People often assume that the teleprompter operator drives the speed of the speech. They think that we just set the pace and the speaker has to follow us. It’s not uncommon for people to think they’d just get an iPad to loop the script. There’s even those that believe teleprompting is really just setting up the gear and that anyone can do it..
Whether it’s a live event or a video, we actually follow the speaker as they move through the speech. Ultimately, that’s the biggest factor of our success: our focus on the presenter. We feather the control to perfectly match their speed.
I can be working backstage for a live event, with the whole crew on headset, and even though they’re all chattering away about work or sharing humor, I need to tune all that out and focus on the presenter. If I allow my focus to drift, even for a second, the speed and the words I control can affect the speaker.
I’ve seen it happen on video shoots too. If I get distracted by even the slightest bit, I can feel the speaker drift, or start adding extra words or making mistakes.
One of the greatest, but most subtle compliments I ever got was from the assistant to the First Lady. She told me that when Mrs. Obama, who has used teleprompter operators all over the world, was having a bad teleprompter experience, she would add lot’s of umms in her speech. In working with me, the assistant pointed out that the First Lady didn’t “umm” once. Again, it’s a subtle scale, but one that counts:) It made my week!
Words that seem fine on paper may just trip the tongue when spoken aloud. So, as operators, we wordsmith the document. Often we’ll be given the speech just an hour before the presentation, and we’ll run through it, sorting things out. For example, we’ll make screen directions—like “Turn and leave the stage” or the name of different speakers— in a different color than the main body of text. This alerts them that something other than black and white is not to be spoken.
When we’re practicing with the the speaker, we’ll notice how some words are trouble, and we’ll either suggest substitutes, or ask the speaker what they’d say in their own words… since often the speech was written by someone else. A finer point of teleprompting is when we notice that their eyes might jump down to the next sentence line early, so we’ll purposely add some returns to make the words flow.
Again, these are just some of the subtle things that we as teleprompter operators do to make your experience the best possible.