The teleprompt (AKA autoQue, prompter, the thing you said you didn’t need but after 1 hour of trying to present a 2 minute script you’d pay £1000 for).
I'm not Jeremy Paxman
- Lets face it, you never signed up for this, you're a doctor not a TV presenter, why are you being asked to sit in front of a camera and talk fluently and confidently for 5 minutes to a black piece of glass? Also, even when you amaze yourself and get to the end a voice says 'that was really good Jenny...but... The hard fact is that we live in an age where video is a standard way to communicate in any profession and whether you like it or not, colleagues, customers, shareholders, voters will judge you on your performance in front of a camera. And now video is usually delivered online to, potentially, enormous audiences, you are living or dying in front of a lot of people (who can then all share and comment on your performance). If you are confident and fluent you are 'the next CEO', if you hesitate and stumble over your facts you are 'unelectable'. No it's not fair, no it wasn't your fault you were 'ill' on media training day, but if you can't do it well, you will struggle to make your mark. If you don't believe me, ask Gordon Brown.
Why do you need to talk TO the camera?
- If you look to the side of a camera the viewer assumes there is somebody there you are talking to, usually an interviewer. The viewer accepts this and understands they are only listening in on your conversation. But when you want to talk TO a viewer, appeal to them, reassure them, inspire them, you need to look them in the eye and hold their attention like you would if you were face to face. This means looking straight into the lens. That's where your audience is.
So what does a prompt do?
- It show's your script in front of the camera so you can read (more on that later) your script and don't have to remember all those tricky stats. Everyone on TV uses one, they're not really that smart.
- How does it work? It's a one way mirror between you and the camera lens - you see a piece of black glass with your script on it - the camera sees straight through it at you.
A teleprompt has 5 advantages
- The most obvious one is you don't have to learn and remember a script. Delivering to camera for even a minute might sound like a doddle but when the lights are switched on and all eyes are on you all those words you learnt last night in the bath can quickly go down the plughole. Even if you can remember all the words - or something close enough - you will be concentrating so hard on 'what comes next' that you have little spare capacity to give to 'how' you are saying it. In this situation, unless you're queen of the local AmDram, you risk looking like a bad actor
- Seeing 'what comes next' enables you to concentrate on 'how' you are saying it. The main argument against a prompt is that it's obvious someone is reading and causes a 'flat' delivery. I can honestly say, from experience, it is far more likely someone can bring life to a script if they are reading it than they can if they are reciting it. With a few minutes practice very, very few people can't make use a prompt like a pro
- Eyeline - at best it's weird talking enthusiastically to a piece of black glass. You get no feedback from it and that's one of the reasons people, who are right at home striding across a stage in front of 500 delegates, struggle to present the same content to a camera. A common issue is, with no-one looking back - the presenter's eyeline starts to wander away from the lens. Just as in face to face conversation, this gives your viewer the impression you are losing interest in them or not telling them the truth. Neither is a good signal to put out
- You cover all the points, get all the facts right and are a confident presenter - the audience sees someone who is prepared, competent and professional - a hesitant presenter, no matter how good at their job, will raise questions about their abilities - unfortunately being a flawed presenter will be seen as being a flawed professional
- We can easily shock ourselves when we think of the number of interviews we have shot which couldn't be used. It's the worst waste of your time and money and is usually due to people not preparing, not checking facts or best practice and ad-libbing. The last thing you want to hear when an interviewee walks into the room is 'right...what are we doing then?'. One wrong fact or misplaced assumption can mean the whole thing needs to be re-shot or worse, it can't be because the Chief Executive isn't back in the country until after the event the video is for. A prompt creates a discipline, a need for someone to write a script. A script is text - it can be emailed, checked and signed off by all interested parties prior to the shoot and all the mistakes taken out way before we've even put the camera in the car
All these problems solved by one little box - it's almost as good as a your phone
- A common complaint around prompts is that you may only need it for 30 mins out of a whole day's shoot. Most production companies will hire in someone with promoting kit and to have it for those 30 mins will cost you hundreds of pounds. This often means your poor presenter, understandably, having to go without. But as usual we've sorted out a solution for you. We have our own system which we operate, so you can have the prompt when you need it, for a fraction of the usual cost. Aren't we ace?
- A final thought... just to be clear - a prompt system is NOT a screen next to the camera and no-one should try to convince you that it is. I'm all for a bit of creative improvisation but it will be absolutely clear to the viewer that the presenter isn't looking at them and no eye contact means no trust. At this point it doesn't matter how good your words are, everything else will scream 'deception' and that really would be a waste of money