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5.2 Ad-Lib vs. Teleprompter

Should you speak off the cuff, or write a script and read it off a teleprompter? This lesson looks at the pros and cons of both methods, and offers tips on how to appear natural while using a teleprompter.

5.2 Ad-Lib vs. Teleprompter

Hi, I'm Cindy Burgess for tuts+. In the previous lesson we looked at how to prepare for an unscripted or ad-libbed presentation. But there may be times when you want or need a written script. And that's where a teleprompter can come in handy. In this lesson, you'll learn how a teleprompter works and the pros and cons of using a teleprompter versus ad-libbing. A teleprompter or autocue is a device that fits over the front of a video camera. It uses a mirror to reflect the script onto a piece of glass in front of the lens. From the perspective of a presenter, it's like looking at a computer screen. When the teleprompter is activated, the script scrolls upwards line by line. The scrolling speed is usually controlled by a separate device and operator. Using a teleprompter allows you to maintain eye contact with the lens and therefore your viewers while reading your script. It creates the illusion that you've memorized your material. Teleprompters are widely used in the television and video production industries. Professional versions tend to be quite large and expensive. But there are smaller more affordable, more portable teleprompters available that use a tablet as part of the prompting system. If you're recording video with a tablet or smartphone. There are numerous prompting apps. Free and paid, that allow you to upload a script and get it scrolling. Some even let you control the speed manually with the wireless remote. There are even prompter apps that are voice activated. So when you stop speaking, the script stops scrolling. When you start speaking again the scrolling resumes. Now at this point you're probably thinking, why wouldn't I use a teleprompter? The advantages are pretty clear. You can do your entire presentation in one take, which obviously saves time. You won't have any of those ums or aws or mistakes. And if you already own a tablet or smartphone you can just download an app. You can even build your own teleprompter with instructions found on the Internet. But there are downsides to using a teleprompter. It takes a lot of practice to sound like you're talking off the cuff and not reading a script. Newscasters make it look easy, but trust me it takes years of practice and experience to get to that stage. Part of the problem is that only a few lines of your script are on the screen at a time. You need to develop an ability to read ahead to the next line in your head while you're talking. So you have a smooth rhythm and sound natural. Another downside is that you usually need someone to operate the teleprompter for you. It's a real art to be able to run a teleprompter and read at the same time, take it for me. Finally, when you read off a screen in front of you your eyes move back and forth. If you sit too close to the teleprompter your viewers will be able to see that eye movement and will know you're reading. One of the keys to success in using a teleprompter is in the scripting itself. Broadcasters are trained to write copy that is simple, concise and conversational, copy that's meant to be spoken aloud. You can do this too by following these three tips. Keep your sentences short and simple. Think in terms of subject, verb, object. Use simple everyday language. For example, say buy instead of purchase or doctor instead of physician. When you're writing your script, examine every word and ask yourself, would I say this in regular conversation? Finally, read your script out loud as you're writing it. Words can look fine on paper, but turn into tongue twisters when it comes time to speak them, so talk it out. Before you spend money on a teleprompter I recommend that you get the feel for one by using a tablet or smartphone with a free prompter app. Simply download the app of your choice and enter your script as instructed then place the tablet at eye level. Activate the prompter and practice reading out loud. Experiment with different scrolling speeds to see what works for you. After you've practiced a bit, record yourself reading from the teleprompter and play it back. Are you looking directly into the lens or slightly off to the side? Remember the lens on a mobile device is not in the middle of the screen. It's usually on the edge. You'll need to be far enough away that the viewer can't tell that you're looking slightly to the side. Can you see your eyes moving back and forth? If so, move further away from the tablet. You need to find that sweet spot where you can read the text clearly without squinting. But you're far enough from the camera that viewers can't see your eye movements. If you're recording yourself with a video camera, you can use your tablet as a teleprompter by mounting it to a tripod. The key here is to make sure the tablet is as close to the lens of the camera as possible, either below it or beside it. Experiment shooting at different distances from the teleprompter to see how noticeable your eye direction and movement is. Using a teleprompter effectively requires skill and practice, lots of practice. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people like the more relaxed, conversational feel of an ad-libbed performance while others prefer the polished feel of a scripted performance using a teleprompter. Try out both and see what works for you. In the next lesson, we bring together everything that we've learned and focused on delivering your message to the camera. I'm Cindy Burgess for Tut's plus. Thanks for watching.

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