Obama, Palin and teleprompters

I saw on CNN today more about Sarah Palin’s use of handwritten notes on the palm of her hand. This story is stupid and pointless. It’s just as dumb as the people who criticize Obama for using teleprompters, while using telepromters themselves, which includes nearly every newscaster on every TV network (ironically, Sarah Palin criticized Obama on this too).

In speaking, the ends justify the means. The average speaker sucks. The average politician isn’t much better. If using index cards, crib sheets, teleprompters or whatever allows you to be good, then use it. If it gets in the way, then don’t. End of story.

Some people say it’s bad form to use notes. To them I say you’re a nitpicking jackass.

15 Responses to “Obama, Palin and teleprompters”

  1. Josee Camfferman

    From the Netherlands, I agree! Use what helps you, always the best for your audience. Don’t critize (Sarah Palin) someone else if you do the same. Concentrate on your points, that’s what the world needs.
    gr, Josee Camfferman (the PerformanceFactory)

  2. Carolyn

    I have trouble faulting Obama for teleprompters because even when he has no notes, he comes off very well-spoken. Palin, on the other hand, tends to talk herself into a corner when left on her own. Otherwise, I’m totally with you on this.

  3. Sam

    I agree that the “news” aspect of this story is complete crap. I feel like there’s so much going on in the world, that this shouldn’t even make the radar of a self-respecting news agency. I also think using notes in general is fine – like you say, whatever it takes to deliver your message.

    But a lot of the message that people take away is how things look – and to me, having notes on your hand looks unprofessional. What if you have to shake someone’s hand before the talk? What if your palms start to sweat?

    Sticking with a crib sheet is fine, but all things being equal, isn’t there a better place for it than on your hand?

  4. Scott Berkun

    Carolyn: we’re in agreement. I just get pissy when people focus on the wrong end of the stick. Complain that Palin is a lousy speaker if that’s the problem – the crib sheet or not is irreleveant. If Churchill had crib sheets (which he did) no one would care.

  5. Scott Berkun

    Sam: fair enough. I use a list of points now and then on a post it note. It works much better than my palm :)

  6. georgette

    So you’re okay with a potential president talking to world leaders and checking the notes on her palm so she doesn’t forget her values? I think the last time I used that management tool, I was in high school!

    If I ran the world’s most powerful nation in one of its worst crises, you betcha I’d use a teleprompter, rather than take a couple hours to memorize a speech! I like to know that our commander in chief is busy running the country.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Honestly, I don’t care at all unless it impacts how effective a potential president is. I’d rather it wasn’t written on their hand, but it’s trivia where the list is. Churchill, JFK and plenty of other amazingly effective speakers and world leaders throughout history have used some form of notes, often a simple list of words not much different from what appeared on Palin’s palm.

  7. Max Atkinson

    I’ve considered teleprompters to be a mixed blessing since seeing Mrs Thatcher’s performance decline after she started using one – inspired by seeing Ronald Reagan speaking from a ‘sincerity machine’ (as they were called then) in his speech at Westminster in 1982 – see video clips at http://bit.ly/ausXVl

    The problem is that so many speakers don’t practise enough with them, and end up as ‘autocue automatoms’ (e.g. http://bit.ly/2HPO03) – not that this applied to Ronald Reagan, who was such a maestro that, even when the teleprompter broke down during his speech to the European Parliament, he was able to carry on reading from a script on the lectern as if nothing had happened – a (rare) video of which can be inspected here: http://bit.ly/bqiR3s),

  8. Dwayne Phillips

    There is a difference in question-and-answer gatherings. The teleprompter allows the speaker’s staff to write answers to whatever questions are asked. The answers (from the staff) are read by the speaker as if they were the speaker’s answers.

  9. Justin Warren

    Mrs Palin’s notes on her hand broke her flow. It was obvious when she looked at her hand, and there was a noticeable pause in her speech.

    It broke the mood, which means you then need to work to gain the audience’s attention again. Note how everyone is talking about how she used notes on her hand, not what she actually said, the exact opposite of what a good speaker wants.

    Or was that her strategy all along?

    1. Scott Berkun

      Justin: fair enough. Then the problem is her flow was broken, and she didn’t use her “tools” effectively. But that’s the effect, rather than griping about what tool she used. Teleprompters have totally broken my flow when I’ve used them (I talk about this at length in Confessions).

  10. Kevin Webber

    I couldn’t imagine putting on any kind of non-trivial presentation without at least some rough notes to help me out.

    @Justin, pauses can be used for effect during a speech. I avoid checking out notes during a specific topic, but in between topics I don’t really worry about a short pause. Taking a second or two to glance at my notes has saved me from the dreaded ten-second “Uhmm” more times than I care to remember. :)

  11. Mike Nitabach

    The criticism of Palin that resonated with me was not the use of crib notes on her palm, per se, but rather the specific nature of her notes: “Energy”, “Tax Cuts”, “Lift American Spirits”. These notes were so broad, and so central to her overall far-right-wing political “philosophy”, that it was ridiculous and provided strong evidence of some serious intellectual deficiency.

    It was the same as if some huge military general had to rely on crib notes that said, “Win War”, “Kill Enemy”, “Go USA!”



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