3 February 2010

Ronald Reagan's master class on how to cope when the teleprompter lets you down

May 08, 1985

President Left Speechless by TelePrompTer

STRASBOURG, France — President Reagan, often spoken of as "the great communicator," was noticeably at a loss for words when his TelePrompTer broke down during his major speech before the European Parliament today.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan's TelePrompTer cut out three times, causing the President to lose his place.

I don't agree with this 25 year old headline from the Los Angeles Times, as I saw it as a master class on how to recover from the worst thing that can happen when a speaker is using a teleprompter.

As Reagan started to speak, I'd just pressed the 'record' button on my Sony Betamax (!), little expecting the potential disaster awaiting him about half a minute into the speech.

All went well until the French "swarmed on to the boulevards of Paris, rallied under the Arc de Triomphe and sang the Marseilleise...." at which point disaster struck.

But it only took three seconds for the 'great communicator' to see the problem and come up with a solution: an unscripted ad lib - "In the .." Five more seconds and he completes it with "they were out there in the open and free air" - continuing to look at his audience until looking down and continuing from the lectern as if nothing had happened.


Quick though his recovery was, it lasted long enough for me to wory about two things before he carried on.
  1. Was there a hard copy of the script on the lectern?
  2. Was he wearing the right contact lenses to be able to read it without glasses?
The answer to both was "yes" - and the the only difference made by his having to read from the lectern was that it slowed him up so that the speech lasted about five minutes longer than had originally been scheduled.