Asking “do YouTubers use teleprompters” is a bit like asking whether people wear hats. “Some of them do, some of them don’t”, will invariably be the answer.
Unlike television, where we can confidently say that most onscreen personalities are using a teleprompter (or a cue card or something similar), YouTube has no common standard.
It is entirely up to each individual YouTuber how they run their channel, and while there are certain things that work and things that don’t work in most cases, there is technically no right or wrong way to go about it.
Do YouTubers Use Teleprompters? – When surveying my own audience if they use a teleprompter, full script, notes only or prefer to just wing it – 60% of creators prefer to wing it with 9% of them using a teleprompter to keep them on topic.
Of course, this would be a rather short and pointless post if we left it there, so we’re going to take a more in-depth look at the role of teleprompters in YouTubing—what are they, how you can get a teleprompter set up, and which situations are best for using a teleprompter versus situations it is best not to.
What is a Teleprompter?
In the strictest terms of what is used in broadcast television, a teleprompter (also known as an autocue) is a device for projecting a script onto a transparent surface in front of the camera. This is done in such a way that the person in front of the camera can see the words, but they are invisible to the camera itself, with the advantage here being that the presenter or host can read the words while looking directly at the camera.
This is obviously a very useful tool in situations where the on-camera personality has a script to stick to, or needs prompting on what they have to say, but it is not necessarily what is meant when used in the context of YouTube.
There are several options for a teleprompter like setup for YouTubers, including the simplest option of having the text on the screen of your laptop or computer, with the camera above it.
That being said, there are some very affordable options available these days that replicate the full functionality of a traditional teleprompter, often using a phone or tablet as the source of the text.
These can be bought for around £50, which is a considerably more attractive option than the thousands that it would have cost to buy the kind of teleprompter that has been used in broadcast television studios for decades.
Not everyone can afford even relatively inexpensive gear like a £50 teleprompter—especially when it is possible to make do with what you have. You can fashion a teleprompter-like setup out of the electronic gadgets you have in most cases.
There are plenty of free apps that will handle the scrolling text part of the equation, and the physical side of things just requires you to be able to see the screen that your text is being displayed on. If you have a stand or clip, you can put it near the camera, but even propping it up against a vertical surface will work if you have no other options.
The trick is to get the screen as close to your camera as you possibly can. The closer the text is to the camera, the more it will look as though you are looking directly at the camera when you speak. If you can’t get your text near the camera, consider moving yourself back. The further you are from the camera, the less obvious it is that you are not quite looking directly at it.
When to Use a Teleprompter
As accessible as teleprompters are—and as easy as it is to set one up—there is still a time and a place for them.
Not every type of YouTube video warrants a teleprompter, and there are plenty of types of video that would actually be worse for the use of one.
There are some situations where it isn’t that important, such as voice over videos where the speaker is not on screen. In these cases, editing can take care of any issues without the viewer being any wiser.
That being said, having a teleprompter—or at least a script—could at the very least improve your workflow, and give you less work to do on the editing side of things.
For YouTubers whose ability to talk in a free form kind of way is one of the more appealing aspects of the channel, forcing yourself to read a teleprompter can often make the content feel stilted and awkward compared to the usual fare. And, of course, any kind of interview or other dynamic content cannot be scripted, so an autocue is entirely useless.
Where teleprompters shine, however, is with monologue-like content. When the YouTuber has scripted a section (or an entire video) and will be essentially talking to the camera, a teleprompter can allow you to get your speech off clearly and in much fewer takes than trying to remember your lines, and will take less preparation than memorising those lines.
Using a Teleprompter
Given that the basic premise of a teleprompter is reading some text from a screen, there is not much in the way of learning to do when first using it.
That being said, while teleprompters are simple to understand, they can take a little practice to get good at.
Of course, some people will be naturally good at this which may seem unfair to those that aren’t. Unfortunately, the universe is rarely fair, and we just have to do the best we can.
For those of us that have to work a little harder at this, the main thing is practising what you are going to be doing. In other words, reading silently won’t cut it. You need to be reading text out loud, and working on your delivery.
The goal is for your speech to seem natural, rather than the awkward stilted speech of someone who is reading something aloud and is not comfortable about it. Consider reading aloud the next time you pick up a book, for example, or when you next read an article.
Why Not Just Memorise?
An obvious question might be, “if I have to spend so much time practising reading out loud, why not just spend that time rehearsing the actual words I will be saying?”
Of course, that is an option. There is a relevant idiom that goes something like, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you decide to put this time into rehearsing, rather than practising, you are effectively condemning yourself to rehearsing for every video you make.
If you can get good at reading from an autocue, you can just turn it on and go.
Sure, it will be slow-going in the beginning as you get to grips with the skill, but it will get easier, whereas rehearsing each video never changes; you will always have something new to rehearse.
That being said, there is no right or wrong way to YouTube. If you try using a teleprompter and find it’s not for you, don’t feel as though you are doing something wrong. If an alternative method works for you, that is the right method.
Don’t be Stubborn About Edits
There can be a temptation to believe that teleprompters are pointless if you have to edit or retake parts of your video.
This can lead to YouTubers either scrapping the teleprompter when they make mistakes, or blindly refusing to acknowledge those mistakes.
It is important to remember that we are only human, and even professional television hosts sometimes mess up when reading from a teleprompter.
The important factor is not whether the teleprompter completely eliminates errors and the need for editing from your videos, but whether it reduces those errors and edits. You should always be striving to make your content better, both for your viewers to watch and for you to make.
If a teleprompter don’t make your content worse but does improve things by a noticeable amount, it is worth keeping around.
Eye Contact Matters
One thing that can be a problem for YouTubers—especially those who record in cramped spaces or use makeshift teleprompter setups—is appearing to look at the camera while you speak.
When a YouTuber is constantly looking at something other than the camera, it can get distracting for the viewer, so it is worth adjusting your setup as much as possible so that you appear to be looking directly at the camera when you are, in fact, reading your script from the teleprompter.
Weirdly, this is one of those situations where a little is often worse than a lot. Looking just to the side of the camera is often more distracting than looking in a completely different direction. If your circumstances make looking at the camera impossible, this may be a handy piece of information to have.
Of course, we are not advising you to stare madly into the camera like a glassy-eyed crazy person, not blinking, face straining from the effort of not looking away.
Above all, you want to appear natural when reading from your teleprompter.