Technology glitches can be a speaker’s worst nightmare. Michael Bay made headlines when he fled the stage at CES after losing his place on the teleprompter. He joins a long list of people – including news anchors and the President of the United States – who have fallen prey to teleprompter mishaps. In these instances, technology became the headline and overshadowed the message the speaker hoped to spread. But for every example of teleprompter failure, we can find a thousand others where technology helped one speaker accomplish their goals. In these cases, we don’t remember the technology; we remember the speaker. For example, Sheryl Sandberg shows us what teleprompter success looks like. When the Facebook COO took the stage at TEDWomen, she displayed her notes on a monitor at the foot of the stage. But instead of using a traditional teleprompter, Sandberg put her notes in a PowerPoint template that let her control her own pace. She held the clicker so she could choose when to move on to the next point. Instead of projecting slides behind her as she spoke, the large screens showed only her magnified image. Online audiences could get a glimpse of the slides when the video panned to the audience. But the in-room audience never saw her notes; to them, Sandberg was the star of the show. Even if they’re not speaking on a TED stage, all speakers can follow Sandberg’s example by following a few simple tips:

  • Position the teleprompter for your eyes only. Your audience should never see your notes. If your slides are full of long bullets, turn the projector off and use your laptop as a teleprompter. That way the audience won’t jump ahead. They’ll focus on you instead of reading your slides.
  • Take advantage of the second screen option. PowerPoint includes an option that lets the speaker display the notes view on their own screen while the audience sees your cinematic slides. This will help you remember what you’re supposed to say while keeping the audience focused in the right place.

A year from now, very few will remember what Michael Bay was supposed to talk about. But Sheryl Sandberg’s message — and the ideas of all the other people who’ve used teleprompters successfully — will live on.

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