Even for executives accustomed to delivering a presentation to hundreds or thousands of people, speaking on camera can be an unexpected challenge. What looks comfortable and confident on a stage can appear stiff and lifeless on video.
It’s important to master this skill, because speaking in this video-driven world with poise and authenticity is essential for taking advantage of an ever-increasing variety of communication platforms, including webinars, virtual meetings and promotional videos.
Improving your on-camera (or virtual) performance is easier than you might think, when you know the secrets.
Why it’s hard to be authentic on camera
Wondering why you seem “flat” when speaking on camera? According to Karin Reed, author of "The On-Camera Coach" and a former news anchor, it’s because you can’t see who you’re talking to. When addressing a person or a live audience, you can see their reactions and adjust your performance accordingly. Without that feedback, your voice loses its natural inflections and your facial expression changes, as well.
Strategies to boost your on-camera performance
Here are a few proven ways to add back the expressiveness that the camera takes away.
Visualize your viewer. Instead of a monologue with the camera, imagine you’re having an intimate conversation with a member of your target audience. Picture that person being on the other side of the camera lens. If that mental leap is too challenging, here’s another tip from Matt Abrahams, author of "Speaking Up Without Freaking Out": “I position a photo of my family directly behind my webcam so I can look at them while I’m speaking, but it looks like I’m looking at my audience.”
Focus on your message. When you focus on merely uttering the words perfectly, instead of the meaning and the point you’re trying to convey, you come across as fake. Listeners know when you are mindlessly reading your message versus being personally engaged. If you aren’t fully engaged in your presentation, listeners will tune out. “Thinking the thought” and staying in the moment will allow you to connect to your message and your audience.
Use appropriate gestures. TV host and media trainer Scott Morgan advises keeping your elbows bent around the midsection of your body. For medium and even tight camera shots, your hands will be visible but not in the way.
Reed recommends letting the way you are framed dictate the size of your gestures. If you’re on a tight shot, you don’t want your hands to come into the frame. Her general rule is, the wider the shot, the more room you have to gesture.
Webinars and virtual meetings: Eye contact
Virtual meetings have become commonplace in business. Chances ar,e you often talk to others using your phone, the webcam on your laptop or a video-equipped conference room. Webinars are similar. A common problem with both is imprecise eye contact, says Reed.
When you look at the image on your screen as you talk, you appear to be looking down at the viewer’s chest instead of looking them in the eye. Instead, look at your webcam or at the camera lens to improve eye contact and build rapport with your audience.
Learn more: "3 Tips for a Successful Webinar"
Promotional video: Audience-appropriate content
Here’s the most common mistake with promotional videos: failing to make your content appropriate for a specified audience.
We’ve all had the experience of playing what we expected to be a quick video, that turned out to be way too long. For a corporate video distributed on social media, make it quick and to-the-point. Video is great for piquing interest but not for conveying loads of information. Business viewers prefer “snackable” content online: consuming small bits of information at a time.
Reed says that the sweet spot for video length appears to be two minutes (according to a detailed analysis in 2016 by Wistia). Organize your content so they hear the core message upfront, loud and clear. Defining your core message at the start will efficiently drive your content and help keep your video in that two-minute sweet-spot.
When crafting your message and deciding where to publish your video, consider where your target audience is going to be online. For example, instead of posting a business thought-leadership video on Facebook, share it with a LinkedIn group related to your subject matter or tweet using a focused hashtag.
No matter which social platform you choose, Reed counsels her clients to avoid jargon and use conversational language. Complicated words intended to impress often confuse people instead. Practicing out loud can really help you develop a more natural delivery that resonates.
Change your mindset
When performing on camera, chances are the stakes are high and your anxiety is, too. Changing your attitude can go a long way toward improving the way you come across to your audience.
Reed’s advice is to cut yourself some slack and avoid aiming for perfection. It’s more important to be authentic than to articulate perfectly. “In normal conversations, we flub all the time, and it’s OK on camera, too,” she explained. “Those human moments tend to resonate with the audience. Performances that are too polished come across as fake, and nobody likes fake!”
Morgan also has some good advice on this subject: aim for what he calls a “dinner party delivery.” Adopt the tone and body language you would use for engaging in conversation at a dinner party.
If you’re not taking advantage of video for business communication, you’re missing out on an important tool for promoting both your corporate and personal brands. You’re also missing out on engagement that can directly impact your company’s bottom line. Up your game by using these tips for mastering on-camera presence!
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.
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