Please I don’t wanna type much, I just want clarification on how President Bola Ahmed Tinubu made his speech on budget allocation at the National Assembly today. Did he do that without the aid of a screen or a written speech in front of him? Please someone help out.
naptu2: I knew, back in the 1980s, that NTA News reporters read from autocues. That wasn’t hard to believe. I also knew that some leaders read from autocue while delivering their address to the nation. There’s a famous episode of “Yes Prime Minister” that dealt with that (I’ll post the video of that episode later). What I couldn’t understand was the fact that stars at awards shows read from autocues (I found this out in the late 1980s and early 1990s). All those jokes that the presenters at Grammy Awards, Academy Awards and all the other awards shows tell are all scripted. “How is that possible?” I thought. “How come the audience doesn’t see the autocue and how come it doesn’t appear on camera?
Well, I got my answer in 1993 or 94. That’s when I got my copy of Margaret Thatcher’s book, “The Downing Street Years”. Mrs Thatcher wrote that Ronnie Reagan came to the UK on a state visit. He addressed a joint sitting of Parliament and she was quite impressed by his speech. She told him so afterwards and he asked her if she didn’t know. He said he thought that she would know because the device was invented by a British person. Basically, he had read his speech from 2 teleprompters.
That’s when I began my research and found out what a teleprompter was. I also saw a documentary that explained how the glass was placed at an angle so that the audience couldn’t see the text, but the person reading the speech could clearly see it. Every US president since Ronald Reagan has used a teleprompter.
The first time that I’m aware of a Nigerian president using autocue was when President Obasanjo used it during one of his national broadcasts. It was hilarious. As you all know, President Obasanjo wears glasses. I don’t know if they didn’t rehearse the speech before hand, but it appears that the text on the teleprompter was too small and so he had to squint in order to read it. You could actually see him squinting and leaning forward. The second problem was that he seemed to be bemused by what was happening. He had this strange smile on his face like someone that had just discovered a magic trick. It reminded me of that episode of “Yes Prime Minister” that I watched in the 1980s.
The Prime Minister, Jim Hacker, wanted to make a statement and his aides advised him that it would be better if he made it in a televised address to the nation. They then had rehearsals before the actual broadcast and it was the funniest thing that you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately they’ve cut out the funniest bits from the video below (the funniest bits occur when the Prime Minister actually reads the text), but at least you can see the director advising the Prime Minister.
The director told Mr Hacker that he was reading too slowly. Mr Hacker replied that the autocue was too slow. The director then told him that the autocue follows his speed. So Mr Hacker read a bit faster and the director said he was too fast. He read slowly (it was like he was reading in slow motion) and then he read very fast (like the speed of light). You need to see that part, it was hilarious.
The director told the Prime Minister that he should move his head. He said that people usually move when they are speaking, but that the Prime Minister wasn’t moving because he was reading from the autocue. He told the Prime Minister that he wanted him to look natural, not like a zombie. So the Prime Minister moved his head and it was hilarious, especially when he was reading at the speed of light and moving his head like a jack-in-the-box. Here is a clip from that episode.
(That show is one of the best shows ever created for television. I learnt a lot from it and I referred to it in a paper that I wrote about bureaucracy and red tapism).
George Bush The Second was not very good at using the teleprompter. I could very easily tell when he was using it. He would look at a specific spot on his left, then look straight ahead, and then look at a specific spot on his right. His head always stopped at those 3 places. It never stopped in between those places and that’s because there were 3 Teleprompters and they were located at the exact spots that his head stopped.
In contrast, President Barrack Obama was very good with the Teleprompters. Unlike Bush, his head could stop anywhere. He didn’t make it obvious that he was reading from a Teleprompter. So it’s quite strange that President Obama has been the most criticised president in history with respect to the use of Teleprompters.
President Obama reading from 2 teleprompters (see first picture below)
There were quite a lot of people that didn’t like President Obama and they used anything that they could to criticise him. Some said that he was a communist; some said that he was a terrorist, some tried to link him with Hitler and some said that he was racist. There were also many that criticised him because he used Teleprompters.
These people said that President Obama had no original thought and that he could not speak for himself. They said that someone always had to tell him what to say and that he couldn’t speak unless what he was meant to say was fed to him via a teleprompter.
It didn’t help that there were some accidents with his Teleprompter. In this clip below, one of the Teleprompters crashed to the floor as President Obama was speaking.
You must have heard Wolf Blitzer say that the incident was one of the reasons why people who read from Teleprompters and autocues have to have a paper copy with them. However, watch what happens when the opposite scenario plays out in the next clip. President Obama went to the lectern to deliver his speech, but there was no paper copy on the lectern. Finally, one of the members of his staff rushes to the stage and places the speech on the lectern, but he almost trips in his rush to get to the lectern. Then President Obama said, “There are a lot of people seriously sweating back there”. Watch the video below.
