What do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter?

Watch what happens to “Transformers’ Director and Producer Michael Bay, as he walks on stage to promote the new Samsung 105 inch UHD Curved Screen TV. I’ve seen this happen before … quite a few times actually. However, it only seems to happen to people who are stepping in front of a teleprompter for the very first time, or during their first run through with a script they haven’t written themselves. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these categories Michael Bay falls into.

In a situation like this, the audience’s initial reaction will invariably be one of acute embarrassment for the presenter. But this quickly changes if there is no sign of a positive recovery. Michael dug a hole for himself that he never climbed out of … he just made the hole bigger!

So why did it all go horribly wrong? Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to blame the teleprompter … nor to admit that he would now have to wing it. Apologising when things go wrong in a presentation generally has the opposite effect. Instead of smoothing things over, the apology tends to emphasize the blunder even more. It’s better to quickly rectify the problem and move on. In Michael’s case, had he simply talked directly to the telepompter operator and asked for the script to be reset, he might have recovered and gained a sympathy vote from the audience … “the poor guy … typical technology glitch”

My guess though is that Michael did very little or no rehearsal for this appearance. Had he given any real thought to what he wanted to convey, he surely would have been able to adapt a a few of his stories about the movies he directs. It wouldn’t be that difficult to link the visual magic of his movies to the magic of an ultra high definition curved TV screen. If you are under-prepared and the wheels fall off, the brain goes into an overload situation.

At this point it’s a downward spiral. The more you stumble, the more you panic. The more you panic, the more you look to see how the audience are reacting. This has the effect of creating a massive amount of visual input, at a time when you are scrambling to regain control of your output. When this happens the brain reacts in the same way as an earth leakage unit in your electricity box … it simply trips out and your mind goes blank.

One way to solve this is to shut off the visual input. Look down at the floor to help your brain quickly re-set. In fairness, Michael tries to do this, but the host distracts him by asking questions, in an attempt to help him recover. The idea was good, but Michael appeared too far gone at this point.

You could argue he simply got nervous. The way he wrings his hands at the start is usually a tell-tale sign. He claimed later on Twitter that live shows ‘aren’t his thing’. However for most people, neither is sky diving. Peer group pressure usually drives people to try at least one jump. To make sure they don’t bounce, it’s mandatory to rehearse what to do if things go wrong. In Michael’s case, it looks like he didn’t even have a parachute!

A few weeks back, I was producing a road show for a client, where we used a well known television anchor in South Africa. Her part of the show had been tightly scripted and we needed her to work from a teleprompter to keep everything on track.

Despite being a pro and working with a teleprompter every day of her life, she called for a 6am rehearsal so she could read through every line of her script, working on timing, word spacing and punctuation. In the process she made sure the teleprompter operator grasped her style and pace, as she read the script. This had the effect of building rapport with the operator, developing a ‘sixth sense’ to follow her when she ad libbed from time to time.

So, what do you get when you cross an under-prepared presenter with a teleprompter? … it’s a real ‘Transformer’ … from cool to not so cool!

© Paul Tomes 2014

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