Creatively built teleprompter enhances connection with online viewers

August 06, 2020
Rev. Josh Doughty and the teleprompter he creatively made in his garage.

By: Christa Meland

A team at Cornerstone UMC in Marshall had been live streaming worship long before COVID-19 hit Minnesota. But when the pandemic closed churches and many pastors began working from home, Rev. Josh Doughty found himself recording his sermons alone. It was mostly fine, but it bothered him to have to repeatedly break eye contact with viewers in order to look down at the notes he was holding.
“I knew that news anchors and those who speak live on TV used teleprompters for that very reason, so I went online and looked for a solution,” he said.

Another view of the teleprompter.
He watched a few YouTube videos, came up with his own modified teleprompter design, and got to work building it in his garage.

The end result was a flat base to hold his iPad (which contained his notes), and a picture frame holding glass that he set at a 45-degree angle over the iPad. The glass reflected the words on his iPad and served as a teleprompter. He mounted the whole thing on a tripod then put his iPhone behind the glass to do the recording and covered the sides of the teleprompter with black fabric.
The last step was setting up a Bluetooth-enabled guitar pedal that Doughty could simply press with his foot to advance the teleprompter.
The set-up instantly addressed the problem he had set out to solve (see a worship service recorded with it here).
“Since I set up my camera shot close for the live feed, I wanted the viewers to feel like I was talking to them and looking at them,” he said. “I feel it helped with the connection I could have in an online setting.”
Doughty said he’s learned a lot in recent months, and he’s come to realize that one of the biggest blessings has been the freedom to be creative.
The space Doughty used to film at his home, with the teleprompter facing him.

“This was a time of experimentation without risk of failure because we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “At times, we get so boxed in to a certain way of doing things, and this allowed me the freedom to literally do everything different.”
When Cornerstone UMC begins recording worship in the church building once again, lessons learned over the past few months will prompt some changes to enhance the live stream of in-person worship—for example, new backdrops and a new camera set-up that’s able to capture closer-up, more intimate shots.
Doughty’s takeaway from all of this: “Creativity and innovation doesn’t have to be complicated or hard. I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish and simply did it. A little bit of ingenuity, creativity, and Google searching has gone a long way.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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