July 2, 2018

Use a Laptop and Chair as a Teleprompter

Looking for a budget-friendly teleprompter that won’t make you sound like a robot? Look no further.

Trevor Holmes


Chris Lavigne


Whether you’re just getting started with video or are already a Video Marketing Expert™, reading lines off a traditional teleprompter can make you sound unnatural, less energetic, and in some cases, like a robot! Another downside? They’re usually pretty expensive and kind of hard to set up. Never fear — grab your laptop, borrow a chair, and set the two up in front of your camera. Just like that, you’ve got yourself a budget-friendly teleprompter.

From our $100 DIY lighting kit, to shooting video entirely with an iPhone, it’s no secret that we love a good video production hack here at Wistia. In this post, we’ll break down just what you need to get setup, so you can ditch the fancy-pants teleprompter, and start delivering a more natural performance on camera. Let’s go!

Laptop stand vs. teleprompter

When it comes to nailing the right energy level for your on-screen performance, there’s a noticeable difference between reading lines off a teleprompter and speaking lines from memory. People tend to sound more robotic when they’re reading directly from a script, rather than delivering a line naturally from memory.

But don’t just take our word for it! Here’s an example of a Wistian reading from a teleprompter versus delivering a line from memory by using a laptop as a teleprompter.

Cheaper teleprompter models start at $100, and can go for upwards of $1,000 depending on your preferences. Instead of investing your money in a teleprompter, you could easily spend that hard-earned cash on a new lens, a tripod, some cheap lights, or even dinner for you and your friends!

Getting your set-up, set up

Okay, so what does this actually look like in practice?

Let’s assume you’ve already got your studio set-up — lights, camera, and all — and you’re ready to start shooting. Grab your laptop, find the nearest chair, and look for something you can rest your laptop on to raise its height. This could be a stack of books, a big ol' box, or a really loyal friend.

Position your laptop just under the camera, but be sure not to get it too close to the eyeline of the lens. Keep your laptop close enough to the lens so that you don’t have to leave your mark in order to see it, but not so close to your eyeshot that it’ll be tempting to glance down for help.
“Position your laptop just under the camera, but be sure not to get it too close to the eyeline of lens.”
If you happen to like this technique and want to invest in a more permanent solution, check out this Quiklok laptop stand. We’ve used this as our laptop teleprompter here at Wistia for quite a few years now, and it’s perfect for adjusting the height of your laptop on the fly. ## Preparing your script and delivering lines In order to make this whole laptop-teleprompter-rig really work, you need to make sure your script is in tip-top shape. Start by breaking your script into shorter pieces so that you can easily deliver the lines, one at at time. Instead of trying to memorize a huge paragraph of text, break it down into more manageable one to two sentence chunks. That way, you can deliver each line with ease!

Right about now you might be thinking…"What about all the jump cuts I’ll have if I record each line individually instead of doing one long take?" Good question!

One pretty obvious option is to simply embrace the jump cut style. Or alternatively, you could hide your jump cuts with some strategically placed b-roll! When you’re breaking up your script, take notes on what lines should be delivered directly into the camera, and which ones could be read as a voice over. This will save you some time when you’re shooting, and plus, b-roll helps make your videos more engaging for the viewer.

“When you’re breaking up your script, take notes on what lines should be delivered directly into the camera, and which ones could be read as a voice over.”

Once your script is looking good and you’ve got everything setup, simply zoom in on it (we use Google Docs for our scripts here at Wistia) and start reading through your first line, over and over, until it starts to feel natural to you. Then, look right into the camera and read the line as if you are talking to a friend!

Work with what you’ve got

Pretty simple, right? Ultimately, this setup should help you feel more confident with your line delivery when it comes to shooting videos at your business. And while it isn’t a complete replacement for a teleprompter, it’s definitely a helpful workaround that can take your videos from lame, to A-game. Ditch the teleprompter today and start sounding more human on camera!

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