Prompter Fail: What To Do?

Teleprompters often give speakers a false sense of security.  “I don’t have to practice – my speech is on the prompter.  I’ll be fine.” Problem is, the prompter can fail. But it shouldn’t lead to speaker failure, where a prominent speaker had a meltdown right after his prompter.

I felt for this guy.  Easy for me to say, but the solution is not to give up and walk off the stage.  So what do you do?

Prevention:  Know your material well enough to get through it without the prompter.  Have a paper copy of your remarks hiding in the lectern. This is true for any visual aid.  My slides recently froze in front of 200 people.  I just kept going. Audiences don’t remember glitches, they remember how you handle them.

Practice:  Practice failure.  During your event’s rehearsal,  ask the operator to kill the prompter during rehearsal so you can experience the mishap without hundreds of people looking at you.  With my clients, we practice prompter shutdowns as well as the nightmare of having the wrong remarks appear in front of you when you take the stage.  This happened to President Bill Clinton before a 1993 address to a Joint Session of Congress; an earlier draft of the speech was mistakenly loaded into the prompter.  He knew the speech so well that he could deliver the correct version, even with the old version flying back and forth in front of him.

Poise:  If the prompter does abandon you, take a deep breath.  Make a quick joke to your audience, “Looks like we’re having some technical difficulties” or “I hope I didn’t bore the prompter to death.”  Grab your paper copy and do your best.  The audience will be rooting for you and glad you stuck with them.