Teleprompter or No Teleprompter?

The teleprompter (originated by the TelePrompTer company in the 1950s) is an indispensable component in modern-day television and video production, providing onscreen talent with a scrolling screen of words to speak. It saves many a babbler and stumbler from professional embarrassment. The question we often run across when doing Q&A-style interviews or video clips is, “do we need one”?

Yes, you do. Even when an interview-subject knows the topic cold or has handwritten notes in his or her lap, it can never come across as smooth and professional as it does with the teleprompter. First-timers, with a little bit of practice, get the hang of it easily and it’s fun to use. Now, there are a very rare few who can speak contemporaneously or off-the-cuff, and make it sound authoritative. Then, there is the other 99.9% of the population. So, use ’em if you’ve got ’em.

Another related issue is where to place the teleprompter… to the side of the camera or in front (using a “two-way” mirror)? In my opinion, particularly for Q&A video clips and most corporate-style videos, you want the teleprompter to the side. Watch any news program and you’ll see the interview-subject speaking to the reporter off-side. It’s more pleasing for the audience and easier for the interviewee.

But “no,” you say, “I want to look at my audience and give them the straight-goods. Look ’em in the eye just like a real conversation.” Forget it. Most interview-subjects have a tough time looking natural when staring into a camera. Their eyes dart side-to-side as they read the teleprompter. Or, they can’t bring themselves to blink. Very scary for viewers and often looks unnatural.

The one possible exception is when you are doing the equivalent of a reporter’s or presenter’s monologue (a “stand-up” as it’s called). Those occasions, however, are rare in most corporate videos.

So relax, enjoy the benefits of the teleprompter and enhance your reputation as an all-knowing and confident expert.

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