The presidential teleprompter demystified: no, they can’t see your words.
I created a post about how the camera teleprompter works here.
When I was a kid, and I saw photographs of these glass panels around a lectern, I just thought they were bulletproof glass to protect the speaker. Like, someone knew exactly where an enemy would fire from 🙂 I’ve also had people ask if they were microphones—like those parabolic dish mics 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.
In the case of a presidential, or speech 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.
However, the audience sees nothing of this. They just see through the glass to 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 a projected video signal of the presenter. It’s called IMAG (for “image magnification”), so people rarely look at the physical speaker. Thus, the audience doesn’t focus on the presidential teleprompter equipment at all.
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 are 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 adjust THEIR height to see the words. Worse, a stagehand would have to come up mid-show to bring a box for the shorter speaker to elevate themselves… and really call attention to their stature 😉
We saw the need and created our robotic, rise and fall TeleStepper to solve this problem. It has a standard 24″ range but also a extended 40″ option when you really want to hide it after use.
This video below showcases our first version, called an RRT for Remote Robotic Teleprompter. We made a ton of improvements in v2 and re-named it the TeleStepper. New video coming soon! And we’re proud to say it’s now for sale.