Friday, September 5, 2008

about those convention teleprompters

So many people have Googled their way to this blog to ask whether speakers used teleprompters at the two political conventions that I think it's worth a short discussion. The answer is yes: Speakers expect to use teleprompters at conventions, where the hall--and the television audience beyond it--is huge. And while most people giving a speech don't use teleprompters, there's no shame in doing so. The primary advantage? You can read your speech without looking down and away from the cameras.

Teleprompters don't relieve you of the need to practice your speech and they don't guarantee smooth delivery. Practice still makes, well, almost perfect. But teleprompters primarily help you look active and engaged with the audience, instead of your text. They don't have much to do with making the speaker more eloquent.

Here's what former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in her Wall Street Journal column yesterday, for example, about whether John McCain should use a teleprompter:
I am told alternately that he has given up on the teleprompter and will go straight from text, and that he will use a teleprompter. I assume the latter is true. If it is it will be interesting to see if he has mastered it. That will tell us if he practiced the speech...If he's reading from text, well, it is not true that this is impossible in the media age. People didn't use teleprompters until 30 years ago. But when McCain reads straight from text we tend to see a lot of the top of his head, with the soft white hair and the pink brow glistening under the lights. Which tends to accentuate his age. So how he does the speech is of more than academic interest.
In fact, both McCain and Sarah Palin, his running mate, used both text and teleprompter, a confusing mix--I'd recommend one or the other. And in Michelle Obama's case, interviews with her after the speech revealed that her speech was not too different from her stump speech, which means she's well-practiced in its delivery and comfortable with it. Again, the teleprompter isn't the key to smooth delivery.

Readers have been asking questions like "where are the teleprompters?" and the answer usually is "out of camera range" and "near or below the camera." In this photo, a teleprompter at the 2004 Republican convention in New York is located below a bank of cameras. (Photo by vidiot from Flickr)

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