Promptly Delivered

April 3, 2024

There’s a funny scene in the movie, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, where the main character has a little trouble reading from the teleprompter. (“Ron Burgundy will read ANYTHING that is put on that teleprompter!”)

And if using this technology can sometimes be tricky for old pros like Ron, imagine trying it for the first time in front of hundreds of people in your industry.

We see it a lot. Instead of being well prepared and really knowing the material, a speaker will use a teleprompter and simply READ their presentation.

Invented by electrical engineer Hubert Schafly, the teleprompter scrolls written text in front of the camera lens. It was first introduced on the set of a CBS soap opera to help actors who couldn’t remember their lines.

Today, the teleprompter is used mainly by TV newscasters and politicians. But more and more, it’s a tool being relied upon by presenters at big conferences.

But here’s the problem. Audiences don’t want you to simply read to them. They want to be motivated and inspired. So even if you use a teleprompter, you still need to be prepared, mix in some effective storytelling, and speak from the heart.

What’s it like to read from a prompter? Grab a magazine or a newspaper (if you can find one). Now instead of moving your eyes down the column as you read, move the page of words UP as you read, keeping your eyes in one general area. It’s a different feeling for sure, but with some practice, you can quickly be audience ready.

At the other end of the prompter is someone who is critically important – the prompter operator. This is the person who listens to the presenter, scrolling the words along at just the right speed.

Kathy Hellstern has been a prompter operator for more than 30 years. Hellstern says it’s important for the speaker and the prompter operator to work as a team. Her advice is to practice, practice, practice and then relax.

“The teleprompter is there to make your presentation easier,” said Hellstern. “You don’t have to remember all of the words while you engage your audience because the words are there.”

A good prompter operator will also help you customize your script, inserting punctuation for pauses and places to take a breath.

“The commas, colons, dashes, periods and paragraphs are there to help you,” said Hellstern. “The nice thing about a prompter script is that it doesn’t have to look presentable to any reader but you. Develop a style that works for you and makes you present in the best way.”

Of course, all of that editing and customizing should be done, not on the fly, but at rehearsal. Don’t skip it, especially if someone else has written your speech for you.

Once you and the prompter operator are on the same page, focus on your delivery. Avoid treating the end of a line like it’s the end of a sentence; keep reading until you come to a period.

Try not to stare at the words on the screen. Blink now and then and smile when it’s appropriate, just like you would if you were having a conversation with a friend.

And finally, give yourself a break. If you misread a word on the teleprompter now and then, it’s not the end of the world. Just ask Ron Burgundy.


Wixted & Company Blog – by Jeff Johnson