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Did you know that the first teleprompter was made out of a suitcase and butcher paper? Over the years, it’s been adopted by politicians, newscasters, and presenters. Also known as an autocue, cue, or prompter, this invention allows a speaker to maintain eye contact and connect with their audience without missing a word.


Live television, with the pressure on actors to memorize lines, was the impetus for the teleprompter. There was a push to find an alternative to clunky cue cards and in 1948, Hubert Schlafly, an electrical engineer and director of television research at 20th Century Fox, was asked to come up with a system. His response was a motorized belt and pulley system connected to a scroll of butcher paper. Actors’ lines were written in half-inch letters on the paper. Schlafly applied to patent his “television prompting apparatus” the following year, calling it a TelePrompTer. Here are some other milestones:

  • First used on December 4, 1950, in the CBS soap The First Hundred Years
  • Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of I Love Lucy, took out a patent for the first in-camera teleprompter in 1952
  • Politicians were using the technology in the 1952 presidential election
teleprompter I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy was an early teleprompter adopter
  • I Love Lucy used one in 1953, the same year it was adopted for newscasts
  • The Compu=Prompt was a computer-based teleprompter invented in 1982

Teleprompter Types

teleprompter barack obama
Teleprompters let a speaker maintain eye contact with the audience

There are two types of teleprompters: podium and camera. A podium teleprompter, also known as a presidential teleprompter, is the kind used in speeches made by—you guessed it—the president! It’s also used by others delivering speeches to a live audience. From the audience, this set-up looks like two clear Plexiglas panels mounted on stands to either side of the speaker. The speaker sees words reflected from a device that sits at the base of each stand. Placed three-to-five feet from the speaker, having prompters on both sides means the person can turn to address the entire audience.

A camera teleprompter is the kind of device used by newscasters and others who are addressing a camera. This kind of teleprompter uses a reflective screen placed in front of the camera lens, as well as a monitor displaying the script. The screen is see-through on one side and reflective on the other. That means the camera operator is looking at the speaker, while the speaker sees a scrolling script. Because this is done as a reflection, the script must be reversed on the monitor so it can be read by the presenter.

When to use a Prompter

teleprompter pi
A teleprompter can help with complex facts and figures

When it comes to corporate video, when do you need a teleprompter? We find clients who have long or complex speeches benefit from using a teleprompter. If there are a lot of facts and figures that need to be accurate, it’s helpful to have this information fed to the talent. A prompter is also useful if the speaker is especially nervous or hasn’t had a lot of time to prepare.

There are advantages to using a teleprompter. It helps the person on-camera connect with the audience because they can maintain eye contact instead of looking down at notes. Preparing a script ahead-of-time means others can vet the material for accuracy or legality. A scripted delivery can be written to time, which helps with the overall planning of a video. Generally, a shoot using a teleprompter also goes more quickly.

Teleprompter Tips

If you choose to use a teleprompter, keep in mind that it takes practice to feel comfortable. Don’t get frustrated, especially if it’s your first time. Here are some more tips.

  • read over what’s written, so you’re familiar with the material
  • adjust any wording to make the delivery sound like something you’d say
  • write out all words, including numbers, to avoid mistakes and make reading easier
  • speak at your own pace
  • use gestures and vary pacing to sound natural and less like you’re reading off a page
  • don’t forget to blink
  • if you’re a visual learner, go here for a tutorial on how to use a teleprompter

Our Set-up

At Key West Video, we use a laptop, an iPad, and a program called Teleprompt+ for our set-up. It works just like any other camera teleprompter, which is to say great! If you think your video could benefit from the use of a teleprompter, we can provide one on shoot day. It’s just one of the ways we make clients comfortable in front of the camera. Call us today for a free quote on your next video.

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