Whenever a company decides to transform their usual in-person or Zoom-based meetings into virtual town halls, their presenters inevitably face a certain choice: to teleprompt, or not to teleprompt?

In other words, when they give their presentation, what device should they be relying on for their notes?

A. WHAT IS A TELEPROMPTER AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

A teleprompter is… very much what it sounds like: your speaking prompts, presented on a television screen. But not just any television screen.

More specifically, a real teleprompter (as employed by news outlets and professional broadcast television) is a small two-way mirror which sits directly in front of the camera lens where the presenter or news anchor is going to be looking when they address the audience. The speaker’s word-for-word script will roll slowly from the bottom of the screen to the top (like movie credits) while the presenter reads them aloud.

If you think that sounds like a tricky feat to do under pressure, you’re not wrong.

B. IS IT EASY TO READ A TELEPROMPTER?

Using a teleprompter is a tremendous skill that takes lots of practice. It’s a skill that most people haven’t necessarily developed, and it can sometimes take years to really master. If you struggle to read the average book aloud without stumbling over your own tongue (a lot of us fall into this category), you can probably imagine the extra work it takes to do that reading while the letters are actually in motion.

Now, having a good teleprompter operator behind the scenes can alleviate some of the stress from this task. This person can enlarge the text beforehand to whatever size and font you prefer. Often they can also slow down or speed up the text in response to how quickly or slowly you’re reading through the script.

But even if you’ve got a top-notch teleprompter operator in your corner, and even if you manage to read every word of your script as written… that alone doesn’t actually guarantee the success of your presentation.

C. ARE THERE DRAWBACKS TO TELEPROMPTERS?

The truth is, reading off of a teleprompter takes a lot of energy, and it takes a lot of focus. It takes so much energy and focus, in fact, that many presenters who use them will become stiff and robotic in their delivery, because they’re concentrating so very hard on reciting every single word correctly.

This means your message could end up taking a back seat to your struggle to “just read the lines right.”

Yes, trying to find the right word to describe something is important–– but even the most eloquently-sculpted manuscript can put people to sleep if it’s read by a monotone machine. Your audience can tell if you’re just reciting line by line from an essay, and they won’t like it. The result is a speech that feels canned and artificial, rather than authentic.

What’s a presenter to do?

D. ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO TELEPROMPTERS?

The real solution to a successful and authentic presentation, whether in-person or virtual, with or without a teleprompter, requires two exceedingly simple steps:

  1. Rehearse Your Presentation.
  2. Know Your Material.

Before the 2020 pandemic, this is what speakers did before going onstage for any in-person events. They practiced. They reviewed. Whether they also relied on a handful of index cards or else just glanced over at their own powerpoint occasionally, they still spent the majority of their time looking out at the audience and connecting with them over the content itself.

This is a skill a lot of professionals have lapsed on since the pandemic hit, because we’ve gotten used to having all our highly-detailed manuscripts right in front of us on our laptop screens.

Getting away from a word-by-word script will take some work, but it’s vital if you want to create something truly valuable.

Some alternatives to teleprompter scripts that can help keep you on track and yet authentic are:

  1. Bullet Points
    Instead of loading a fully-realized script into the teleprompter, just load short phrases to remind you about the key items you need to cover in your presentation. This is a fantastic alternative to recitation.
  2. A Confidence Monitor
    Instead of a small screen with your entire script, some studios may instead be able to provide a television under the camera that shows your presentation slides. This way you won’t have to look away to refer to your powerpoint, and (like the bullet points) you should have enough cues to remember all your talking points. (Think of this as the modern-day cue card.)
  3. Paper Notes
    Yes, ‘analog’ notes are allowed in the digital age! You can print or write out some of your key notes to have in your hands while you present–– your audience really won’t mind, as long as you’re not staring down to read off entire paragraphs of content you really ought to already know by now.

Ultimately, it’s best that you don’t rely on notes from any source too heavily… but notes can be a great safety net or set of guidelines to keep you on track as you go through your delivery. Whatever you choose, the key to success is rehearsal and expertise.

E. WHERE AND WHEN ARE TELEPROMPTERS MOST RECOMMENDED?

For speakers with a history in the broadcast industry, a teleprompter might be an easy and helpful tool that they’re comfortable employing. For everyone else, a teleprompter with a full script should probably be saved for only a few rare instances.

If a livestream or virtual town hall needs some very specific terms recited, then a trained presenter can read off a short paragraph or two for the event’s open, close, or for a transition. Just remember, this is for brief moments when vocabulary is vital, and you need your expert to really “nail” a certain message (such as, a topic your legal team might otherwise be concerned about).

The truth is, regardless of whether you end up using a teleprompter or a conference monitor or even just a handful of index cards, knowing your material will breathe authenticity into your message and get you through anything.

F. GOT MORE QUESTIONS?

Here Are Some of the Top Questions We Get Asked About Virtual Events:

If you’d rather not wait for us to release our next blog article answering each of these questions in turn, feel free to reach out to us at optimumproductions.com/contact-us and we can help you plan the virtual event that’s right for your company!

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