Watch any skilled speaker on TV - a celebrity, news commentator, or political leader - and chances are, much of their seemingly "effortless" delivery is due to practiced use of a teleprompter.

It's also likely that, at some point in your role as a professional communicator, you'll be called on to use a teleprompter, if you haven't already done so.

Teleprompters are valuable tools, there's no doubt. But like any technology, their use shouldn't distract you from your primary goal: connecting with your audience. That's why we turned to two of our favorite teleprompter pros, Bethal Bird and Andrea Sawchuk, for their advice on taming the teleprompter so you appear engaged and conversational from start to finish.

Teleprompting 101
Let's start with the equipment itself. Physically, teleprompters are simply glass plates or monitors that project rolling text to the speaker without being visible to the audience. As a presenter, you may be faced with several options depending on variables such as the type of event, size of the venue, and your personal speaking style. Here's a quick "how to choose" tutorial.

Once you've nailed down the type of equipment, it's time to move on to best practices for its use. Bethal Bird, owner of TexPrompt, a Texas-based provider of teleprompter services, cautions speakers who rely on the equipment as a crutch. "Teleprompting, like any tool, is there to support your efforts and allow you to connect with your audience." But keep in mind, support is NOT a replacement for knowing your content backward and forward.

Your new best friend: The operator
Whether you're a teleprompter newbie or pro, it's comforting to know that there's a real live person behind the technology - one who is dedicated to your success.

The teleprompter operator's goal is to help you present your best self, and will be available for at least one rehearsal (if not more). During rehearsal, he or she will get to know your pace, make special notations within your script to serve as reminders when you speak, and make minor text changes in real time as needed.

Tips from the pros

  • Make it a point to meet your teleprompter operator prior to rehearsal. Taking a few minutes to introduce yourself can help create rapport and give you a boost of confidence.
  • Just as with any other form of presenting, practice is essential. Practice aloud, making edits if necessary to ensure your text sounds conversational. Your objective is to tell a story, not read to your audience.
  • Go with the flow. During rehearsal, you may find you need to make changes to your script. Though major edits are most effectively done off line, advises freelance teleprompter operator Andrea Sawchuk, "Your operator can quickly make minor word changes that can help with the flow of the presentation."
  • The basics still apply
    Skilled eye contact is a requirement for connecting with your audience. The presence of a teleprompter doesn't change that fact. "View the teleprompters themselves as focal points," suggests Sawchuk. "Then look to the far left and right of the screens, and of course in the center, to appear to have eye contact with your entire audience."

    Speak fluidly, with natural pauses and inflection. Your goal is to "glance and grab" a phrase from the teleprompter, keeping a minimum of 90% direct, roving and continuous eye contact with your audience. Adds Bird, "You also have to move your body as much as your eyes." Turn your body to include everyone, because if you simply move your eyes between the teleprompters, you risk appearing "shifty".

    Maximize the tool
    Although not difficult to learn, there's no doubt that mastering a teleprompter takes practice, or in some cases the guiding hand of a speech coach.

    By practicing with your operator on-site, sharing your concerns and preferences, and collaborating with them on minor content tweaks, you're certain to nail it like a seasoned teleprompter pro.

    Author's Bio: 

    A strategic communication advisor, Stephanie Scotti works with people to prepare and delivery high stakes presentations when they have to win. Drawing on her 25 years of coaching experience and 8 years of teaching presentation skills for Duke University, Stephanie understands what it takes to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into action that achieves results.

    Stephanie has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, the highest levels of government officials, and international business executives.

    An active member of National Speakers Association and an award-winning leadership professional, She also volunteers as a speaker or communications coach for non-profits such as the Red Cross and the Governing Institute of New Jersey. Stephanie holds a Bachelor’s in Speech Communications & Education and a Master’s in Organizational Communications & Business.