Updated: May 1, 2018
If you’ve ever used a teleprompter, you know reading a script on screen is not as easy as it sounds, especially if someone else is controlling the speed as the text whizzes by.
If you haven't, you've probably seen a video where someone is using a teleprompter where they don't look and sound natural. Your first clue is you can see their eyes move as they are reading their script.
Early in my career, one of my jobs was to run the teleprompter for field and studio productions including news.
It was a really important crew position and required developing a strong relationship with on camera talent.
Typically, we were shooting a commercial or a program that was highly scripted, so using a teleprompter was a must.
It’s tough to memorize that much material and deliver it naturally unless you are using a teleprompter.
One of the first things I learned to ask was to if they had ever used a teleprompter before.
If they hadn’t, I made sure to take plenty of time with them to explain the basics of looking natural and how to communicate with me so I could help them look their best.
My ability to match their pacing was critical to them being able to deliver their copy and look and sound natural.
If I scrolled too fast, they couldn’t keep up - if I scrolled too slow, they would usually break contact with the camera lens looking for the next line of copy. It was a true partnership to get it right.
If you think you want to use a teleprompter for video…
There’s a few things you should know, so let’s get started. You can listen to the podcast here.
There are more moving parts to actually setting up a teleprompter, for simplicity, in this blog I am going to cover:
knowing why you are using a prompter
pacing, volume and pauses and body movement
positioning your teleprompter
First of all, be clear about why you are using a telepromter. Is it because you have a highly scripted presentation like a keynote, training course or a marketing piece?
Or is it because you are afraid you won’t remember what you are going to say and you think having a teleprompter means you won’t have to remember?
I want caution you about this - I’ve had productions where I knew the talent had a hard time delivering the points they needed to make as part of a larger production. We tried putting them on teleprompter to make it easier for them.
Sadly what happened is they looked and sounded like they were reading because they knew they were going to have a teleprompter. It requires practice and being purposeful to come across looking natural using a teleprompter.
If you have to deliver a scripted speech that has a lot of specific information that must be delivered in a certain order, then that may be a good time to use one. A marketing video or training course with very specific points are good examples.
You may not script the entire piece, but want to use a prompter with bullet points as memory triggers to remind you about what your want to say or specific data you need to share.
This allows you to maintain eye contact with your viewer without looking off camera off camera for your next point.
Using a teleprompter requires extra time to practice and get familiar with your material. If you don’t have the time to devote to the preparation, please consider if using a teleprompter is the best option.
Now that you have determined why your why, let’s talk about how to use a teleprompter.
The first thing I want you to do is think about how you speak naturally. An easy way to do this is to record yourself talking to a friend or record a portion your presentation and speaking conversationally.
You are the best person to teach you how to be naturally you!
After you record yourself, play it back and makes notes of your pacing, volume, natural pauses and body movement.
Watch your pacing and how your speaking rate varies - and when you speak faster or slower, depending on what you are saying.
Pay attention to your volume, we don’t always speak at the same volume, when we are in conversation we may speaker loudly at times and softly at others
Observe your head and body movements - when you are speaking conversationally, you move your your head and use your hands to speak. Your body amplifies what you are saying.
The other benefit of recording yourself is you can watch for any verbal tics and body movements that are distracting and make note of and work to eliminate them.
Sweeping hand gestures, rocking, uhs and ums can all be tamed with some intention and awareness. It takes work, AND you can do it!
After you’ve done this exercise, go ahead and practice with the the script on the teleprompter and use what you learned from watching yourself in the previous exercise.
Make sure when you are writing your script you are conversational - use conjunctions like I’ve instead of I have or I”ll instead of I will and write in short sentences.
Read your script out loud and mark it for areas where you want to go faster or slower, or words you want to emphasize or places you want to pause.
You can even leave places to insert ad libs or stories to help you presentation feel more natural.
Practice pacing, changing the volume of your voice, include natural pauses and make sure you move your head and body as you would in natural conversation.
The final thing to pay attention to in using a teleprompter is setting it up at the right height and distance.
I had a client ask me to give him some feedback on some video he had professionally done for a product he was taking to market. He wasn’t really happy with it and couldn’t figure out why.
When I watched it the first thing I noticed was he was looking up at top portion of the screen. The speed of the teleprompter was set too fast, and the tripod to high. So in order to keep up, he was looking up. It was very apparent he was using a teleprompter.
To avoid having this happen to you, set up your camera and tripod at eye level and do some test recordings - If the camera is too close, it makes it a lot more obvious that you are reading.
If you are controlling the speed, adjust the settings that work the best for you. If you have someone else controlling the speed, practice together so they get a sense of our natural pacing and can slow down and speed up with you to to ensure a natural sounding delivery.
Remember, you control the pacing.
There are lots of apps out there for teleprompters, many of them are free. Take some time to check them out way before the day of your shoot so you know what you need to do to set up. You don’t need extra stress on shoot day.
When you are looking for a teleprompter app you will want to be able to:
Adjust the scroll speed
Change the font size and background color
Determine where the text is on the screen
The last one is important as closer your text is to the lens, the less eye movement you’ll see as you read each line. Writing in short conversational sentences makes it a lot easier.
Summing It Up
If you are going to use a teleprompter, be clear about why. Even if your production is highly scripted or you are afraid you will forget what you are going to say, you still need to practice until you look and sound natural in your delivery.
Record yourself and play it back. Pay attention to your pacing, volume, and pauses, and head and body movement.
Make sure your teleprompter is set up at eye level and at an appropriate distance to minimize eye movement.
Practice and test recordings ahead of time are your best friends so you can identify what adjustments to make so you can look and sound your best on camera.
As always, I’d love to hear from you if you have questions about being on camera, I’m happy to answer them in a future blog.
Remember, with a little practice and persistence, you can use a teleprompter and look and feel natural on camera - every time.
Val Brown is an Emmy Award winning television producer, story, visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She consults and coaches high performing business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence and credibility on camera. Val teaches you how to use your story to support your brand in video and photos.
p.s. I’d love to connect on social media and hear your questions and concerns about being in front of the camera.