In The Washington Post: My Teleprompter Tips To Donald Trump

Earlier today, Washington Post writer Philip Bump asked me to assess Donald Trump’s teleprompter performance. As he wrote in his intro:

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.

Instead of offering granular tips (e.g. mark the script with points of emphasis), I opted to give a few higher-level ideas. The biggest one was this:

“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.”

Another technique I alluded to is 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.

The final article included a couple of other ideas, but one big one didn’t make the cut. If Bump’s perception that Trump isn’t good at using a teleprompter is correct, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Let me explain.

Trump already has a significant percentage of the electorate committed to him, say 40 percent of voters. To win, he’ll need to persuade some undecided voters—including reluctant Republican leaners—that he’s capable of leaving the most bombastic parts of his personality behind. In other words, they need to believe that he’s capable of acting “presidential.”

His use of a teleprompter—which many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been encouraging him to use—sends a signal that he’s willing to make at least a few small concessions to traditional political convention. Whether or not he’s good at it may prove to be less important than the mere fact that he’s using one.

I’m not under any illusions that his use of a teleprompter will, for most voters, make any difference at all. But this may be an unusual case in which using it clumsily might not really matter at all.

You can read Bump’s full column here.

You can see Trump reading from the prompter here (begins at 12:20)