How To Use A Teleprompter And An “IFB” Earpiece

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on May 19, 2013 – 6:02 am

Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Shuster, a former MSNBC and Current TV anchor who currently serves as the managing editor for Take Action News. In this post, he responds to a reader who asked for tips on how to read from a Teleprompter and use an “IFB” earpiece, into which a producer speaks while you’re on the air.

Prompters and IFBs can be quite confusing, particularly if you are trying to master both simultaneously. So I would start by working on one at a time before bringing them together. Although in both cases, the learning process is the same.

 

TV and radio host David Shuster

 
Let’s start with the prompter operator:
 
  1. 1. Meet and communicate your expectations. This means advising him/her on where in the prompter (high, middle, or low) you want to see the words you are speaking at the instant you are saying them. Generally, you will want those words in the middle. This way, you can speed up or slow down your pacing and have the prompter operator only have to make minor adjustments to follow you.
  2. 2. Practice and make deliberate mistakes. This means adding words that aren’t in the copy to make sure the operator gets used to following you and stopping/starting as you change things.
  3. 3. Review the practice session. Provide feedback and discuss any adjustments either of you wants or needs to make.

In working with a producer/IFB, follow the same steps: 

  1. 1. Communicate your expectations. This means identifying in advance what the producer needs to tell you over IFB and what words/phrases you should expect to hear. Will he/she give you cues on when to start speaking? If so, agree on what the exact wording will be said in your ear, such as “go,” “now,” “cue,” or etc. Does the producer want to tell you how much time is left in the segment? Agree on how often you need to hear it. Generally, you will want a cue that there is “one minute” left, then “30 seconds,” then “ten seconds,” and “five.” Also, determine what other information the producer may need to tell you, and agree on what words/phrases the producer will say to communicate it. If the words are expected or familiar, you won’t be thrown off when you hear them. 
  2. 2. During your practice session with the producer, have him/her deliberately try to throw you off or distract you. It’s important that you learn how to deal with it and tune things out. Once you realize that you can keep talking even when something unexpected gets said in your ear, the fear of being thrown off will diminish. The likelihood of being thrown off will diminish too. 
  3. 3. Review the IFB practice session. Provide feedback to the producer and discuss any adjustments.

After the separate practice sessions, do one with the prompter operator and IFB/producer at the same time. Then, have a feedback session all together, in case there are any adjustments that any one of you needs/wants to make in conjunction with the other.  

Good luck and have fun!

David Shuster is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news anchor and former correspondent for Current TV and MSNBC. He is the Host and Managing Editor of “Take Action News,” a nationally syndicated radio show. You can see more of his work here.


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Why You Should Temper The Teleprompter Temptation

Written by Christina Mozaffari (@PMRChristina) on September 3, 2012 – 9:09 pm

A trainee of mine recently asked if he could use a teleprompter for his presentations. He whipped out his iPad and showed me a teleprompter app he’d downloaded.

While the app was impressive, I told him it was a very bad idea.

Truly, I understand the temptation. There it is, your entire presentation, sitting in front of you like a warm, comfortable, digital security blanket. Politicians use them. Television hosts use them. Why shouldn’t you?

Simply put, it can ruin your presentation.

That “comfort” you’d get with the teleprompter comes at a huge price: your connection with the audience. That may be a necessary evil for some speeches with huge consequences, such as the President’s annual State of the Union Address, but not for the vast majority of business speakers.

Remember, even if you’re saying all the right things but not connecting – say, for example, because you’re reading your speech off an iPad – the audience won’t retain your important messages. That’s why we advise our presentation trainees to remove any obstacles they can between themselves and their audience. For example:

  1. - Don’t stand behind a podium if you can help it.
  2. - Don’t use closed body language, like crossing your arms in front of you.
  3. - Remember that your PowerPoint presentation, if you’re using one, is there only to enhance you and your delivery, not to replace you.
  4. - And finally, please, don’t stick an iPad teleprompter in front of you as a high-tech cheat sheet.

In addition to jeopardizing your audience connection, a teleprompter isn’t always the most reliable tool, especially for those of us who would have to use an iPad app in lieu of the professional equipment. Imagine your iPad draining its battery in the middle of your speech, or the teleprompter going too fast, thus forcing you to lose your place in your speech. Even the pros have their scripts handy in case the teleprompter fails (and believe me, it does). The faux-security it provides simply isn’t worth it.

