Obama and the Teleprompter

First, Barack Obama is the probable nominee because he is a great communicator. In oratory and rhetoric. I even named him the Top Communicator of 2006, and look where speaking got him!

But why doesn’t he learn to use the teleprompter well? A mystery.

In an earlier post I was roundly criticized because I didn’t give him a 10 out of 10 for his famous speech after his Iowa primary victory. He was good, but not great – purely because he looked at his teleprompter paddles for 4 to 5 seconds each, head going back and forth like a metronome. I would have thought he would have learned by now, but no. So I’m posting on it, because it’s not hard to use teleprompters well.

So here after his North Carolina speech, you can literally see him with no teleprompter, reading a script for 35 seconds before the prompter kicks in. And then his eyes almost light up at 38 seconds, and teleprompter gaze locks on as he goes into his 4 second metronome routine.

Now this is not a major communication flaw with him, as he is outstanding at oratorical flourish and inspirational words and vocal rhythm. And he is learning fast to be spontaneous and humorous. He’s an impressive communicator – witness his success. In comparison to John McCain – well, there is not much. (Here’s John McCain using the Teleprompter – much worse in one of the early primaries. Here he is using one through the lens prompter paddle, where Obama always uses two paddles. But McCain has been told, and has learned and now reads his speeches usually, and stiffly.)

It is also true that not that many people care about Obama’s teleprompter stiffness. I’ve mentioned it to dozens and they don’t even notice! But I do think at the unconscious level people do notice, and it takes away from smooth, natural and confident impact.

So if you know Barack – tell him there’s a solution: as follows…

Here’s the solution to Teleprompter Gaze Stiffness:

Simply put, have five focal points when you have two prompter paddles – and three focal points when you have one prompter paddle (or through the lens prompter.) In Obama’s two paddle situation, he has the two paddles for two focal points, the third focal point is centered between the two paddles, and the other two focal points are to the far left and far right of the paddles. Then he just learns to pick up his sentences by reading at the paddles for a few seconds, and gaze at the other focal points as he finishes the sentence, and goes back to the paddle to pick up the next sentence or two.

Don’t mean to get to detailed in Teleprompter Training, but it’s not very difficult to learn it – takes very little practice. And once done, you can ‘appear’ to be speaking to the entire audience – not just stiffly reading and moving your head from side to side – 4 seconds by 4 seconds.

Watch Obama at his next speech. It will be 4×4 – until he learns. And I have a hunch he will learn.

If you want more info on the detail of using Teleprompters, you might pick up The Teleprompter Manual by Laurie Brown. It’s good, although I think she should have emphasized the ‘focal point’ issue much more. That’s where the rubber meets the road in using teleprompters well.

But – better yet not to use them at all. Learn to use notes, be spontaneous, and don’t read speeches. Just last week I had a client who was told he had to use a teleprompter for a major speech, and he complied – against his wishes. The teleprompter operator lost control, he got off track and distracted, and said “Never again!” to teleprompters.