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A Primer
A Pioneer
The Art of Eye Contact
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
             
 
 

  The Teleprompter - A Primer

A teleprompter is a device that helps TV presenters read a piece of text while looking straight into the camera lens.

With the help of teleprompter, an enlarged line-by-line reproduction of the script appears on a monitor mounted on the shooting camera. This way, even though the speaker is actually reading the script, the audience thinks he is speaking from memory while looking at them. Because of this, the speaker, while on camera, does not need to look down to read from his script and it gives a very relaxed and spontaneous look to the presentations.

In earlier times, newscasters simply read from papers. But as producers demanded that anchors look into the camera, they began using large cue cards for such on-camera presentations. But cue cards, inevitably, had to be positioned considerably away from the axis of the camera lens, with the result that the gaze of the performer would invariably be off-camera, giving him an oddly, distracted look.

Later, instead of the manually held cue cards, they started using mechanical devices, placed near the camera. The script was printed on a paper roll, which was advanced by an operator, as the performer read.

A typical teleprompter is made of a sheet of glass, suspended in front of the camera lens at a 45-degree angle. The glass reflects the image of script on a TV screen without affecting the light entering the lens. It might be emphasized here that the image of the script reaching the TV screen is reversed. So that its reversed reflection can be read by the anchor.

In the more sophisticated units, there is a controller - and an operator - to regulate the pace of the text scrolling on the screen as per the speed of the speaker.

Such a device was conceived by an actor, Fred Barton Jr. in the 1950s to assist television performers who were required to memories large amounts of text in a short time.

However, Jesse Oppenheimer, producer of the legendry sit-com "I love Lucy," starring Lucille Ball has been awarded the patent for the original concept of the teleprompter. It was specially devised for Lucille to speak her on-camera commercials. But it truly became a boon for TV news presenters.

With the advent of computers, the perfect marriage between the personal computer and the teleprompter took place, revolutionizing the teleprompting industry by bringing speed and flexibility of the word-processor to teleprompting. The first such teleprompter, Compu=Prompt appeared in 1982. It was invented and marketed by Courtney M. Goodin & Laurence B. Abrams in Hollywood. This custom software came with a specially designed hardware and ran on ATARI 800. Today, some 26 years down the line, they are very much in the market.

Over the period, when computers with greater graphics power entered the market, it became possible to provide smoother scrolling mechanism, and several companies opted out of paper-based teleprompting by converting to software driven prompting.

Modern teleprompters typically consist of a PC or a laptop, connected to a special monitor mounted on the camera. It is usually a white-on-black (monochrome) monitor with the horizontal scanning reversed to compensate for the reflection of the mirror. The text is displayed in white on a black background for improved legibility. Additionally, a peripheral device is attached to the serial port / usb to have a knob for speeding up or slowing down the scrolling of the text.

Of late, there has been a demand for teleprompters for stage concerts as well. Several leading singers such as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and many others used a prompter for their concerts. The monitor is placed on the stage floor in view of the singer, so that he/she does not have to worry about remembering lyrics, which scroll down as the song progresses.

Another recent entrant in the arena is the Speech Prompter, also known as the Conference Prompting Stand or Presidential Glass, as it was popularly associated with the President of the United States who used it while making speeches.     

The speech prompter consists of a piece of glass with a special, partially reflective, coating. It is mounted on an unobtrusive stand so as not to block the speaker from the audience or the cameras. Also, it allows the speaker to maintain eye contact with his audience. Usually, two of such glass stands are set up, on two sides in front of the podium. This is to ensure that the speaker does not look static. He can now read from one glass stand and then turn to address the other side of the audience and read from the other glass stand exactly the same speech.

With a Speech Prompter, the speaker feels very much in command and communication is better achieved. Whoever uses it once, will always want to use one.

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