How Presidents Use Teleprompters?


The Presidency of any country is aptly described as the most demanding job in the world. Zero in on the United States presidency, and you can easily multiply the difficulty a thousand times. Besides the gazillion issues, state visits, rubbing elbows with influential people, and whatnot, state presidents also deliver speeches every now and then. They may do so in front of the media, in a live audience on a worldwide broadcast, or a combination of both.

It’s a part of a President’s job to present dozens of speeches, but to be honest, it’s the least of his worries. Why? It’s because he has access to the best equipment, such as a teleprompter, specifically a presidential teleprompter. What is a presidential teleprompter, and how does it differ from the standard camera-mounted units? Read on and find out.

Brief History of Teleprompter Use by U.S. Presidents

Four years after the invention of the teleprompter in 1948, General Dwight Eisenhower was the first to use it in a campaign speech in September 1952. The teleprompter quickly became a fixture of political campaigning and speechmaking, being utilized for the first time in 1954 by Eisenhower for a State of the Union address. 

At the time, the presidential teleprompter is massive and obvious to individuals in the audience. That issue was somehow lessened in the 1960s by coming up with a side-by-side teleprompter setup that we know today– reflecting printed text onto angled pieces of thin glass on either side of the podium. It was a game-changer since the President could glance from side to side and still see the script. He may do so while maintaining eye contact with the audience.

Subtle advancements in teleprompter technology have been made over the years. Until the early 1980s, the text was typically printed on paper. Courtney M. Goodin, a Hollywood sound mixer and stagehand, invented Compu=Prompt in 1982, a software-based system that displayed text from a modified Atari 800 PC. It was the beginning of the end for printed papers, as computers began supplanting printed scrolls throughout the business. Computerized systems have various advantages, including the ability to alter and load text at the last second.

Nonetheless, in rare cases, technological challenges have prompted speakers to think on their feet. That happened with President Bill Clinton in 1994 with the State of the Union Address. The teleprompter software was loaded with the wrong speech, so Clinton had to begin his live speech from memory until the correct speech text was loaded.

Voice-recognition software has lately enabled systems to seamlessly scroll text based on the speaker’s speaking speed. These are now routinely utilized in newscasts and other broadcasts, but the requirement of an appropriate scrolling pace forces both parties to rely on manual scrolling, especially for critical political speeches.

Today, you rarely see a President or any country leader speak to a live audience without a teleprompter. From the printed scrolls to LCD monitors, automatic scrolling on an Atari PC to voice recognition, the teleprompter truly changed the landscape of political speeches, often for the better.

Presidential Teleprompters As We Know Today

Presidential teleprompters, as we know them today, are very similar to the more common camera-mounted teleprompters. The only difference is that the pane is placed on a pole rather than a camera. 

As a result, this teleprompter is more commonly used for giving speeches, as it lets the speaker see the audience through the glass. Another advantage of this teleprompter is that multiple monitors may be positioned throughout the arena, allowing the speaker to stare at the entire crowd during their speech, making it appear even more natural.

A presidential teleprompter is made up of two mirrors constructed of beam-splitter glass installed on two different stands. Each mirror is oriented at a 45-degree angle. Each has a monitor with text that reflects in the mirror. Only the person speaking can see the text due to an anti-reflective coating on the back of the mirror.

Another difference between camera-mounted and presidential teleprompters is that the latter may be used without a camera. A presidential prompter is a much better setup when presenting to a live audience and where he can scan from side to side and not fix his gaze on a spot. The cameraman can then film the speaker from various angles, preferably when he is not looking at the mirror.

Because of unforeseen occurrences, it is still advisable to bring a copy of the speech to the lectern. Even the best teleprompters can go awry every now and then. This assures that no matter what happens, you will always be able to pick up from your speech. So even if you’re speaking from a teleprompter, develop the habit of flipping pages of your script.

Tips on Using a Pesidential Teleprompter

Just because a presidential teleprompter makes your life easier, it doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it without practice or some tricks up your sleeve. In fact, not every United States president presents a speech using a prompter. Some, like George W. Bush, abhor teleprompters and prefers large index cards.

Needless to say, delivering a speech off a teleprompter is a highly refined skill. It requires as much, if not more, concentration than reading from a paper copy. Here are some tips on using a presidential teleprompter:

  • Use More Colloquial Language

Reading a text and hearing someone talk are two very different methods to take in information. Speech is generally less formal than writing; therefore, use more familiar or colloquial terms in your talks. This will help you be more natural, while your audience will also feel more engaged if you’re speaking their “language.”

  • Format the Speech to Make it Easier to Read

It all boils down to personal preference, but it will help if you stick to standard capitalization rules and put markets or cues around the material or points you need to emphasize. Some people may prefer using another way, but the point is, you should format your script so that it is easy to read when you are delivering it.

  • Sprinkle Some Ad-Libbed Stories and Anecdotes Throughout the Speech

It’s never a good idea to rely 100% on written notes, be it on printed text on paper or in a teleprompter. If you want to liven up your speech, be sure that some portions of it are ad-libs. It could be an anecdote, a funny story, or anything appropriate for the speech. Make a notation in the script if you intend to improvise. This notifies the prompter operator to stop scrolling, and you’ll both be on the same page!

  • Beat the Ping-pong Match Syndrome

The Ping-Pong Match Syndrome or PPMS is that awkward back-and-forth, side-to-side head motion that looks like you’re watching a ping-ping or tennis match. Presenters frequently worry about spending too much time looking at one panel and therefore swing back and forth quickly between the two. While that sounds like a good idea in theory, it looks awful in practice because it is incredibly distracting. If you’re new to using a presidential prompter system, look at one panel for a little longer before switching. You may also use transition marks in your script to serve as a signal when you can look at the other panel.

  • Consider a more extemporaneous style.

This tip could work if you have been using teleprompters for a while and want to break the monotony. The idea is to use bulleted points or memory triggers instead of the whole text of paragraphs. The result would be a more engaging and natural extemporaneous type of speech that the audience could relate to.

  • It takes two to tango.

If you’re using a teleprompter, you probably have an operator following you. To ensure smooth transitions and a good working relationship, address the operator respectfully and honestly about what you want and expect. You set the pace, but the operator will ensure you sound as polished as possible.

  • Show some excitement!

Unless you’re using a teleprompter as a harbinger of doom, give the audience something to be excited about by showing some enthusiasm yourself. It’s only possible for the audience to be thrilled if you are yourself. Remember to smile and be interested in your topic. Half the battle is convincing your audience that what you have to say is important.

  • Practice, practice, and more practice!

Speaking off a teleprompter is an art, and to be a master at anything art-related, you need lots of repetitions. It’s often a good idea to practice with your operator before your shoot or event so that he or she is familiar with your pacing and speaking style. This will allow you to be more coordinated while filming or presenting. Practice also helps you internalize the message of the speech, making way for gestures and non-verbal forms of communication to naturally surface.

Final Thoughts

Presidential teleprompters are the secret to giving a perfect speech in front of a massive, live audience. Most country leaders and other dignitaries use such devices when delivering a message. 

The main difference between a presidential prompter and a camera-mounted device is that the former’s pane is placed on a pole rather than the camera. Presidential prompters also do not need cameras to be behind the mirrors. This allows the speaker to glance and scan the audience from side to side. In reality, he is just looking at the teleprompter panel with the scrolling speech text that the audience cannot see.


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