After these incidents, they replaced his Teleprompter with a much sturdier screen, the kind you see in drive-throughs.
(see second picture below)
However the criticisms continued and, you can trust Onion News Network, they will not shy away from an opportunity to display their gift of comedy. They created a satirical news report. The story is that President Obama was at the dinner table with his family when his daughter asked him a question. Unfortunately his Teleprompter had malfunctioned so he didn’t know what to say in reply to his daughter’s question. The “news report” also speculated on how the problem would be fixed.
Newt Gingrich, who I have hated since the government shutdown of the 1990s, also got in on the act. He said that he would allow President Obama to use a Teleprompter at the presidential debate if he won the Republican nomination for president in 2011 (because he believed that Obama would not know what to say if there wasn’t a Teleprompter in front of him). Watch the video below.
(see third picture below) President Obama reading from a Teleprompter.
(see fourth picture below)
One of the people that severely criticised President Obama was. . .Donald Trump! And yet Mr Trump also used Teleprompters. In fact, he also had his incidents with Teleprompters.
Mr Trump was at a campaign rally (ahead of the 2016 election) when his Teleprompter malfunctioned. He made reference to the fact that the Teleprompter had stopped working and said that he didn’t want it or need it anyway. He then proceeded to destroy the Teleprompter. Watch the video below.
To be fair, Mr Trump was correct when he said that it was his staff that wanted him to use the Teleprompter. Members of his staff felt that he usually got into trouble when he went off script and started talking about things that he did not know anything about and so they did everything they could to get him to stay on script.
But there was another incident with Trump’s teleprompter. This happened after he had become president. President Trump got up to speak, but his staff had forgotten to erect his Teleprompter. He said that it didn’t matter, since he had the paper text with him. He read the speech from the paper while the technicians worked to erect the Teleprompter. He finished the speech before the Teleprompter was erected. Watch the video.
People savaged President Obama for using Teleprompters and I thought that it was unfair because every US president since Reagan has used Teleprompters. It shocked me that, after criticising Obama, those people have not criticised Trump for also using Teleprompters. But then I found this compilation.
You know that your brain performs the auto-correct function and it sometimes finishes sentences before you actually finish reading them? Well this is a big problem for President Trump. Many times he says the wrong words because his brain has jumped ahead of the Teleprompter and then he tries to hide it by pretending that he actually meant to say those words. Here is a compilation of all the times that President Trump said words that are spelt in a similar way to the words that are actually on the teleprompter.
The only Nigerian politician that I’ve seen regularly use a Teleprompter is Professor Osinbajo and he’s actually quite good with it. However my criticism will go to the TV companies (the NTA and Channels TV). When a US politician uses a Teleprompter, the TV companies usually zoom in, so that you won’t see the Teleprompter. The NTA and Channels Television usually use a wide angle shot and that ensures that you can actually see the Teleprompter. Here is Vice President Osinbajo’s speech at the Platform. You can clearly see the Teleprompters in front of him.
(Professor Osinbajo didn’t know that there was a hot TV mic near him. We can hear him telling his ADC to “Go away” and “Don’t stand there” )
I’ll end with the question that I began with. How do they use Teleprompters at events with a large audience. I knew (in the 1980s) how they were used in TV studios, but how do they use them at events at which we can see the audience. These pictures below should answer that question
(see fifth picture below) This is a Teleprompter at the Grammy Awards.
(see sixth picture below) This is a Teleprompter at the Republican National Convention
(see seventh picture below) This is a Teleprompter at the Democratic National Convention
In her book, "The Downing Street Years", Mrs Thatcher said that President Reagan delivered a beautiful speech at the joint sitting of Parliament and that she congratulated him for being able to deliver such a wonderful speech extempore. He asked her if she didn't know about the teleprompters (because it's a British invention). Then he told her that he read the speech from those two little glasses that were in front of him.
Today they would not show the teleprompter, but this is 1982 and it was relatively new, so you can actually see the teleprompter in front of him.
US President Ronald Reagan's speech to a joint sitting of the British Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in 1982.
naptu2: Teleprompters and autocues: Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton, Obasanjo, Bush, Jonathan, Obama, Buhari and Tiwa Savage
(I've had this book since 1993, but I haven't read this quote since c2000. It's always so difficult to find it. So I'll post it here so that I can easily find it in future).
I remember the speech for another reason as well. I was full of admiration that he seemed to have delivered it without a single note.
"I congratulate you on your actor's memory", I said.
He replied, "I read the whole speech from those two perspex screens" - referring to what we had taken to be some security device. "Don't you know it? It's a British invention". And so it was that I made my first acquaintance with Autocue
Margaret Thatcher, "The Downing Street Years", Harper Collins, London (1993), p258
Mrs Thatcher was referring to President Reagan's address to both houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in 1982.
