like the control of virtual events. So virtual events aren’t going away! Whether you’re recording from your office, on a cell phone, in a production studio or in front of a crowd, a teleprompter is a common tool presenters use to deliver detailed and structured dialogue.
With our video production clients we deter from offering a teleprompter for any event or video production recording unless 1) the executive has proven experience and ability to read a prompter or 2) they take our training to be confident reading a prompter first.
One Fortune 500 client set up an entire day of prompter gear, scripting, and video production only to have the end result never see the light of day because the executive refused feedback on how to look less “deer in the headlights” while delivering some very important investor information. The executive had a better chance of landing the delivery with notes on a note card and the occasional glance down, but ego got in the way and the prompter disaster unfolded.
Prompters aren’t needed for every job. Even seasoned TV professional Nancy O’Dell who has read a prompter for years, leans on note cards and camera-taped notes for some jobs when a prompter and professional operator aren’t part of the project or budget. Prompters aren’t something to fear, but they are something to respect.
When you need to do the best you can without a professional prompter training session, here are five tips to get better results reading a teleprompter naturally. (The author has worked with teleprompters since the good ol’ days when she had to print paper scripts and flip each page as the anchors read along. We are so lucky to have this technology in the palms of our hands now.)
The prompter should go over the camera lens
Because we now have teleprompter apps on tablets and cellphones, a big obstacle we see is the prompter being too far away from the actual lens of the camera. A camera, and an audience, notice the slightest eye deviations from the camera lens. Professional prompters go over the camera, laptop camera or webcam and use a mirror to reflect the script text onto the screen. The script is scrolled by a professional prompter operator who learns the cadence of the speaker through rehearsals. The talent and operator work out visual cues such as underlining, indenting, color coding words and uppercase and lowercase letters. We’ll talk more about that later.
There are prompters on the market now that slip over the laptop camera allowing the reader’s eye to stay in the range of the camera lens.
Even displaying the prompter text on the actual screen of the laptop being used for a zoom isn’t close enough to the camera lens. And it matters because you want your talent to be as natural as possible while delivering their content. Shifty eyes or back and forth reading are received as trite by an audience and can negatively impact the way the words land with them. It’s worth investing in a device that goes over the camera and displays the script so your talent has one less temptation to look away from the camera and break audience eye contact.
The prompter should be big enough to display three half sentences
In this increased access to production technology we see lower cost and also lower technical ability. It is most ideal to have a 12-15-inch screen displaying text for the reader so
You read that awkwardly, didn’t you? Prompters that rely on a cell phone to display scripts can be incredibly jarring for those reading the text. Our eyes naturally see and scan a few lines ahead of where we’re actually reading which helps the talent understand intonation and inflection that is approaching. You know where a sentence is going to end because your brain has already seen the period. Our eyes process seven to nine letters to the right and jumps to what are called “fixation points” or your content words. If you want to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon of our eye/brain behavior check out this article. Try to get a prompter display that is 12-15-inches or if you must use a cell phone or tablet, get the font size small enough so there are several lines on the screen for your talent to read and scan ahead.
Test, test, test, and probably test one more time
You have your prompter, you have the script, you have the talent in place, now is time to test. A teleprompter test should replicate the real life scenario as much as physically possible. If there will be lights beside the prompter to light your talent, that could affect their ability to read the prompter. If the camera/prompter combo will be 15-inches away from your talent make sure they can read the font size on the prompter. And if the talent is not wearing glasses for their presentation, make certain they do their prompter test without their glasses too.
A prompter test is for more than just the logistics of the production, a prompter test is for the talent to run through the entire script and test words, pacing, tempo and delivery. It’s critical the talent reads the prompter out loud during a test. Many times, we’ve seen talent mouth the words or speak them to themselves and it does affect how they process the information.
Ideally, your talent reads the script start to finish three times in rehearsal. Note: Start to Finish. A common pitfall is allowing talent to read the first 3-minutes and wrapping up rehearsal. Unfamiliarity with the words, intention, length of script and pronunciation will result in an unnatural delivery.
Rely on colors, fonts, and ellipses to help you read a prompter naturally
During the run-through of rehearsals this is the chance for the talent to give feedback on hacks that will help them read the teleprompter naturally. Making specific words BOLD, all caps, using *asterisks*, adding extra spaces, my personal and most news anchors favorite the ellipsis …, and color-coded highlighting are scripting options that can help your executive focus emphasis on specific messages.
The consumer accessible prompters don’t always have the extra formatting features, especially if you’re using a free app to display the text, however, it’s worth the cost to have these abilities. BIGVU is an example of an app that allows you to prompt a script on your cell phone, tablet or computer without an extra piece of equipment. Paying a subscription for the ability to personalize the script can go a long way.
Make the words your own
The last tip may be the most vital to a natural delivery while reading a teleprompter, make the words your own. A script must be in the speaker’s “voice” or it will, of course, come out unnaturally. For news anchors, they change the scripts to match their personal style until the news producer writing the script picks up on how the talent delivers. In fact, one should NEVER read someone else’s words as their own without making tweaks and modifications to make it feel more natural.
Here are examples:
“I’m honored to be here with you today and to share the vision I have for our company going into 2023.”
That seems like a simple enough sentence but for myself, I’d change that to:
“I am so excited to be here with you right now. Today, I will share my vision for *our company* as we head into 2023.”
As you go through rehearsal, reading aloud, you’ll notice when you need to naturally take a breath, you realize how much you need to swallow as you read, what words you do not like to say, where to add words that are authentically yours. And just as importantly, when you make the words your own, you’ll find those moments you can smile, use your hands to emphasize or take that affirming deep breath to stick the landing of your message.