Why is it so challenging to talk naturally to a camera? What is it about pressing record that can make us freeze up, forget our words, and lose our personality?
I’m not immune, either. You might expect someone who has spent more than a decade speaking to live audiences to be able to transition from a crowd to talking to a camera without an issue. I can assure you, that is not the case at all. Even my experience as a television host for GUNTV and teenage presenter for the BBC didn’t help. In fact, both of those experiences may have done more to hinder than help, but that’s a story for another time.
My point is, I know how hard it can be to deliver information in front of a camera, whether that’s for a Zoom call, online workshop, or job interview. What I would like to do is share why time in front of the lens can be so hard and explore some of the tips I’ve learned over the past few years to help you overcome the camera talent hurdle.
Let’s start by acknowledging the first biggest misconception: Your fear of being in front of the camera isn’t because of the camera itself! I know, some of you might beg to differ, but think of it another way. If I were to ask you to talk to the wall or a door, other than feeling awkward, most of you could accomplish the task with minimal difficulties. That’s because those two things are inanimate objects.
A camera is an inanimate object, too. Until you press record, it’s lifeless. But once you hit that button, the camera suddenly becomes a living thing recording every nuance and utterance for eternity. It does something else as well – it delivers the reality of who you are and usually not in a very flattering way. If you stumble over your words, it catches it. If you tell a joke that falls flat, yep, got that too. And then there’s the way you look and sound. It can feel like a horror show.
Let’s start with the recorded content. Seeing and hearing yourself as you are is unsettling at best. We are all accustomed to seeing our reflected image in the mirror every morning. That’s the person we know. There’s also the issue of how you sound on tape. When you speak, your ear hears two sounds. The first sound is the vocal chord vibration on the inner ear from inside the head. The second is the actual sound waves moving around your head before reaching the auricular (outer part of the ear) and then the ear canal. When we hear ourselves on video, we only hear a single sound, and it’s usually very different from how we think our voices are. For most people, looking and sounding odd is enough to put them off filming forever. Poof, goodbye video content.
Fortunately, I have two tips to help you get past this block:
i. Greet yourself like a client
ii. Make a dozen hobby videos
Regarding tip one, it’s merely a change in your point of view. When we meet an important new client or friend, we enter into the interaction with patience, empathy, and bias towards wanting to make the relationship work. On the flip side, when we meet ourselves on video for the first time, we are the most judgmental, sarcastic, and scathing human beings to walk the earth! No relationship could survive such scrutiny.
You must greet yourself like you are the most important client of your life. Video isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the necessity to be in front of the camera. Next time you film, try being patient and empathetic with yourself.
This brings me onto the second tip. Make dozens and dozens of hobby videos before you try professional content. Seeing yourself talking about something inconsequential is often easier than watching yourself deliver dry, professional content. The bonus with this approach is no one will ever see what you record, and you can talk about anything and everything you’re enthusiastic about, from plants to pets, kids to holidays. The important thing is to enjoy the topic you’re discussing!
It’s after making several fun videos that the time you spent in front of the camera is going to pay dividends. Without knowing it, you’ve sneakily spent oodles of time practicing without the crushing sense of responsibility that nearly always accompanies professional content. You can move on to professional videos once you’re a bit more comfortable seeing yourself on camera. This way, the next phase to improving on camera won’t include beating yourself up for things you aren’t familiar with, like your voice or mirrored image.
Once you feel as comfortable as you can, it’s time to make a 2-minute professional video. I recommend you choose an area of your business that makes you excited or happy because after making the professional video, you are going to compare the new recording with one of your earlier hobby movies.
How did you do? Are you the same person in both types of content? Staying just as passionate is step number three:
iii. Professional content should be delivered with the same passion and enthusiasm as your hobby content
Audiences will forgive several transgressions, but they will not stomach inauthenticity, lifeless delivery, or condescension. If you can say you are the same person in both versions, you have beaten the first significant obstacle to being great in front of the camera, and that is being comfortable with yourself.
Even after hours of practice, there’s a chance you still might not come across nearly as genuine. In that case, try tip number four:
iv. Place a photograph of someone you know and like above or below the camera lens
Even if you are amongst the lucky few not struggling with enthusiastically delivering professional content, a picture above or below the lens can still be helpful for the ‘off days’ when things aren’t going your way.
Speaking of looking at the camera, how much eye contact with the lens is too much eye contact? In person, I might advise you to refrain from staring, but the standard rules of engagement don’t apply to video content. Your audience watches your video content for three reasons:
As you might expect, the information you deliver is important, but it’s reason two and three that keeps your audience coming back. We build an emotional connection with our viewers by being genuinely enthusiastic and liberal with our eye contact. Which is why you should:
v. Maintain eye contact with the camera at least 80-90% of the time
Holding an extended amount of eye contact with the lens, helps your audience feel as if you are talking directly to them, and that connection is the reason your audience will come back to view your content time and time again.
One of the most common mistakes in video content, as well as public speaking, is using filler words. Nothing will make you appear less professional and more wishy-washy than continually relying on “umms,” “errrs,” “like,” and “ya know.” Should you become short on words, do the one thing every public speaker is terrified to do:
Eliminating fillers and letting yourself comfortably hold the silence after important thoughts will put you head and shoulders above your competitors. Plus, it allows your audience to digest what you’ve just said while you move on to your next thought. If you don’t believe how powerful of a tool it can be, do some field research. Watch YouTube’s most famous TedTalks or the highlights of a Netflix stand-up comedy special. You’ll find an efficient speaker knows how to pause rather than hum, and the audience will be on the edge of their seats waiting for them to begin again.
After recent events, millions of professionals have had to pivot and create some form of video content. Utilizing the tips in this article, you’ll be able to begin your video content journey with a strong lead on others in your field. On that note, remember not to strive for perfection, as nothing will stop you from publishing your content faster than unrealistic goals. Instead:
vii. Strive to be authentically engaging, not perfect
Nothing kills an audience's interest in a topic faster than a monotone, professional delivery. And if you aren’t enthusiastic about your topic, how can you expect others to be? So, emotionally connect to your words and apply a moderate amount of contextually relevant facial expressions when speaking. If something is good, show it. If something makes you mad, do the same. Stand for something or your audience will fall over themselves to click through to the next video, and you’ll rarely get a second chance to win them back.
The skills listed in this article will take time to master, but once attained, they will pay dividends for years to come. For those of you looking for more tips and a body language advantage when creating video content, you can find my extensive course A Commando’s Guide to Killin’ it on Video at tvempowers.mykajabi.com/killin-it-on-video, where I share more than (110) tips for mastering video content.
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