How to Use a Teleprompter During your Speech? A Complete Guide
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How to Use a Teleprompter During your Speech? A Complete Guide

Using a teleprompter can be a great way to effectively communicate the contents of a speech in a somewhat controlled way so that you don’t forget what you want to say. This way, you can focus on really delivering the message and connecting with your audience.

So, how to use a teleprompter during your speech? Vary your speaking speed and volume. Move your head slowly and consciously and pause appropriately. Rehearse beforehand using a timer and video camera.

In this article I’m going to teach you how to use a teleprompter in such a way that people will not notice that you’re reading. They won’t focus on the fact that, “Oh, you’re reading a teleprompter;” they’ll instead focus on your message.

So, let’s hop right in.

Why do people use teleprompters?

There are all sorts of reasons why people want to use a teleprompter – some of them good, some not so good.

It’s especially helpful if you’re on national TV or in some conference where a whole bunch of people are watching you closely. In these situations, a lot of people are analyzing every single word, so a teleprompter can help you get it just right.

Other people may want to use a teleprompter because they’re scared or they’re nervous or they’re just afraid they’re going to forget stuff. Or they’re at a conference and everyone else is using a teleprompter – so why not.

It’s simply a communication tool so that you can effectively convey the ideas in your head to the audience so they can focus on what you’re saying. Focus on your words because that’s the real goal of using a teleprompter.

Learning how to use a teleprompter effectively

Some people like to take the easy way out and that’s what often drives people to use a teleprompter. They think,  “Wow! I don’t have to learn my speech because I know I can read it from the teleprompter. I won’t have to remember anything and I can just read.”

That’s the worst attitude you could possibly have if you really want to be a great communicator. What you will find is that it’s going to take you more time to use the teleprompter than to just speak from notes.

Learn by Doing

Therefore, learning how to use a teleprompter effectively is something you learn by doing. You can’t simply learn by reading an instruction book or watching a video of someone giving you tips. You’re going to have to learn by doing and recording yourself.

So, the first thing I need you to do is to find a teleprompter and record yourself. You can get a big fancy teleprompter, or you can get a newscaster teleprompters – there are even executive-style ones that you’ve seen all presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower use.

Recommended and affordable teleprompters

Here are some good, affordable teleprompters that I have used and therefore can recommend:

After you receive your teleprompter, create a speech. I don’t care what it’s about. So, let’s just make it 60 seconds long. It doesn’t have to be long, but you have to give this speech using the teleprompter.

Record your speech and watch it

Now, you’re going to have to record your speech using the teleprompter, and you’re going to have to watch it.

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I have to warn you though: you’re not going to like it, but I can assure you that everybody hates looking at themselves on video, listening to their own voice, especially if they’re using a teleprompter for the first time.

Next step: I need you to make a list of things you like and things you don’t like. If you’re not willing to do this, you’re wasting your time here. This is something you’re going to have to do by speaking and recording yourself numerous times.

Self-correct and do it again

If at some point you are completely impressed with how you came across, you’re in good company. Now I want you to look at that list of things you like and the list of things you don’t like and do it again.

This time, I want you to try to do more of the stuff you liked and focus on just one thing you didn’t like. You should be able to self-correct, so let’s try to remove that thing you didn’t like.

Grade yourself again and let’s see if you can make any improvements – big or small.

If you are improving during this process, you have a system for getting better and better to the point where you’re great. You need to simply keep practicing on video, removing the things you don’t like and adding the things you like until you’re happy with it.

The main mistakes people make when using a teleprompter

It really comes down to these four things:

  • Consistent speaking speed
  • Consistent speaking volume
  • Not pausing
  • Freezing your head

By doing these four things, you look and sound like a robot.

Let me explain. If you’re fixated on the words on the teleprompter, you will begin consistently speaking at the same speed and volume, without pausing, and you will begin to speak in monotone, robbing your voice of spontaneous affect.

Also, if you just read the text from the teleprompter and on the screen, and you’re not moving your head, it will be visible that your eyes are moving back and forth.

If your head is not moving and your face is not showing any expression, you will look like you are being held by a terrorist and forced to read something against your will.

How to avoid the main mistakes people make when using a teleprompter

So, if you want to come across as natural and relaxed with your teleprompter presentations, you’re going to have to very actively focus on solving those problems.

What that means is you’re going to have to sometimes speak a little faster and sometimes a little bit slower. You’ll have to sometimes speak a little louder to make a point and sometimes you can whisper for the contrast because that’s what people do in conversation.

Finally, you have to pause occasionally because that’s what people do when they’re just talking. So, make sure you pause at the end of sentences.

And of course you’ve got to do it all by not looking frozen and stiff. You’re going to have to very consciously move your head from left to right, up or down, lean a bit forward or move your head a bit back. You’ve got to consciously move your head.

Also, you should be moving your hands and your body. You shouldn’t look scared or stiff or as if you were a prisoner somewhere.

