Let's get the obvious out of the way, "What IS teleprompting?"
Teleprompting is the combination of the box that goes above the camera of a live event that scrolls the text or script that whoever is on camera is supposed to read, and the name of the person controlling this text, which is the 'Prompter'. The prompter must listen to the person reading and make sure that the words are continuously updated on screen by turning this little wheel.
"Why can't this be done automatically?"
I've asked myself this many times. The short answer is the speed at which a person reads simply varies too much. To get more in depth you have to think about how many different people will be reading, what is that person's particular speed, and are there variables? Like maybe you only have ten seconds left and you have twenty seconds worth of script, well you better read fast! This job that seems so mundane and machine operable, really does require a human being.
"OK, so what's the big deal?"
Have you ever played The Knife Game? or Five-Finger-Fillet? Basically you put your hand on a table and stab a knife into the spaces surrounding each finger repetitively getting faster and faster until you either win, or hurt yourself badly... It's fun! Imagine playing this game either a half hour or hour at a time, with your speed having to stay in a constant rhythm, never going too fast or too slow. It requires serious concentration, but is also seriously boring. If your mind drifts or you get sleepy, in to the supple finger flesh the knife goes!
I see it as a very exotic form of torture, except instead of 'knife in finger' you get some very upset people screaming at you to either slow down or hurry up. Prompting is the bane of my existence. It is the most important job, and the least important job AT THE SAME TIME. It either completely ruins a days worth of work, leaving it smoldering in small piles of rubble, or, if done successfully, isn't mentioned at all. A lot like video editing actually. The expert editor is a ghost, you don't notice him at all when he's a master. A lot like that, just negate the actual fun and sense of fulfillment editing brings and you've got Teleprompting.
Let's talk about when something out of your control goes wrong as you're prompting. So you're moving along, half asleep, trying your best to concentrate at the task at hand, which is turning this infernal wheel in front of you, when a story is dropped, and the computer isn't telling the prompting software for some reason, oh shit. Now you're lost in a sea of words, with no clear way out. People are hopping around like their head are on fire screaming for the prompter to catch up. If you keep a cool head you may just be able to keep composure long enough to fix the problem. If not, you're elbowed across the room as someone else fixes the problem, you'll be getting dirty looks the rest of the week. This same scenario usually plays out with Q & A's. Because no one knows how long a guest will speak, what exactly they'll say, and if certain improvisation is about to take place. So now you're two questions deep and holy shit! we're skipping the last three questions! scroll fast! NO!!! TOO FAR!!! GO BACK GO BACK!!! GAAHHHH!!!! The talent stutters on air, not sure what to say as you feverishly search for the proper place. Was disaster averted? Or do you have a giant gash in your ring finger now? Rinse and repeat, every day, forever.
My other not favorite thing at all about prompting is the serious need for concentration on the task at hand. There will be no talking to anyone while you're prompting, there will be no moving of the eyeballs to anything other than the screen with the words on it while prompting, and there most certainly will not be any listening of any kind to anything other than the voice of the person reading the words on your screen while prompting. So while everyone around you is either yelling into a phone, yelling to each other across the room, or even just calmly discussing what they packed in their kids lunchbox that day, you cannot listen, you cannot contribute, you can't even tell them to shut up. Over all of these distractions you must hear the person reading or you will get so, so lost, and that's asking for bad times. I remember thinking maybe it would get easier, like some times things do, but no, its been almost two years and its still just as difficult. The fear has gotten better, I've been numbed to the terrible fear I originally felt when it came to prompting. In the beginning if I made a mistake my heart was racing and I was breaking out in a sweat. Now I feel almost nothing, and sadly I much prefer the numbness to the fear. I have been desensitized to the fear, after having endured it so long.
Prompting is a terrible terrible thing. It is very important, it is also very awful. If its needed I will step in and do it no questions asked, no way I'm gonna let my teammates down in a pinch. But I've never been more motivated to invent a solution to a problem than I have been for Teleprompting.