When my new husband told me he was going to be teleprompting I was clueless as to what he was talking about. He explained that it was like cue cards but on a computer screen and used extensively not just by the media, but also by corporations for presentations and for video taping commercials. Okay, that sounds interesting but how does it work?
After the speech is written, it is input to a computer that will allow it to be displayed in front of the speaker without the audience being aware of its existence. I remembered from my past speaking encounters where I had to memorize everything that I wanted to say and the order that it would go in for a complete uniformity. It usually meant a tremendous amount of practicing the evening before or taking a stack of 3×5 index cards with me for the presentation. Teleprompting has simplified this process for the speaker. They no longer need to memorize a speech; they only need to be able to read from a screen in front of them. Image the hours of practice, not to mention the stress this removes from the speaker.
I was interested in how this came about. The first teleprompters were created in the 1950s by Fred Barton Jr., Hubert J. Schlafly and Irving Kahn. At the time Fred Barton was an actor and suggested the teleprompter as a way of assisting the performers who had too many lines to memorize in a small amount of time. The script was printed on a paper scroll and advanced as the performer read.
In 1982, the first computer based teleprompting system was developed and ran on an ATARI 800 personal computer with very specialized teleprompting software to work with the camera hardware which was also modified. Today’s teleprompter still runs on a personal computer and is connected to video monitors on one or more cameras. This monitor is placed directly in front of the camera so it gives the impression of the speaker talking directly to the camera instead of reading a script. The displays used vary drastically depending on the type of presentation. One which I’m sure you’ve seen used and not even noticed, is the presidential glass. It is mostly transparent so that it will not block the view of the speaker by the audience or cameras. Even singers such as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John have used teleprompter hardware on stage.
Okay, enough about the history and hardware of teleprompting. I am now being made aware of the fact that there is an “art” also being employed here. Let me explain. The basic idea is of a script being up on screen and the speaker reading from it. Too many times this will sound like it is being read. This is not usually the impression that they want to convey. A “seasoned” teleprompting operator knows how to get in touch with the speaker and craft the speech to their speaking style. During rehearsal, the teleprompting operator is listening intently for voice inflection to make sure that the speaker is comfortable with the flow. Sometimes it means changing a word or two or rewording a sentence to ensure a natural delivery. A professional teleprompting operator knows how to get these results and understands that there’s more to prompting than typing in a script and turning a knob. For the speaker, finding a good teleprompting operator can be a real salvation.
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