Okay, I get it that you might not find yourself reading from a teleprompter on a regular basis, but if you EVER are in that situation (or are working with someone who does) you’ll want to keep this nearby as a cheat sheet!
Trick #1 — It is not a magic wand. Even though all the words are right there in front of you, you still have to know your speech! If you ever see people staring blankly from the stage or on camera, it’s because they don’t know their script. It’s called a “prompt” for a reason — it is there to prompt you on something you are already familiar with. It is a security blanket in case you completely blank. While I understand it is very hard to know a long speech absolutely “cold,” you should still feel like you always know where you are going as you read from a teleprompter speech. That gives you the conversational tone you are seeking.
Trick #2 — Give it a test drive. Nothing provides you a sense of comfort like trying something out ahead of time and when using a teleprompter, that’s especially true. Part of the reason I looked like I knew what I was talking about all those years on TV is that I was comfortable reading off a teleprompter. (They only use them in the studio by the way, so I really DID have to know what I was talking about when I was out-in-the-field!) When you are called upon to speak from a teleprompter be sure they give you a chance to try it out first. You’ll learn to adjust your eyes to the screen and understand what the words look like as they roll across the screen in front of you. Font size can be adjusted to match your eyesight and the operator of the system can get used to your speaking speed and style.
Trick #3 — Keep the words you are reading in the middle of the screen! This is key and often overlooked, even by pros. When you practice, work with the person who is running the prompter system. Because that person controls the speed of the words moving across the screen let them know you want the words you are reading to be right in the MIDDLE of the screen. Too often the operator puts the words you are reading at the TOP of the screen and you read very breathlessly because you are afraid you will fall behind and the next words you need will be out-of-sight, off the top of the screen. Believe me; this trick alone is worth its weight in gold!
Trick #4 — Practice moving your eyes around the room. Another reason you see people look wooden while reading from a prompter is they haven’t figured out a way to take their eyes off the screen and actually look at the audience! It takes some practice, but a good teleprompter user can smoothly adjust from the screens (which are often clear, Plexiglas panels that are barely visible from the audience) to the faces in the audience without missing a beat. Again, practice can help a great deal on this one.
Just like Power Point, microphones, laser pointers and all the other stuff a speaker can use from a stage, a teleprompter is just another tool. Like any tool, it is only valuable when used correctly. Take these tricks, use them, and report back to me with your results!