The Teleprompter - Friend or Foe?

In recent years, the ubiquitous teleprompter has often been in the news during political campaigns as it has somehow gotten caught up in a modern definition of machismo that demands the teleprompting politician be belittled by their hopeful challenger.

As we have seen when that challenger succeeds in displacing their rival, however, the teleprompter somehow remains on the scene as a trusted tool.

For those not familiar, teleprompters are essentially an electronic upgrade of cue cards, but rather than having your script flipped page by page, the teleprompter allows your script to scroll in front of you right where you are looking at the camera and creates the illusion that the speaker has memorized the speech or is speaking spontaneously while looking directly into the camera lens.

Cue cards, on the other hand, were always placed away from the lens axis, which left the impression that the speaker was distracted by looking at a point beside the camera. Invented in the 1950’s, the first in-camera teleprompter was used by television pioneer Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz in 1953 to read commercials on camera before it was widely adopted by television news.

Corporate Videos and The Teleprompter

"To teleprompter or not to teleprompter?” That is a question we discuss a lot with clients and prospects alike. The answer is not always straightforward, and it is never about measuring bravery or toughness!

There are a couple of factors you need to consider for a corporate video when you are wondering whether to use a teleprompter. The first most important consideration revolves around your designated spokesperson, their on-camera experience, and their experience speaking with a teleprompter. It is now common for many executives (and middle managers with a need to speak in public) to have media training. This will include skills and knowledge to read a teleprompter and get past that camera lens to make you feel like they are sitting in your living room.

Teleprompting Without a License

If, on the other hand, your actor(s) have no prior experience with a teleprompter, then generally it tends not to be a good idea and can distract from your video and limit your success.

Here is a frequent example of what we see when people are reading from a teleprompter:

They can't be natural, and they can't have a good interaction with the camera lens while they're reading the teleprompter if they don't know how to use their hands and make it their own. But even for those with good skills, the teleprompter still requires precise handling and editing in addition to supporting it technically, as even a pro like a newscaster could be caught off guard, even with a script they reviewed or wrote if the teleprompter is not managed with precision:

The potential perils and pitfalls for a non-professional presenter involved with a teleprompter almost make you wonder if there is a good time to use one. There are very appropriate uses, even for a beginner, as well as ways to use it that also reduce some of those pitfalls too. Sometimes a teleprompter will come in handy if you have a time crunch. They are great when you don’t have time to write, re-write, review, practice, memorize, etc. as you might normally do for a big speech or presentation. This is why they are relied on so heavily for live news broadcasts where “breaking” news is a staple.

Or, if you have a very marketing-specific message, particularly a controversial message, where you don't want to say the wrong thing or potentially be more spontaneous than anyone would like and or there is a need to tiptoe around a sensitive topic, then the teleprompter makes a LOT of sense and is actually more practical.

And by planning to have two cameras at the shoot, we can cut around any of the poor reading and help eliminate some of the eye line movement that is common with less experienced actors which is common if you are using your team to present on camera.

Experience and Situation Should Be The Deciders

In general, I would generally recommend against using a teleprompter. But if your team has experience, or is in a time crunch, have a very sensitive message, or just are known for not being prepared and practicing, then we would likely recommend to go ahead and use one for your shoot. It’s just a matter of preparing your presenter to be successful. Plan 15 extra minutes before the shoot to do a test run. Then let them run through it one or two times before putting them on camera in the recording and help them get comfortable with it. We will also plan on providing them with some direction and coaching to help make their performance feel more realistic.

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Redmond, Washington