How To Use A Teleprompter And An "IFB" Earpiece

Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Shuster, a former MSNBC and Current TV anchor who currently serves as the managing editor for Take Action News. In this post, he responds to a reader who asked for tips on how to read from a Teleprompter and use an “IFB” earpiece, into which a producer speaks while you’re on the air.

Prompters and IFBs can be quite confusing, particularly if you are trying to master both simultaneously. So I would start by working on one at a time before bringing them together. Although in both cases, the learning process is the same.

TV and radio host David Shuster

Let’s start with the prompter operator:
  1. Meet and communicate your expectations. This means advising him/her on where in the prompter (high, middle, or low) you want to see the words you are speaking at the instant you are saying them. Generally, you will want those words in the middle. This way, you can speed up or slow down your pacing and have the prompter operator only have to make minor adjustments to follow you.
  2. Practice and make deliberate mistakes. This means adding words that aren’t in the copy to make sure the operator gets used to following you and stopping/starting as you change things.
  3. Review the practice session. Provide feedback and discuss any adjustments either of you wants or needs to make.

In working with a producer/IFB, follow the same steps: 

  1. Communicate your expectations. This means identifying in advance what the producer needs to tell you over IFB and what words/phrases you should expect to hear. Will he/she give you cues on when to start speaking? If so, agree on what the exact wording will be said in your ear, such as “go,” “now,” “cue,” or etc. Does the producer want to tell you how much time is left in the segment? Agree on how often you need to hear it. Generally, you will want a cue that there is “one minute” left, then “30 seconds,” then “ten seconds,” and “five.” Also, determine what other information the producer may need to tell you, and agree on what words/phrases the producer will say to communicate it. If the words are expected or familiar, you won’t be thrown off when you hear them.
  2. During your practice session with the producer, have him/her deliberately try to throw you off or distract you. It’s important that you learn how to deal with it and tune things out. Once you realize that you can keep talking even when something unexpected gets said in your ear, the fear of being thrown off will diminish. The likelihood of being thrown off will diminish too.
  3. Review the IFB practice session. Provide feedback to the producer and discuss any adjustments.

After the separate practice sessions, do one with the prompter operator and IFB/producer at the same time. Then, have a feedback session all together, in case there are any adjustments that any one of you needs/wants to make in conjunction with the other.
Good luck and have fun!
David Shuster is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news anchor and former correspondent for Current TV and MSNBC. He is the Host and Managing Editor of “Take Action News,” a nationally syndicated radio show. You can see more of his work here.