Two major, and very public, teleprompter gaffs were made in 2014 before we could even get to February.  The first immediately went viral, as director Michael Bay walked off the stage at a keynote for Samsung at the International Consumer Electronics Show.  Less than a week later, Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie got bit by the teleprompter at the Golden Globe Awards, as the wrong script went up.  Instead of walking off, though, Hill and Robbie filled the time by simply being honest about what happened, and were quickly handed a paper version of the script.  Backup in hand, they were able to finish the segment.  And while many people chided Bay for being unprofessional, if you’re not a news anchor or a professional speaker, working with a teleprompter can be a scary position to be in for the amateur.  Both of these events can offer some very important lessons to event professionals about when, and how, to effectively use teleprompters, and about AV technology in general.

  • Lesson 1: Always, always, always have a backup plan.  Technology is wonderful- it lets us do amazing things at events and meetings today.  And the amount that we rely on it has exploded over the last couple years.  I’m currently setting up a day and a half meeting for less than a hundred people, and the tech table has no less than 7 laptops and computers.  But what frequently gets neglected is having a simple backup plan.  So many presenters use their presentations as their notes- what happens if your presentation laptops crash?  Or what if the video projector bulb blows out?  Always have a backup of your presentation or notes.  I know we all want to go paperless, and there’s a lot that can be done to minimize the environmental impact of our meetings, but the last time I presented I had both a copy of my notes on my iPad as well as a printed outline of my presentation, just in case.  Fortunately for Hill and Robbie, someone was following along, just off stage, on a paper copy of the script, that could be brought out in a hurry.  As for the Bay keynote, my money is on a “what happens if the teleprompter goes down?” conversation that never took place.
  • Lesson 2: Teleprompters require rehearsal  I have no way of knowing how much or how little rehearsal was had on either of these programs, and rehearsal doesn’t prohibit the kind of mistake that happened on the Golden Globes (bringing up the wrong script).  It does, however, allow time for the conversation of, “What happens if I skip ahead or get lost?” Plus, quite simply, the more you rehearse, the less likely you are to get lost or screw up.  Whenever I have a group where a teleprompter is in use, I always recommend not only rehearsal, but extra rehearsal compared to a normal show.  It not only gets the speaker comfortable with the teleprompter, it gets the teleprompter operator comfortable with the speaker.
  • Lesson 3: Don’t try and follow the teleprompter, let the teleprompter follow you.  It is the teleprompter operator’s sole job to make sure that you have the words you need, when you need them.  The extra rehearsal recommended above allows the operator to get to know the speed and rhythm of a speaker, as well as the likelihood that they might skip around.  Some speakers will use the teleprompter, but then go rogue and off-script for a while, only to return to the prompter when they’re ready.  It’s obviously extremely important that the operator know that’s going to happen, so they don’t advance the script or try and “find” where they may have moved on to.  In the case of Bay, it’s a tough call for the operator- do you stay at the beginning and hope they get back on track?  Or do you try and advance the script to where he jumped to?  Hard to say what the right course of action was, but again, that decision could have been informed by how Bay might have been in rehearsal.

I hope these lessons can be applied to your meetings and events moving forward.  I can’t over-emphasize the need for extra rehearsal when teleprompters are involved, especially if the speakers are inexperienced in using them.  I’m willing to bet that the rehearsal for both of these events was minimal at best.  If anyone in the industry has any “inside info” as to how much or how little rehearsal there was for either the Golden Globes or the Samsung keynote, please comment below!

Author: Brandt Krueger is an industry leader, tech expert and instructor of the Technical Meeting & Event Production Certificate course at the Event Leadership Institute.

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