09/18/2012 11:25 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

Leader, Teleprompted: Why Executives Must Master the Machine

As an executive, you're called upon to deliver important messages to your organization and the marketplace. People look to you to set the tone in public speaking. You want to come across as a strong leader, but natural. To complicate matters, your busy schedule doesn't allow you a minute to spare.

That's why you need to master the Teleprompter.

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.

It doesn't have to be that way. I've dedicated the last decade to transforming leaders into influencers. Prior to that, I spent 20-plus years mastering Teleprompters in the television news industry. I'm here to make the case that by applying the following three steps, you can master the prompter. 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.
  • Record the script again emphasizing the newly-highlighted words. Listen without the script in front of you to experience the message like your audience will. Is it crisp enough? Bold enough? If not, tweak the script and record it one last time.

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.
  • Choose an accent color like yellow or occasional italics or ALL CAPS for words you choose to emphasize.

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.
  • Ask the camera operator to adjust the camera to your eye level. That will prevent you from looking haughty or sleepy-eyed.

Reading a prompter is nuanced. But once you master the machine with these three steps, you'll deliver a message with maximum impact. You'll save time and lower stress for everyone involved. Your message will be bolder, crisper and delivered to your audience with the thought and care that it deserves.