If you do this handful of things, it will solve the other prop and make it seem as though you’re just talking to someone and that’s what people like.

How to use a teleprompter during your speech

The real key to using the teleprompter is not to create some new skill set and learn all this new technology. It’s really about talking the way you did with friends as you do it all the time.

The subject matter may be different but it’s about sounding like a real person and sounding natural. You should do it in a way that doesn’t call attention to the fact that you’re reading from a piece of glass in front of you instead of actually talking to people.

That’s your main goal.

The 4 key elements that will make your teleprompter use seem effortless

So, let me cut through a lot of clutter and tell you exactly what you need to know and how to avoid the traps into which a lot of people fall when using a teleprompter.

# 1 Speed: What is the perfect speed while reading from the teleprompter?

People always ask me what’s the best speed for the speech, and I say, “Well…you know… it depends.” The key element you should remember, though, is that natural human speech is full of up and down and fast and slow. There’s variety to it.

That sameness of somebody reading from a teleprompter and everything is the same speed is what makes it awful to listen to.

Therefore, you should occasionally speak a little faster (when you’re excited) and occasionally slow down (for emphasis and to provide contrast to your message).

#2 Volume: What is the perfect volume while reading from the teleprompter?

During your practice session, you have to focus on your speech volume and very consciously try to change it sometimes – a little bit louder or softer for emphasis.

You should practice changing the speed and volume. If the speed and the volume are both up and down and change, then there will be variety in your speech and that’s a good thing.

That’s what will make you more conversational and sound more like a real person and not like a robot.

#3 Head movement: How to move your head while reading from the teleprompter

And now we have to add the next element to the equation, which is moving your head.

If you have all the previous elements in place but you don’t move your head, you will look frozen and stiff.

What you should do is very consciously move your head. We all move our head when we talk and thus this what you should do when speaking using a teleprompter.

#4 Pausing: How to pause while reading from a teleprompter

Most of us have some fear of public speaking. When we’re in front of people, we can almost feel naked (literally and figuratively) and therefore want to sort of quickly finish the speech so we can get out of there.

That is the reason why most people speak as quickly as possible. They don’t have any pauses because they figure, “As soon as I finish this, I can sit down and no one will stare at me anymore.”

However, psychologically it can be difficult to pause, because it can feel awkward. You can feel like you’re just there, exposed.

So…when to pause? After a big thought or after the end of a paragraph, pause for just a couple of seconds.

If that seems too long for you, then pause just for a second and a half, which is enough to provide a contrast between your words or sentences. This makes your message much more understandable and easier to follow.

I have written a thorough post about speech pauses. Take a look at it here.

How to use executive teleprompters

There are traditional broadcaster teleprompters, where one looks through the lens directly at the camera.

Also, there are executive teleprompters, where two sheets of glass are about five feet in front of you on either side of the lectern – 45 degrees from dead center one way and 45 degrees the other way. That’s what the President of the United States uses.

Since you’ve got two different teleprompter screens in front of you, I want to give you a couple of tips.

Don’t be consistent

What some people do with this kind of teleprompter is to read looking at one screen for 10 seconds and then the other screen for a 10 seconds.

They do it consistently and therefore it seems like they’re at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. It’s too consistent.

Move your head slowly

So, what I would recommend is certainly look at one for a while – you may even make it 30 seconds or so. Then slowly turn to dead center, think of the last sentence there, say it out loud and now slowly turn to the other screen for the next 15 seconds.

Say it to the people sitting back and then come back to the dead center.

The whole key is variety

You just don’t want to seem like a clock or anything robotic.

That’s why I recommend if you’re going to use two different screens, don’t just go back and forth, because that’s a sure sign that you’re using a teleprompter, and not effectively, mind you.

Now, there are other teleprompters that are large and on the ground, or even way up high in a stadium or in an auditorium where you can see it right below the balcony.

The key is to make sure you can see it. Don’t stare at any one of them too long and don’t be consistent with the way you go around and use them.

You’ve got to mix it up because that way you’ll just seem like you’re speaking to people, which is what you are aiming for.

How to use role models for getting better using a teleprompter

Now it’s time for you to find some role models. Just go to YouTube and type in the name of your favorite politician or a keynote speaker. I just want you to find someone who gave a huge speech.

Take a look at how politicians use a teleprompter

And the reason I say politics is because presidential nominees of major parties use teleprompters at their conventions.

This is usually a speech that they have rehearsed and practiced because they realized more people were going to watch this speech than any other speech in the campaign.

Therefore, they are typically giving it their best. Take a look at how they use the teleprompter and make note of:

  • how they pause
  • how they change the speed
  • how they change their tone
  • how their volume changes
  • how they’re moving their head
  • how they’re moving their body
  • how they’re moving their hands

Look and listen carefully, and it will give you a much better sense of how the experts do it.