Nigerians have always debated about whether politicians write their own speeches, whether they are speaking extempore or whether they are reading from a prepared speech. Personally I've always been more interested in the obvious cues, skills and errors that they make (I know that politicians do not write their speeches alone. They [of course] work with experts, such as security, economic and political experts, depending on the theme of the speech).
The first thing that's necessary when using a teleprompter, is to practice. The teleprompter needs to be calibrated to match the speed of the speaker and to set the right tone. This was the theme of a hilarious scene on the 1980s sitcom Yes Prime Minister. The prime minister was going to deliver a televised address to the nation, but Sir Humphrey and the tv producer made a mess of the preparations. Sir Humphrey said that the pace was too fast, so they slowed the autocue down until it seemed like the prime minister was talking in slow motion. Then the producer got them to speed things up, to the extent that the prime minister looked like a jack-in-the-box. His head was bobbing up and down and his lips were moving at the speed of light as he tried to keep up with the words on the screen.
Bill Clinton was masterful at using the teleprompter. You would not believe that he was reading his speeches. What makes it even more amazing is that, according to George Stephanopoulos, on some occasions they only worked on his speeches in the limo, just before getting to the venue. That means that on those occasions he didn't have much time to practice before delivering his speeches.
President Bush wasn't as good as Clinton. It was obvious to me that he was reading his speeches. The obvious give away is the movement of his head while reading his speeches. He would look towards a specific point on his right, then look straight ahead, look to a specific point on his left and then repeat the process. He only looks at these exact same three places all through his speeches. He never looks at the spaces in between. That's obviously because he is looking at the teleprompters in front of him, to his left and to his right.
President Obasanjo once tried to use a teleprompter. He looked very funny. First off, he was squinting at the teleprompter, so it was obvious that he couldn't see the words clearly. That's why practice is important. They should have adjusted the font to suit his eyesight while prepping him. Secondly, he seemed amused by the teleprompter and he had this funny smile on his face. It looked very funny.
President Jonathan also tried to use teleprompters on two occasions, but it's either they hung or they were too slow, because he abandoned them on both occasions and picked up the hard copy of the speech and read from that instead. On one occasion (I think it was during his 2010 declaration), you could clearly see his frustration with the machine. He also had to squint and lean forward to see what was written on the screen (but it wasn't as bad as Obasanjo's case. Jonathan could see what was written, he just couldn't see it clearly. Obasanjo could barely see what was written).
I thought that President Buhari would also have problems with the teleprompter (because, like Obasanjo and Jonathan, he wears glasses), but he didn't have any problem seeing what was on the teleprompter. He speaks very slowly, so he didn't have any problems with the speed of the teleprompter. His problem was more like President Bush's problem. Buhari stared directly at the teleprompter in front of him and it was obvious that he was reading the speech. His head barely moved and NTA took too long to change camera angles, so it was very obvious that he was reading from a teleprompter that was in front of him.
Entertainers also use teleprompters, especially at award shows. Most of the jokes and comments that are said on stage at the Oscars, Grammy Awards, etc are scripted. I always suspected that Tiwa Savage wears glasses and it became obvious at the MTV Africa Music Awards, when she presented an award. She had difficulty reading the words on the teleprompter and had to squint and lean forward to see them.
President Obama is also very good with the teleprompter. He cleverly avoids making President Bush's mistake by occasionally pausing in the space between the teleprompters, so that he doesn't always stare at the same place.
Despite this, Obama was the butt of vicious jokes and criticism from his opponents (in 2009) because of his use of teleprompters. There's a cartoon on Youtube that depicts Obama at the dinner table at home. His daughters kept asking him questions, but he couldn't answer because there was no teleprompter to tell him what to say. Another video depicts Obama as a robot with no brain who has to depend on teleprompters to tell him what to say.
I thought that the criticism of Obama was harsh, especially since all US presidents since Reagan have used teleprompters, but Obama's case was not helped by two incidents. On one occasion his teleprompters froze, leaving him without anything to say. Then, in the video below, one of the teleprompters came crashing down as he was speaking.
Look at the photographer below. He is wearing glasses, pointing a camera at Tinubu and looking to his side.
There is something between that cameraman and the female clerk that is sitting in front of Tinubu and wearing a hat.
That thing is the teleprompter.
The glass at the top is slanted at an angle. That angle enables Tinubu to see the words on the screen, but the senators and members in front of him cannot see the words.
There is a computer monitor on the ground and the slanted screen reflects the words so that Tinubu can see them.
There are usually two or three of these screens (one on the left, one in the centre and one on the right), so that the reader can turn his head while reading. This makes it look like he is not reading.