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Ouch! When your teleprompter fails in front of the world’s press…

You have to feel for Michael Bay. To have your teleprompter fail is unfortunate at the best of times, but to have it let you down in front of the world’s media at a major Samsung product launch and demolish your presentation- that is the stuff of nightmare. Most of us wouldn’t wish such a humiliation on anyone.

Will he direct movies again? Highly likely – he’s a talented film director. But will he be asked to speak again at highly paid gigs like the Samsung launch? Go figure, as they say across the pond. And he’ll be ribbed for the rest of his life about this.

I was told that something similar happened to President Clinton, about to deliver a major speech to Congress. Up on the autocue appeared LAST year’s speech! Apparently he whispered an aside to Al Gore to go and sort it out, whilst he ad libbed immaculately until the correct speech started to roll on the glass plate.

Do not try this at home! Bill Clinton was supremely gifted both as speaker and politician.  He had been making speeches every week and sometimes several times a day for decades. He is one of the few people who could carry this off.

So what should you do, if your autocue fails to work? As the Irishman said when asked for directions  – “Well if it’s there you’re wanting to get to, I wouldn’t be starting from here.” Or to put it less elegantly, I wouldn’t use one.

Unless you are a TV presenter or a politician who use them daily. Politicians  speeches are mostly written by other people anyway. But even they often fail to use an autocue well. It takes a lot of practise, which most busy executives will not make the time to do.

Why not use one? Several reasons:

1)     Like many things technical, they can fail – or the operator screws up. You don’t want to suffer the indignity that Michael Bay has just done.

2)     It is hard to sound spontaneous and natural when reading a script

3)     It is very difficult to engage an audience when reading through a glass plate or off a screen placed near the footlights

4)     You don’t need to.

Whaddya mean I don’t need to? Do you expect me to memorise the whole thing?

Not at all. In fact memorising it, unless you’re an actor, is almost guaranteed to make you mind go blank as soon as you rise to your feet to speak! Memorising is largely governed by the left hand side of your cerebral cortex, which also governs logic, rational thought and linear thinking. And this side of your brain is hugely affected by adrenalin, which means it doesn’t usually function well under pressure.

What we need instead are “notes” that are designed for both sides of the brain. They need the sequence and order of the left side of the brain – so that you demonstrate a coherent train of thought. But they also need to include the colour, visual rhythm and spacial awareness that appeals to the right side of the brain. So this means using pictures and symbols more than words. It means using colour and shape – tracing amoeba like outlines  around your major thoughts and themes, and highlighting them – and using all the space on the page – separating your themes out, so that a glance will tell you where you are. And the odd glance is all you’ll need. The rest of the time you’ll be looking at your audience.

Sound a bit wacky? It is. Yet I have taught my clients to do this for over 20 years – from Chief Executives to Site Foremen, Investment Analysts to Law Partners, Retail Directors to A&R managers. With perhaps 5 exceptions in a thousand, all have embraced it. Their ability to engage, connect and win an audience is transformed.  It is one of the reasons I guarantee my work. It frees  you forever from the tyranny of a script, an auto cue, a teleprompter – and even Powerpoint, which most use as a crutch.

So am I suggesting that you should never use an auto cue or teleprompter? Not at all. There are times when it is needed. For example when you have to be COMPLETELY “on message”, and the message has been crafted word by word and phrase by phrase. And maybe when a copy of your speech is given verbatim to the press. But there is a trade off. By being word perfect & “on message” by reading it off a screen, you are highly likely to sacrifice authenticity and warmth. If you were in your audience, would you prefer glacial word perfection – or a clear structure delivered with natural warmth and enthusiasm? We both know the answer.

See the video autopsy of Michael Bays presentation on my Youtube channel – The Presentation Maestro