On the use of teleprompters at Lotusphere

by Volker Weber


All keynotes were read from teleprompters. Right in the opening session you had it all: excellent performance by Bob P, and horrific performance by David Y. I have seen David speak without a prompter before and he was excellent. The prompter stopped while Bob P was speaking and he did not miss a beat. I suspect Bob did not use it at all. The other low point was the fake business partner panel.

There are three possible problems when using teleprompters:

  1. You are glued to the prompter and it drives you. This appearantly happened to David, who was not well prepared to speak on a topic that was alien to his work.
  2. The script is awful. If you are not a speechwriter and you write your own script, you are doomed from the outset. Your best change is to speak freely, record it, and then transscribe. It is really, really hard to write a speech.
  3. You can't read the prompter. The screens low in front of the stage don't work, because the cameras will show what you are doing on the big screen. Your only chance is the screen over the audience or good memory.

If you need to read word by word from the prompter you might as well just show the prompter behind you on the screen and let the audience read it.

I know one former IBM GM who started reading from the prompter and then veered off, in a (successful) attempt to deliver a speech that comes across as honest to the bone. The poor teleprompter operator was thrown off, and the GM could later blame everything on the operator, who was never punished because everyone knew he had been had.


From my vantage point, it seemed that Bob P. used the teleprompter for most of his speech, but wasn't willing to absolutely avoid ad-lib when it seemed needed. He probably added about a minute or two of his own words and the result was good. He's a pro and he's comfortable in both ways.

As you say, if you're really good at it, a teleprompter can work. Most aren't. Kevin C is a fine speaker when he speaks his mind. As a teleprompted robot, not so much. Most of us would be in the same boat.

If IBM really wants a scripted, slick, fast moving OGS then the teleprompters aren't the answer. Hiring a really really good producer and actually doing what he/she says becomes necessary.

Andrew Pollack, 2010-01-25

Yes, that was funny to watch. Did William Shatner read his speech from the prompter? I was sitting too far away in the opening session to see it.
For the closing session, it was very impressive to see Brian Cox as special guest speak about CERN's supercollider without a single teleprompter line.

Karsten Lehmann, 2010-01-25

Found a link of a speech of Brian Cox on TED

Karsten Lehmann, 2010-01-25

He is a pro and can say what he wants to.

Volker Weber, 2010-01-25

Shattner was entirely teleprompted. I could see it from where I was sitting. I found it even more odd, really -- because I thought his "speech" seemed more like 15 minutes of free association on the word "collaboration".

Andrew Pollack, 2010-01-25

The Notes/Domino mini-keynote was the first time I've ever used a teleprompter. However, my boss has done it before and it was his choice for us to do so.

Kevin and I wrote our own script and therefore I disagree with the thought that we needed the professional to do it right. We didn't have time to learn how to become actors and use someone else's words -- we wanted the words to be in our own voice.

The only thing that changed on the road to Orlando was the continuous reduction of the script -- we cut about ten pages' worth before we ever took the stage.

We used the teleprompter for two reasons.
1) In some cases, the choice of individual words was extremely important, as in the case of announcements, partnerships, and futures.
2) Without the prompter, we would both have been prone to speak longer. The session came in at 62 minutes, a marvel considering we had six topics to cover, two demos to incorporate, a guest speaker, and two speakers who had to ensure our transitions were fluid.

Ironically, the thing I think that suffered the most was that we did not allow sufficient time for applause or other audience reactions. Physics say it takes a while for sound to reach the stage in a room that seats 1500. Several times either Kevin or I were on to the next point before we heard that there was applause.

What I really loved about this session is that I didn't have to worry about advancing my slides -- they moved magically along with the script. There was no distracting clicker, return to the podium, or anything else to ensure perfectly-timed graphics. The presentation was very good, and almost all of that was professionally done.

We had too much material for one keynote. I'm not sure how we could have done it differently, though. And yes, I need more practice before/if I use the prompter again.

Ed Brill, 2010-01-25

Thanks for the insight, Ed.

"in our own voice" is the difficult part. You have to transcribe what you would say instead of writing down your thoughts. And yes, accounting for a reaction from the audience is important. That is what I meant with being driven by the prompter. There is no interaction with the audience.

Volker Weber, 2010-01-25

Hi Volker,

During the partner panel only a few of us used tele-prompters. The question was always on the tele-prompter but in my case I did not read my response. I think most of the others did it that way too. The questions had to be on the tele-propmter because we could not hear each other well on stage with the booming echo of the loudspeakers.

In my case I really had to improvise after it was taken in a different direction than we had planned - so I cracked a joke and answered the question after that.

Anyway I thought we pulled it off and got people listening again.

Best Wishes

John Carini - iEnterprises, Inc.

John Carini, 2010-01-25

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