The title sounds a little ridiculous, I know. You just start scrolling and read, right? Sort of. I’ve been reading a teleprompter every day for almost 20 years. I promise you get the best results when you prepare both the performer and the script itself for the teleprompter.
In addition to my personal experience reading a prompter, I’ve seen many others do it. I’m always impressed with the “naturals” who have zero teleprompter or performance training and just crush it. I’ve seen others who are great presenters in-person, know their brand like the back of their hand, but just can’t get through a sentence without sounding like a robot.
From a performance perspective, public speaking and teleprompter-reading are two different skills. Here are seven helpful tips for anyone who’s about to jump in front of a prompter, regardless of your experience level.
(TikTok video explains some of what’s in this article)
How close you stand to the camera makes a world of difference. If you’re too close, your eyes will look like they’re shifting back and forth across the screen. You will literally look like you’re reading. It goes without saying, if you’re too far away you might have trouble seeing the words. 8 to 10 away feet is a good place to start and then you can adjust as needed.
Related to the distance you stand from the prompter, is the size of the font you’re reading. The smaller the font, the more words you have in front of you. That can be a problem if you’re close to the camera because your eyes will be doing that back-and-forth thing again! The good news is, most teleprompter software these days offer controls over many visual parameters like font size.
CAPS or no caps?
A long-time rule of thumb in television is that scripts in the teleprompter are presented in capital letters (for that reason, some of us write in capital letters too). That was more important decades ago when scripts were printed on paper, taped together, and fed through a machine with a camera that would be projected in front of the camera. With today’s teleprompter software and high quality screens, you can select whichever style you’re most comfortable reading. In my experience, most professional talent still opts for capitalization.
With the moving words of teleprompter, it can be a challenge for the talent to distinguish between sentences if the spacing isn’t right. Periods and commas don’t always cut it from ten feet away, as the script is scrolling along. A great tip is to make a new paragraph for each sentence in your script. You can even indent each paragraph for extra emphasis that alerts the reader to the new sentence.
Generally-speaking, most punctuation in your scripts can stay. There are a few exceptions. Try replacing commas with dashes or ellipses… for a better visual cue that signals a pause… or that the thought is continuing… like this sentence.
Numbers are tricky. Not the easy ones from one to 100, it’s when they get big that they can get messy. From a scripting perspective, this is why I use round numbers whenever possible. If a number must be specific, as it often is in business, try the “1 to 100” rule: numbers from 1 to 100 get numerals, other units gets spelled out. For example: “99,233” is scripted as “99-THOUSAND-2-HUNDRED-33.” Take extra care if decimals and percentage are involved. Instead of writing “34.12%,” try “34-POINT-12 PERCENT.”
Copying & Pasting
A word of caution when copying and pasting: not all characters are created equal. Let’s say you’re reading along and “`å2” randomly shows up in your script, it’s most likely a character from your script that the prompter software didn’t accurately translate. It happens. I’ve used various software from free consumer versions to the most-expensive pro software used in TV stations and have seen all kinds of problems, even whole sections of scripts not show up because of a formatting issue. To fix this problem, try converting your script to a plain text file or removing all formatting before copying and pasting into your prompter software.
My personal pick for teleprompter software is PowerPrompter by Suborbital.
Know the copy. All these tips are helpful for giving the talent or reader the best chance at a successful performance. However, nothing beats knowing the content. Make sure you give the talent ample time to pre-read the script. Not all actors or presenters are good at cold-reading (reading the script without having pre-read the copy). And if they are, imagine how much better they’ll be if they actually prepare. That goes for even the most-seasoned presenter.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared on my Medium page. It also appeared on my blog when I owned my studio Cloudbreak Creative. The facility still exists and is operated as Northline Studios by Lerner Productions, another good resource if you’re looking for production help.