It is by now a well-known bit of hypocrisy. In Dubuque, Iowa, in August, Trump disparaged the use of teleprompters by presidential candidates.
That was then, as they say. Over the past several months, Trump has increasingly relied on teleprompters specifically so that he can give the speech he came to give. In situations such as his speech before AIPAC or his denunciation of Hillary Clinton or, on Monday, his description of how he would reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump and his campaign have decided that it's more important to get the right points across than it is to convey the energy (and ad libs) for which his speeches are known.
So here's Trump on Monday, relaying his thoughts on the VA (and a few other things). We've sped this up.
As you may know, teleprompter set-ups generally use two translucent displays, one to the left and one to the right of the speaker. Trump isn't quite doing it right, by my layman's assessment. He basically reads off of the right-hand prompter for a while, turning to the audience on occasion to punctuate a point. Then, back to the prompter.
Since Trump is new to teleprompters and hates them, we figured that we would do what we can to help ease his transition from freewheeling-prompter-disparaging outsider to prompter-reliant-somber presumptive nominee. For advice, we reached out to Brad Phillips, head of Phillips Media Relations and veteran of ABC News and CNN — but better known online as Mr. Media Training. And he gave Trump — and all of us — some tips.
1. Don't write out your speech.
The main issue that arises when people start using a teleprompter, Phillips said, is trying to find the right balance in presentation. "The goal is, how do you shrink the gap between being conversational and being in formal speech-making mode," he said. "Usually when a prompter is put in front of you, suddenly people lapse into the latter, and that doesn't serve them well."
A good way to avoid this is to give your speech extemporaneously and then to transcribe it, instead of "sitting down with Microsoft Word" and hammering the speech out. If the goal is to not seem as if you're giving a formal speech, start by not giving a formal speech.
Phillips says, by the way, that Trump appears to already be doing this or something to this effect. "It seems like they did a pretty good job of capturing his voice," he said.
2. Use short sentences.
Phillips refers to something called "see-stop-say."
"As opposed to simply reading the words on the prompter out loud, which most people do," Phillips said, people using see-stop-say "would pause for a moment, look at the upcoming line, internalize it, look back at the audience, and deliver it using their more typical speaking style." In other words: Take what you're supposed to say and force yourself to say it in a more natural way. Stop looking at the teleprompter, in other words.
Putting short sentences on the prompter makes this process easier. You see the sentence, know what you're going to say, and phrase it however you think is most appropriate. Instead of being forced to wend your way through a slog of a phrase that includes a number of words you wouldn't naturally employ and which, by the time you're halfway through, you've forgotten what it was you were getting at — there is another way. Keep it brief. Know what's next. And make your points sound natural.
3. If you can deliver your speech naturally, the gestures will follow.
I was curious about how gestures and teleprompters overlapped. "Some research suggests that speakers gesture more frequently when trying to think of the words they’re about to say," Phillips said. "That conforms to what I see in the training room: People tend to gesture more when speaking extemporaneously, making them appear more natural, and less when reading from a prompter."
The only way to address this, he says, is to make the speaker aware of it. If the speech is delivered more naturally in general, the speaker's gestures will appear more natural, too, but just as you have to learn to read naturally from a prompter, you also have to learn how to use natural gestures.
4. Don't be too perfect.
Phillips tells a story (probably apocryphal) of Bill Clinton on the stump. He got so good at delivering his campaign speeches that he was advised to interject some pauses and ums simply so that he sounded more natural. Reading a speech from a teleprompter flawlessly can be nearly as off-putting as fumbling your way through it.
Trump does not seem to have this problem. But also, Phillips didn't share my generally negative assessment of Trump's telepromptering. "I think Trump does a reasonably fine job of using it," Phillips said. "This is a skill for public speakers to get good at a teleprompter, and I don't think he's any better or any worse than any other high-level politician who's used them."
Good news for Trump, then. From here on out, he can go up and stand and read a speech for an hour and just leave, if he wants to, and seem just as good at it as any other politician. The dream come true.