Senator Marco Rubio chugged a tiny bottle of water during his State of the Union Republican response and instantly became comic fodder. In a swig heard 'round the world, he demonstrated why every executive must learn how to effectively communicate when Teleprompted. Lesson one: Always have water within arm's length -- not off-camera.
Man and the machine are converging in today's media-centric world. If you're a leader, you're now a broadcaster. Or at least a narrowcaster with consequences. Soon, you'll be called upon to record crisp messages for both your organization's intranet and the broader Internet.
Here's the rub: You've seen enough politicians reading prompters poorly that you have a skewed perception of how they work. You don't want that deer-in-the-headlights display that you've noticed. No zig-zagging of your head as you lock and load the words from the mirrored devices. No swigging of tiny water bottles.
I'm here to make the case that by applying the following three steps, you can master the machine. It will improve your executive presence and make delivering key messages faster. Bolder. More influential.
Step One: Paper Training
Practice with the paper script first. Read it into an app like iTalk on your cell phone or another recording device.
With a highlighter pen in hand, listen back to the recording and mark the words that you should emphasize. Don't be surprised by how you off base your first reading sounds.
Some sentences are probably too long. Convert them into shorter ones. This simple act is very powerful.
Step Two: Prompter Training
The prompter operator gets involved here. He/she should make the script changes that you want in the prompter software.
Have the operator build the word (PAUSE) in all caps around key messages. This will give you control, helping you appear natural. It prevents you from being led by the machine.
Check the font size -- it it optimal for you? The smallest you can handle will fit more text on the screen. This will help ensure that words don't fly off the screen too fast for you.
Step Three: Mastering the Machine
The only way to appear natural is if you feel in control of the script.
Coordinate a hand signal with the operator to adjust the speed if needed. I use palm up for faster, palm down for lower. Whatever works best for you.
Gesture naturally to optimize your vocal variance and pace. Quiet your lower body below the waist so your head doesn't slip out of camera frame.
Reading a prompter is nuanced. But once you master the machine with these three steps, you'll deliver a message with maximum impact. Your message will be bolder, crisper and delivered to your audience with the thought and care that it deserves.
As a bonus, no comics will target you on late night television!