Prompters, scripts take sparkle from the best speakers

It’s supposed to be there to help. I’m talking about the teleprompter: the out-of-sight tool that scrolls a script up front of the camera for a television performer to read.

Well the teleprompter didn’t seem to help some of the presenters at the Golden Globe awards for outstanding performances in film and television.

What struck me was how some gifted actors who look so comfortable in their on-screen roles managed to look so stilted when eye-balling the teleprompter displaying the lines they had to read.

Now, you may not aspire to introduce an awards show on live television. But there’s a lesson in this for anyone who has to make speeches, presentations or create video promos (especially if you are thinking of using some of the apps that turn your phone or tablet into a teleprompter).

Not everyone at the Golden Globes struggled with their lines. But too many did. Too many looked wooden, staring straight ahead with deer-in-the-headlight eyes. Yet in their films, they’re brilliant, convincing and inspirational. So what happened to them?

What happened to leave that gifted actor Jamie Lee Curtis flapping her hand and shouting ‘back, back’ to the unseen teleprompter operator as she lost her place and didn’t know the next line?

Let me say, as someone who has used a teleprompter in a TV studio, it takes some getting used to. Initially you feel that the speed of your read is out of your hands. You must have complete trust in the operator. The experienced ones will slow down or speed up to match your delivery. But if something goes wrong, or the technology fails, you can find yourself in trouble. And the sheer concentration involved in following the words as they scroll up leaves you looking as though you are, well… concentrating hard.

Some of the teleprompter apps you can get online claim to have technology that is responsive to your voice. Voice recognition notices if you stop reading the words on the script (maybe to ad lib) and pauses the machine until you return to the prepared script. But I’ve heard mixed reports on the reliability of the system. 

Bottom line here… rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Whether you are self-driving an app or relying on an operator to scroll the script, get comfortable with the process.

Until you are comfortable, the deer-in-the-headlights look is inevitable. 

And the teleprompter is no different to having a script in your hand. 

Instead of being a reassuring tool it can become an essential crutch. 

In both cases, the way you communicate with the audience changes if you are over-reliant on the script. Instead of talking to the audience, you start reading at them. 

Almost inevitably, the delivery changes. The performance becomes flatter. Some of the spark disappears. And the intimacy between speaker and audience is broken.

In a movie or TV show, the actors work with a director building their characters, making the dialogue sing, figuring out the best way to grab and hold the audience. Of course there’s much more, but this is the main part of their work. And then, they rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

So the next time you present, especially if it’s really important:

  1. Get a director, a presentation skills coach. Or invest in a presentational skills training course, or do a workshop. Get professional help. Your audience deserves it.
  2. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more time you spend rehearsing the better you’ll be. The more time you spend sweating in rehearsal, the less time you’ll sweat in front of an audience.
  3. If you are going to be working from a script, don’t be a slave to it. If you’ve checked out our TalkitOut technique you’ll know we put a lot of emphasis on being so comfortable with your words that you need refer only fleetingly to your script. And we lay out the script in such a way that you can easily and quickly find your place.
  4. Remember, you are talking to your audience – not reading to them. 

With these tips you will deliver an award winning performance every time. At Podium we have the tools to help you – our training video, workbook and e-book.

And we are just putting the finishing touches to a brand-new online course featuring the TalkitOut Technique. We are looking forward to sharing details about that very soon.

Photo credit: The Broadcast Bridge