Reading From an Autocue? I’m Not Buying it!

September 30, 2011 Video Presentation Coaching

I sent this communication to a well-known business author and sales trainer. They had posted an online video of themselves discussing a fairly personal/emotional topic.  “Great!” I thought. A few seconds into the video, however, my “this isn’t authentic” alarm bells went off! I felt duped and disappointed.

Here is an Abridged Version:

“I have been a fan of your work for more than 10 years. I have a collection of your books and audio programs and subscribe to your weekly newsletter. 

I love your “tell it like it is”, no-nonsense straight talk – it’s a very attractive quality. 

You are a talented presenter on stage. You know your material and your delivery is energetic and passionate. You have a great message and you deliver it with emotion and authority. However, these qualities do not come across in your video presentations. 

Yes, your videos are produced well. They are filmed professionally, with great lighting and framing. However, the problem is your use of a teleprompter (Autocue) when you are presenting on camera. This reduces your screen-presence and credibility in several ways:

  • I can see your eyes moving from side to side as you read your script
  • Your pauses seem unnatural and out of place
  • Strange eye-contact intensity with the lens (we call this “bug-eyes” which Bree is demonstrating in the image above – creepy, scary!)
  • It makes me feel like you are “talking at me” rather than “connecting with me” through the lens.

The only people who need to use an autocue are newsreaders and politicians – and only because they need to get their facts correct. Even then, research has shown that the ‘unusual intensity’ of their eye contact with the camera tends to diminish their credibility and impact1.

It is almost impossible to make effective eye contact when you are reading from a script. It puts a psychological barrier between you and your viewer.  If you want your viewers to engage with you and connect with you – it will help greatly if you make warm, friendly eye contact with the camera lens. However, when you are reading from a script, your glazed-over eye contact with the camera tells your audience that you are not really feeling your message. You appear to be going through the motions (even though you say that your topic is deeply personal to you) it doesn’t appear that way on-screen.

If a picture says a thousand words, then a video presentation says ten thousand. You can convey so much more on video than you can with words and pictures alone. With video presentations you give your audience the chance to experience and engage with the real you – your “best self”. Don’t blow it by using an Autocue.  Please speak to me; don’t “read at” me.  If I want to be “read at” I wouldn’t watch a video!

I have a list of recommendations to enhance your video presentations, but my #1 recommendation by far is to please stop using an Autocue! Learn your material, soften your eyes, and speak from the heart.”

1(Baggaley 1980, Psychology of the TV Image – Autocue and Eye Contact pg: 62) 

Are You Trying to Sell or Make an Emotional Appeal on Video?

The reason most people approach me for video presentation coaching is that they are trying to sell something: themselves, their ideas, talent or their products and services.

Are you reading from an Autocue? I’m not buying it – and I bet your customers aren’t buying it either!

Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself.
Before you can move their tears, you own must flow.
To convince them, you must yourself believe
– Winston Churchill

Tough Love!

Yes – I am dishing out the tough-love here, but it is with the intent that you don’t undermine all your production efforts (time + costs) with the use of an Autocue.

Example: Actors turn up on set knowing their content inside out (well the best ones do). Would you sit and watch a movie where the actors spoke using an auto-cue to one another? I bet you would emotionally and mentally disengage from watching the film within a few seconds, because the actors are disengaged and appear to have no emotional connection with their message (e.g. the lights are on and no-one’s home).  The same thing applies to your own viewers if you use auto-cue in your own video presentations!

Being able to use an Autocue well is a learned skill that some newsreaders do master. Watch the Oscars and you see even the most seasoned actors/presenters flub or look downright awkward on the screen when attempting to read from an Autocue. Billy Crystal is a seasoned host, and incredibly well-rehearsed, and knows how to deliver well via Autocue, but even so he still looks ‘zoned-out’ on-screen. So if you are up to that caliber then go for it. Otherwise – No!

See also: How to Speak to the Video Camera (Part 2.) On-camera Skills Series




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