“I don’t trust anybody who doesn’t look me square in the eye.”
We’ve all heard people say that because making eye contact with others as we speak or listen does suggest we’re being truthful in what we’re saying and interested in what we’re hearing.
The trouble is, a lot of us Norwegians are naturally shy and have been brought up to believe that it’s not polite to stare. So that’s why we feel more comfortable in a conversation looking off to the side or down at our shoes rather than at your face.
I overcame most of that shyness shortly after getting the chance to be on television.
I was told that when reading the news, I was to look straight into that camera lens as much as possible and don’t be shifting my eyes around because it would creep out viewers and they wouldn’t believe a thing I was saying.
In the early seventies, though, maintaining eye contact was a huge challenge because no local television stations had Teleprompters yet.
Newscasters had to try memorizing huge chunks of the script to avoid looking down at the words all the time.
Some of those early Keloland anchors were really good at it.
Doug Hill, Will Carlson and Leo Hartig would only need to glance at the script every other sentence or so.
But the absolute master of delivering the news without a prompter was Hemmingsen.
Steve could see and remember a full paragraph ahead.
It used to tick me off because I couldn’t do that and sitting next to him on the 10 O’clock news, I looked like one of those bird toys whose head bobs up and down dipping into a glass of water.
One of our studio cameras actually did have a Teleprompter of sorts…used primarily for recording commercials.
It was mounted just above the camera. The script was typed out and printed on a paper scroll which was advanced by hand as the announcer read.
I thought, hey, this might work for the newscast and talked our 10 O’clock production assistant, Linda Hunter, into re-typing as much of the script as possible onto the prompter paper each night and then cranking it forward for us to read live on the news.
It actually worked pretty well except that poor Linda was often so busy with her other duties she could only manage to get a few stories typed up by air time.
Later, KELO purchased a system in which pages of the news script would be placed on a conveyer belt which passed under a small closed circuit camera. That image could then be seen by the anchor through a monitor on the studio camera.
The same basic system is still used today except that the script is all launched and projected by computer.
The conveyor belt is long gone.
I think I can safely say that the Teleprompter saved my TV career. It allowed me to master the art of deception.
I quickly acquired the knack of looking down at my script just often enough to make the viewers believe I really had committed the entire thing to memory. (Walter Cronkite was the king of this technique.)
But the teleprompter has also been responsible for some of my most embarrassing on-air moments..like when a new prompter operator would crank the words by too fast or too slow which left me lost and forced to look down and try find my place on the hard copy script which usually took several seconds but seemed like hours. This is still a recurring and terrifying nightmare.
Today, most of the Keloland news anchors are comfortable enough with technology to go paperless and rely on an I-pad at the desk as a back-up should the prompter fail.
I’m old school and would be scared to death without a paper script in my hands…just in case.
I have noticed, when going to TV church, that one of the pastors at First Lutheran in Sioux Falls uses his I-pad for sermon notes in the pulpit.
Clearly Reverend Jeff Backer has committed himself to believing that the Lord will guide his finger across the electronic screen to turn the page correctly and never fail.
I think of all the times I fat finger and mess up just trying to get information on my smart phone..and shudder at the thought of ever having to rely on it in front of an audience.
Speaking of church. I’ve been invited to be one of the disciples in the annual Last Supper reenactment at Brandon Lutheran April 12th. I play the role of Doubting Thomas and have a few paragraphs of dialogue to memorize.
Like my character, I have serious doubts about learning it in time.
I haven’t been assigned memory work since Sunday School and am wondering if the producer, Rev. Dennis Bossman, would let me rig up some kind of Teleprompter system..but “doubt it.”