Take a look at how TV newscasters use a teleprompter

Next, watch five minutes or so of your favorite cable newscast. Or better yet, channel surf to several of them.

Now, here’s the key. Watch without the volume on and take a closer look when the news anchor or the talk show host introduces segments. Maybe it’s a surprise for you but they are typically speaking from a teleprompter.

You can also do this by looking at the broadcast news networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) and just watch what the news anchors do.

They’re moving their head, they’re using facial expressions, their eyebrows are moving and they’re communicating a great deal when they are reading the news.

Probably you will notice that newscasters tend to have a little stiffer style, and they tend not to use they their hands when they’re sitting down.

But I do want you to focus on the head movement and the facial expression. If you do, you’ll see a tremendous variety that can serve as a good role model for you.

How to avoid the most common disasters when using a teleprompter

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of different kinds of teleprompters these days.

Some you can adjust with an old fashioned knob, or a mouse. Others you can adjust with a foot pedal, and sometimes you have an actual teleprompter operator or someone else doing it for you.

There are pitfalls with all of these and there are certain things you need to do to protect yourself from them. Therefore, I want to go over some of these preventative steps right now so that you’re not left unguarded.

Rehearse with the person who is operating the teleprompter

If you are going to have a teleprompter operator, you’ve got to rehearse with that person and you have to make sure that person is following you.

Otherwise you are in danger of speaking at the same speed and with the same tone, because the speaker is afraid that the words are falling off the screen and he/she won’t know what to say.

So, you have to be in sync with your teleprompter operator. If you pause, you need to ensure the operator stops, too, because if he/she keeps rolling and you’re pausing, you’re in big, big trouble.

Thus you need to find somebody who’s reliable and willing to practice with you. Otherwise, you’d better think twice about even using a teleprompter operator.

The next thing you ought to be prepared for is a teleprompter that is used as part of a computer or a smartphone.

Prepare to speak without teleprompter

Guess what about computers and phones? They break. They have glitches and they malfunction. They get bugs. This is why you still need to have your speech on paper, or have notes at the very least.

I prefer having notes consolidated on a single sheet. That way, you will at least have your speech on paper if there are computer or phone issues.

Paper doesn’t have glitches. I hope you don’t have to use paper notes but at least they are there if you need them.

So, assume nothing. Just practice and make sure you have your speech on paper, which will minimize your chances of disaster.

The main reasons not to use a teleprompter

There are plenty of good reasons to use a teleprompter. For example, if you’re a newscaster, you have to use one every day, because there’s no way you could get all the names and the facts of everything straight.

Yes, if you’re giving a political speech and thousands (or millions) of people are watching you, and you’ve got exactly seven minutes and 28 seconds for your slot on primetime – that may be a good reason.

But, many people use a teleprompter because they think it gives them greater control.

Not really, because if you do a bad job using a teleprompter, you’re not controlling the outcome.

The outcome of your speech may have a negative impression

The outcome of any speech is not what comes out of your mouth. It’s actually:

  • what people remember
  • what people retain so they can act upon it.

So, if you’re reading a teleprompter in a wooden and stiff way, the only outcome is that people will have a negative impression of you, and they won’t remember anything you say.

Therefore, thinking that using a teleprompter is somehow safer is not valid. Usually it’s not safer and it’s not saving you time.

A teleprompter is not saving you time

Many people use a teleprompter because they think it will save them preparation time.

For most of the people, it doesn’t save time and they’re far better off using notes on a sheet of paper.

For most business executives and politicians using a teleprompter, the real danger of a speech is not getting one word wrong – the biggest danger is that the listener is so bored that he/she doesn’t remember anything that was said.

That’s the main reason why I would urge you to focus your time on making your speeches interesting and memorable.

Other reasons not to use a teleprompter

  • Don’t use a teleprompter because everyone else is using one
  • Don’t use a teleprompter because there is some technician who is running the conference and says that you have to use it.

The only reason to use a teleprompter is that you’ve decided that it will help you communicate your message most effectively.

Final thoughts on the teleprompter

I think if you follow all the tips and tricks I’ve described here, you now have a pretty good sense of how to look your best, sound your best and come across as comfortable, confident and relaxed.

I hope that if you use a teleprompter, it is for maximum effectiveness and will seem like you’re just having a conversation with the audience.

Related questions

How much does a teleprompter cost? The price range for a teleprompter varies from 130 USD to thousands of dollars. If you are looking for a teleprompter that can be used for small events – or practicing your speech – see these teleprompters here.

What does a teleprompter operator do? Usually the main task of the teleprompter operator is to transcribe scripts into readable banners or special screens in such a way that they are easy to use and prompt people to remember what they want to convey.

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Who is Janek Tuttar?

My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of Speak and Conquer website.

I have been teaching public speaking at Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences

Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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Janek Tuttar

Hi! My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of SpeakAndConquer.com.

I have been teaching and blogging about public speaking since spring 2007. Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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