So what can you do to feel more comfortable with your presentations? Practice practice practice! Rehearse out loud. Have a co-worker you trust listen to and watch you and give you honest feedback. Run through your speech more than a few times to become familiar with the material.

And remember, the goal is not to memorize your presentation. You want to become so at home with your material that you can speak about it using only a few bullet points on a notecard in front of you as your guide. The more time you put into preparing yourself, the more confident and authentic you will be in front of your audience.

If you like my blog, please stay in touch on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining and on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/MrMediaTraining. Thanks for reading!


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Posted in Presentation Training | 3 Comments »

Should Barack Obama Lose The Teleprompter?

Written by Brad Phillips on January 19, 2011 – 6:41 am

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most during radio interviews and speeches over the past two years is this: Should President Obama ditch the teleprompter? 

Since his days on the campaign trail, critics – mostly, but not exclusively from the political right – have mocked the President for using a teleprompter. Today, I’ll look at the two main arguments his critics make – one valid, one not. 

ARGUMENT ONE: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE 

The first argument against using a teleprompter comes from partisan critics who seem to believe the President is a Manchurian candidate capable only of reading beautiful text prepared by others. 

A typical argument from that camp can be found in a 2009 editorial in the conservative Washington Times

“Is President Obama able to conduct a news conference without a teleprompter? Is he an automaton in answering questions?…[t]eleprompter screens at the events scrolled not only his opening remarks, but also statistics and information he could use to answer questions.” 

  

I find that argument unpersuasive at best and insidious at worst, as it seems to suggest President Obama would be unable to function as a communicator without the use of pre-scripted words loaded into a teleprompter. That he writes many of his own major speeches and regularly gives media interviews without a prompter goes without mention. 

President Obama Teleprompter

President Obama and The Teleprompter

Presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower have used a teleprompter, and few critics have attacked them for using one. That President Obama relies on data loaded on a teleprompter to answer questions is functionally no different than jotting statistics down on a note card, and doesn’t suggest in any way he is an “automaton.”

I can’t help thinking that this meme was born of a clever political strategy. In an effort to remove an opponent’s competitive edge, strategists often attack their rival’s greatest strength. Since President Obama receives high marks from the public when he delivers a powerful speech, his opponents have incentive to undercut the public’s perception of his effectiveness as a speaker.

Finally, his critics say that although his predecessors have used a teleprompter, none have relied on it so frequently. That’s a fair point, and one that segues nicely into the second argument.

ARGUMENT TWO: LOSING HIS CONNECTION 

The second argument is that President Obama loses his connection with the American people when he speaks with a teleprompter. That strikes me as a more valid criticism.

The job of public speakers is to elevate the text — if they don’t, they may as well just run off some copies of the transcript and let the audience read it for themselves. Too many times, President Obama has appeared to be reading – not delivering – a speech. And his critics are right that it’s hurting his connection with the American people.

After a September Oval Office address about Iraq, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews commented: 

“…if he doesn’t get rid of that damn teleprompter, it’s like an eye test. He’s just reading words now. It’s separating him from us.” 

  

And from a 2009 story in Politico: 

“It’s just something presidents haven’t done,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidential historian. ”…in a way, it stands in the middle between the audience and the president because his eye is on the teleprompter.” 

  
CONCLUSION 

President Obama has delivered some amazing speeches with the use of a teleprompter (e.g. his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, his 2008 speech accepting the Democratic nomination). He has also given some lackluster speeches with the teleprompter (e.g. his 2009 speech on Iraq, countless everyday speeches). 

I’m not convinced that the teleprompter itself is the problem, but rather his use of it. When he’s on, he’s awesome. When he’s off, he’s soporific. 

If the President were my client, I’d want to experiment with other formats for his everyday speeches. He’s seemingly overly-reliant on the prompter, so I’d want to test him in other formats, such as reading from prepared printed text and preparing looser remarks on note cards that allow air for extemporaneous comments or anecdotes. If he insists on continuing to use the prompter, he might want to insert a couple of holes in his text to tell a personal story, helping to add a more personal touch to an otherwise aloof speech. 

Still, I can’t shake the sense that this is primarily a discussion fueled by partisan opponents. Just as it was unfair for critics to suggest President Bush was being fed comments by Karl Rove through an earpiece during a presidential debate, it’s unfair to spend so much time castigating President Obama for deploying a device used by almost every president since 1953.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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