READING THE PROMPTER TEXT - GENERAL POINTS

How to use a prompter

First remember that the operator is trained to follow the presenter and to finely adjust the speed of the scrolling text to match the speed of delivery. The operator will also pause if the presenter pauses or ad-libs, or if the presenter stumbles over a word or loses the sense of a sentence to give them a chance to get back on track.

On the prompt display there is a small reference marker on the left and near the top of the display. This is called a “Cue Marker” and is a reference for both the presenter and operator. The operator will keep the line that is being spoken opposite this reference point. If the presenter looks away, moving from one conference glass to another or changing from one camera to another, the marker gives an immediate indication of the current position of the script and from where to pick it up. In the on-camera setup it should be set to just above the lens centre for the best eyeline. Why just above? Well most people will be reading ahead by a line or so. The presenter must never feel that the speed of delivery is being “driven” by the operator. The operator should always react half a beat behind the presenter to prevent giving this effect.

The speed of delivery should be natural and normal and clear with plenty of body/hand/head movement, as if talking to a human and not a piece of technical equipment. In a television environment head movement disguises the tracking of the eyes as they read. If the presenter’s head is static there is no way this can be disguised. There are ways of minimising this. Most importantly the size of the monitor that is being used should be considered. It is not good to rig a 20” monitor if the camera is going to be a meter and a half from the presenter. Similarly you can’t use a 9” monitor 10 meters from the presenter, he’d be straining to read it. And don’t rely on the operator being able to increase the font size to get over reading difficulties. The larger the text the faster it will have to scroll making it much harder for the presenter to keep the sense of the short prompt text lines. One thing that is sure a 9” monitor works best for inexperienced users such as on corporate shoots. They are able to “read down the middle” and thus there is no problem with flicking eyes!

Remember, also, that the fact that the script scrolling up in front of a presenter’s eyes can cause them to increase the speed of delivery without realising it – slowly accelerating until their normal document reading speed is attained – far faster than a speaking speed. The operator duly follows and an unfortunate “I’m following him, following me” loop develops. It is not possible for the operator to slow a delivery down by scrolling slowly because this breaks the bond of trust between operator and presenter. The presenter must control the speed of delivery.

AD-LIBBING

Ad-libbing is an excellent way of creating some informality in a very precise presentation but it must be used with care. Firstly, the reason prompting is often used is to create a clearly defined speech and of course enables support slides, video or other aids to be cued accurately. If the presenter is intending to ad lib he should make the production team aware of this so that any adjustments to the cues can be made. It can be very helpful for the prompt operator to make a note of the possible ad-lib in the prompt text with one or several Bullet Points which will warn production and remind the presenter.

Secondly the ad-lib should be self contained, in other words it should be extra to the formal script and exit and re-enter the defined script cleanly.

The worst situation is when a presenter ad-libs and inadvertently takes some points out of order, points which are included somewhere ahead in the defined script. This leaves production, and particularly the prompt operator, in a quandary because once the presenter has returned to the script what to do about the points that have been covered in the ad-lib? Scroll through them quickly when they are reached? Or let the presenter read the points already covered again?

Normally it is agreed that if a presenter ad-libs the prompt operator will wait at the appropriate point in the script, usually the start of the next sentence, and it is the responsibility of the presenter to work themselves back into the prompter script.

However if the presenter has ad-libbed unwisely there is invariably a pregnant pause while he gets back to the script, or worse, when he comes across the points that have already been covered in the ad-lib – which are then probably scrolled through as quickly as possible by the operator, leaving the presenter a cold start with a completely new bit of text.

REHEARSALS

In the world of estate agents the mantra is Location, Location, Location. In prompting it should be Rehearsal, Rehearsal, Rehearsal. Yes, if you are an experienced news reader by profession you can sit down and read an unsighted script perfectly, that’s their job. And, of course, the same goes for most professional presenters. However for occasional users rehearsal is vital if the prompter is to be beneficial. After all there is often a lot of information being disseminated, to be absorbed by the viewer in a short period of time! Without practice the delivery can become a stony, boring, characterless presentation that is obviously being read, line by line. The fact that the presenter does not have to remember the script should enable them to put much more expression and interpretation into it.

Even though the presenter has the prompter as a tool he should still make sure he is familiar with the script. This will help to give a fluent delivery and is also essential should there be, as the airlines say in their cabin briefing – “In the unlikely event” – there is some sort of prompter failure and he has to pick up from script.

On a cautionary note, remember that the masters of the art of using a prompter all make it look so easy. On Network TV, prompting is used by all Newsreaders At the annual Party Political Conferences prompting is used for all the major speeches by everybody from the Prime Minister down. All these users have had hours and hours of training and practice.

Anybody who only occasionally uses a prompter must allocate plenty of time for adequate rehearsals in order to get the best out of the equipment to give a presentation to remember.