On-Camera 101: How to Use a Teleprompter Like a Pro

Using a teleprompter can take your presentation to the next level but it can bring an added layer of complication too. Let’s say you’ve decided to send a video message to employees or users of your product. Whether it’s taped or live, you won’t have a crowd to help you see how you’re coming across, no smiling faces, heads nodding or people falling asleep. Today, we wanted to help you decide if you need a teleprompter or not, and if you do, how to use it to deliver with confidence and stay connected to the crowd.

Why use a Teleprompter?

First of all, if you walk into your presentation with notes on paper, your producer will most likely, ask to put them down (I would!). Holding onto notes during an interview or recorded presentation is never encouraged for starters, because the paper crinkling in someone’s hands can get picked up by the super sensitive microphones used for video production. If you’re not into memorizing notes, request a prompter if your production budget allows. Adding a prompter can be $600 – $1000 to the cost of the production.

Notes on “prompter” help you feel prepared and ensures that none of the important points of your presentation get left out. A teleprompter can help you deliver a message to camera or to an auditorium of people. Staring into a screen with words floating across does require some practice to make what you’re saying feel authentic. We gathered some of our favorite advice and asked fellow industry pros to share some insider tips on how to get the most out of your teleprompter presentation:  

Outline, not Word for Word

Turn your script into bullet points instead of using the entire script.  Fewer words to scroll through on a teleprompter is better especially if you’ve never used one.  

Don’t Read and Don’t Speed

Avoid sounding and looking like you’re reading. If it sounds like you’re reading your presentation will feel less convincing and maybe even boring. With bullet points, you can reference all the important information AND you can use your own words. It’s more authentic that way.

By the way, if you are reading the script, then you will absolutely look like you’re reading. People don’t want to be read to, so best if you practice, refer to bullets, and be mindful of your eyes. The producer or director will tell you if your eyes are darting back and forth like you’re watching a tennis match. This usually happens if the font is too small or the margins are too thin, so your eyes will naturally move from left to right. Try and keep your eyesight staring straight at the script, which is actually right into the camera lens. If you don’t know where the lens is, then ask for the camera person to point it out to you.

If this is the first time you see the script, then read through the entire script on the prompter and when you find yourself hung up on a word or sentence, ask the operator to change the language so that it’s easier for you to say/read. However, we strongly suggest you read through the script and catch this before you even enter the studio to save time.

Turn up the Volume and Energy

Speak loudly and convey energy. The more enthusiastic you are, the better this will come across on-camera. I’m not talking about acting like a salesperson. Minor changes like speaking up and gesturing with your hands instead of hiding them will help in a major way.

“You don’t look good on video if you are bouncing around or gesturing too much,” says Marcy Golebiewski, Intel’s  IT Client Services Director who has first-hand experience with using a teleprompter in the studio. She also offers the following advice, “You don’t have to memorize the copy, but you do need to practice, practice, practice… out-loud.” The more confident you feel with your script, the more energy you will convey.

Insider Tip

Here’s a technical one from our community: “Keep your contrast high,” says Marcus Buick, a seasoned video pro who shared this goodie on our Facebook Page, “White font (Arial) on black is the standard. Make sure font size is correct for the person reading. Always print out a copy of the text for the producer/director to follow along with. Don’t format in MS Word and expect your formatting to follow along; most prompter software looks at text only and not very much else so just be aware of that!”  Dave Chung, studio director, also shares, “Put the prompter arrow (on the left side of prompter screen) where the talent is most comfortable reading so that prompter operator can have something to focus on when operating.” Aligning the arrow to where the talent is comfortable looking allows the prompter op to keep the meat of their content in the right place.

Be Nice

Don’t beat yourself up. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and so many people apologize when they “mess” up or forget what they want to say. If the producer and/or director do their job, then they created an environment for you that feels safe, is fun, and mistakes are absolutely allowed. The more you beat yourself up, the more this will come across in the video. You want to appear and feel confident every time they hit that record button.

Know your TRT — AKA your total run time

Time yourself. If you’re asked to prepare a 30-second script, then read it out loud and time yourself. You’d be surprised and how long (or not long) 30 seconds really feels. On that note, “Go at your own pace,” says Producer Jessica Ivy Distad,  “Your teleprompter operator is trained to follow you. So, have confidence knowing you can slow it down and pause without the script disappearing. If you don’t have a teleprompter operator, make sure to read the script and practice!”  

The Best Way to Prepare for Your Presentation

There are many more tips, but the best way to learn and get better on-camera is to practice. Record yourself with your phone and pay particular attention to your facial expressions. Read and re-read your script out loud until you’re comfortable with it. You’ll catch so much more after you review the footage and hear the words that come out of your mouth. And don’t forget to have fun. You were selected for a reason. People pay big bucks to have a video crew interview people, so understand that you bring something to the table that others don’t.

Stay tuned for a fun and easy to follow video tutorial on how to read a teleprompter. We want to help you prep as much as you need, so check back again for more tips.

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