by Cliff Kennedy | May 21, 2015

Cliff KennedyMost of us have an opinion about teleprompters, and it's usually not good. I can understand why. We've all experienced a speech featuring a teleprompter where the speaker was dull, unnatural and disengaged from the audience. But the truth is, blaming the teleprompter for a bad speech is like blaming the frying pan for a bad meal.
It's a tool, not a crutch. And just like any other tool, a teleprompter helps you do your job more efficiently and effectively. Teleprompters help most when you are giving a speech to a large audience, in an environment with numerous staging cues or complex technical requirements, or for delivering a presentation on-camera. For smaller, informal or intimate speeches, a teleprompter usually is not necessary.
Working with a teleprompter keeps you engaged in the moment by freeing you to express your feelings, not just the specifics of your content. One of the key things my clients learn during public speaking training is that a speech isn't about exchanging information; it's about making a human connection with the audience. The more "present" you are to what's happening around you, the greater your opportunity to connect with your audience. This is the real value of using a teleprompter.
If you or your speakers ever have reason to use a teleprompter, here are some best practices to help ensure a successful presentation.
• Finalize the content of your speech as early as possible. The sooner you've locked in your script, the more time you can devote to rehearsing it.
• Utilize the bold, underline and other formatting features of teleprompter software to help you deliver your speech more naturally.

• Put in the practice. I recommend rehearsing your entire speech at least four to six times with the teleprompter so you're thoroughly comfortable before you take the stage.

• Practice in the environment in which you will deliver your speech. You'll better understand how the audience will experience your speech, and you can pre-establish your lines of sight to the teleprompter and your audience.  

•  Work closely with your public-speaking support team (if you have one). Coordinate cues and spend quality time rehearsing with your teleprompter operator, graphics operator and public-speaking coach to ensure a smooth presentation.

• Practice what I call "finishing off-prompter." This involves delivering the final words of a message directly to the audience.
• Finally, a quick note about using the new consumer-grade teleprompter apps for iPad, mobile devices and laptops. Though any practice is better than no practice, be careful of these devices' limitations. In fact, I still recommend the old low-tech approach of rehearsing in front of a mirror from a printed script. This keeps you in control of your tempo and delivery.
Like any other skill, working with a teleprompter gets easier over time. Achieving a high degree of comfort using one will enhance your speech delivery for the rest of your career.

Cliff Kennedy is a professional speech coach and founder of Kennedy Speech Communications.