All great public speakers speak from the heart, and some of those that we admire most appear to be speaking without notes.
It takes a lot of courage to go on stage with no backup. Personally, I have copied Winston Churchill’s approach and always have notes in my pocket, just in case! I firmly believe that the worst situation you can find yourself in is the one in which Ed Miliband found himself in September 2014, when he failed to mention the fiscal deficit as he addressed the Manchester Conference. He was auditioning for Prime Minister at the time – not the moment to have a “brain fade”!
Whether making a speech on stage or to camera, I know that sometimes it helps to have the speech in front of you. Perhaps you give a lot of speeches as part of your work, so can’t fully prepare for them all; perhaps this one’s unusually long; perhaps you hardly ever speak in public and so haven’t yet practiced the art of noteless speaking, in all these circumstances an autocue can be helpful.
Generally I don’t advocate the autocue’s use, as it tends to root the speaker to the spot and encourages them to merely read words off a screen. Recently, however, Prompting Plus, a company that I have known for many years, has developed an autocue system that not only helps speakers who need a helping hand – but also, importantly, adds value for the conference organiser.
Changing hats for a moment, I work alongside conference producers and event organisers on a weekly basis – and in that context I think that the new system by QuVu is worth a look. Before you ask, I have no financial interest in the company … just an admiration for a new product that offers significant cost savings for every event organiser and conference producer.
At a big event, traditionally the producer places cameras in the auditorium, to take shots of the speaker on stage and relay them to large screens that the audience can see. The problem with that, from a public speaking training point of view, is that the speaker may never truly make eye contact with all of the audience – unless they are looking directly at the camera when they deliver their punch-line. One of my essential on-stage rehearsal activities is to show the speakers where the cameras are and encourage them to deliver their most important lines in those directions. In the heat of the moment this sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.
What QuVu has done is incorporate broadcast quality, remotely operated cameras into their autocue stands, which hold the clear panes of glass that the speaker reads from on stage. These cameras are relayed directly to the screens that the audience see – which means there are multiple shots of the speaker delivering their presentation, all available for display on those big screens – and that each in each shot they are looking directly down the camera lens. This, of course, means that they are looking every member of the audience in the eye all the time.
This eliminates the principle objection to autocues – that they erect a barrier between speaker and audience – and means that, at last, I can recommend its use without quibble or cavil. After all, another word for “autocue” is “teleprompter” … and which of us doesn’t need a bit of a prompt every now and then to achieve our best?