“I’ve always said, if you run for president, you shouldn’t be allowed to use teleprompters,” Donald Trump said to applause at a rally last October in Georgia. “Because you don’t even know if the guy’s smart.”
He’s even accused Hillary Clinton of having “the biggest teleprompters I’ve ever seen.” Prompters are almost always presidential campaign fodder because a candidate who shoots from the hip is highly likely to shoot him/herself in the foot.
And so the other week the media had a brief field day pointing out that Trump “looked like” he was using a teleprompter and had hired a speech writer to make his words more presidential. Of course, a prompter and a writer would help him stay on message (if that were to become his style).
Rick Santorum, the 2012 Republican Presidential hopeful, stirred up a real brouhaha and a load of media coverage when he proclaimed, “I’ve always believed that when you run for the President of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.”
Here is a video in which he describes his point of view:
His unspoken target was 2012 opponent Mitt Romney, who used a teleprompter when delivering speeches.
Should Presidential Candidates Use Teleprompters?
When President Obama first took office he was often the butt of criticism and jokes due to his reliance on a teleprompter. Almost eight years later, Obama is a much more confident speaker and is less reliant on the prompter
But should teleprompters be used by Presidential candidates? “I feel teleprompters are fine to use so candidates stay on message. No different to me than when they have note cards or iPads,” says an official with the Democratic Party.
Teleprompters in Business
Our point of view is that teleprompters are a great aid to speakers – whether they are politicians or business executives. It takes a special gift to speak extemporaneously. Not everyone is comfortable in speaking off-the-cuff, but that is not a reflection on his or her intelligence or ideas.
Even Abraham Lincoln, in his famous 278-word Gettysburg Address, wrote several versions on paper first. Every word and idea counts in that immortal speech.
How to Use a Teleprompter
A teleprompter can be a speaker’s best friend because it allows for smooth delivery, maximizes eye contact, and helps the speaker with inflection and pauses. Most important, the teleprompter helps to keep the speaker on message and avoid rambling.
It’s a good idea to rehearse with the operator who will be running the teleprompter during a speech so he gets to know the speaker’s pace, style, tone and volume.
Have the prompter operator bring a printer to the rehearsal room so the speaker can have a copy of his speech exactly as it will look in the prompter.
Teleprompters Aren’t Created Equal
It is important to know that prompter systems are not always compatible. So, if you rehearse using a teleprompter and have formatted your remarks the way you want them and then email them to a different operator with another system, all your edits will be lost.
That’s another reason to have printed copy of how you want your remarks to look on the screen. If necessary, the prompter operator at the event can replicate your edits.
Always ask for a seasoned operator who can spell, type fast, and take direction. No prima donnas need apply. A capable prompter operator can help edit in real time which is a big plus as then the speaker can immediately rehearse with the just agreed upon edits.
Usually when we’re doing presentation coaching with a CEO, by the time we get to teleprompter rehearsal, we’re on deadline and close to the date of the presentation. It’s important to have a prompter operator who stays cool, calm and collected if there are any glitches.
The prompter operator is a vital part of the communications prep team. President Obama wasn’t served well by his operator in this video shown on YouTube when the teleprompter malfunctioned.
Using a Teleprompter won’t ensure seamless delivery of a speech. But there is no reason not to use one in a political campaign or in a business presentation at a convention or a trade show if it makes you or your client feel more comfortable and in control when delivering key messages.
Our preference is for floor monitors vs. Presidential Prompters (as seen in this photo). An experienced coach can teach a speaker how to move appropriately on stage and thus enhance her delivery.
When speakers have to remain anchored behind the lectern with Presidential Prompters, they are not as commanding as they could be when several large flat screen monitors are placed at the foot of the stage.
As with all public speaking, practice is key!
- Santorum’s war on teleprompters (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Santorum Calls for Outlawing Teleprompters, ‘Reading Someone Else’s Words To People’ (thinkprogress.org)
- Rick Santorum Thinks Teleprompters Are Satan’s Work (slog.thestranger.com)