Categories: Educational, Teleprompting

The presidential prompter demystified. No, they can’t see your words.

I created a post about how the camera teleprompter works here, since while there is a decent Wikipedia teleprompter article already, their entry about a racehorse named Teleprompter is about twice as long…

Our remote controlled robotic Presidential teleprompter system for UC DavisWhen I was a kid, and I saw photographs of these glass panels around a lectern, I just thought they were bullet proof glass to protect the speaker. Like, someone knew exactly where the enemy fire would come from:) I’ve also had people come up to me on jobs and ask if they were microphones—like those parabolic plexiglass dishes seen at football games.

The technology is derived from the Pepper’s Ghost displays made famous in the 1800’s. Disneyland uses this in its famous Haunted Mansion, where phantoms “sit” in the cab with you.

Reversed text on a teleprompter monitorIn the case of a presidential teleprompter, there’s an LCD monitor flat on the ground, pointed at the ceiling. The words to your speech are large, typically 56 pt to 72 pt. The speed of the speech is controlled by an operator, who listens to the speaker and follows along. If the speaker pauses, or ad libs, the operator waits before moving on. Special teleprompter software reverses the words on the LCD monitors, so that when the speaker looks through the one-way mirror, it appears normal again.

Teleprompter text from the speaker's point of view.However, the audience sees nothing of this. They just see through the glass to the curtain or the speaker. They think the speaker is just glancing around the audience. This effect is amplified if a video camera is zoomed in, omitting the glass. Often in live presentations, large screens have this projected video signal, called IMAG (for “image magnification”), so people rarely look at the actual speaker and thus don’t notice the presidential teleprompter equipment at all.

Dr. William J. Perry, using our presidential teleprompter.If someone does notice the glass, they normally quickly forget about it, since the speaker is more dynamic than the mysterious glass on a stick. Although, thanks to Obama’s teleprompter, it’s gotten more attention.

But what if there’s multiple speakers using the same presidential teleprompter?

Good question, since multiple speakers typically means a variety of heights. The mirrors are carefully aligned for an individual speaker. And that means that anyone more than a 3″ height difference would have had to bend down or stretch up to see the words. However, we saw the need and created our Remote Robotic Teleprompter (RRT) to solve this problem.

I’d love to hear your feedback or other questions on the presidential teleprompter, just use the comment form below.

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