On the use of teleprompters

The New York Times has a piece on the American President’s constant use of teleprompters. Apparently Mr. Obama uses them every time television cameras are around to capture prepared remarks.

Heck, why not? Even his adversaries recognize the man is one of the most gifted public speakers of his generation. Far from making him appear insincere, the teleprompter seems to enhance his performance. It works.

So, does that mean you should train your spokesperson to use one? I would say Yes, if one of the following conditions applies:

  • The spokesperson frequently addresses groups in venues where teleprompters can be set up. That includes seminars, conventions, news conferences, etc. If you can replace cue cards with a teleprompter, you should certainly consider it.
  • He regularly has to make videos, public service announcements, or those annoying free-air-time political messages. By using a ‘prompter, you will drastically reduce the number of takes necessary for anything longer than 30 seconds.

Notice how frequency of use is important. For most people, using the teleprompter requires practice. If it gathers dust for months between uses, chances are your spokesperson should not be using it at all.

You obviously need to train somebody to operate the ‘prompter. Ideally, it’s always the same person (or two) and they have trained with the spokesperson. It’s fairly embarassing to see your boss struggle through his text because the teleprompter operator is not familiar with his delivery speed.

The situation when the teleprompter is most useful in when the boss is tired. She can barely think straight, but there’s this 5-minute address we have to tape (in French!) and send out to the Quebec regional office tomorrow. Getting the teleprompter out of its box is the only way you’ll get quality delivery out of her.

One obvious caveat: if your spokesperson doesn’t like to read from prepared notes during his public speaking performances, he will not be able to use the teleprompter effectively. He will get frustrated, he will hate the machine and he will resent you.

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