We’ve now watched TED Talk videos over 1 billion times. We consume over 4 billion Snapchat videos every single day. And after 25 years, America’s Funniest Home Videos is (somehow) still on the air. There’s no denying it: We love to watch each other on video.
But think about the last time you saw yourself on video. Did you like the way you looked? The way you sounded? The way you moved?
Don’t worry if the answer is “no.” Most people are a little uncomfortable watching the playback of their own performances on video. But the fact is that in today’s business world, that very experience is becoming more common every single day. Whether it’s a video clip for a job application, a remote presentation in a meeting or at a conference, or a Skype interview, it’s virtually impossible to avoid being on-screen. That being the case, you can try these five strategies to help you sharpen your on-screen presence.
Never be too formal when you’re speaking on camera. You don’t want to sound like you’re lecturing or reading off a teleprompter. Instead, speak as though you’re talking to a friend–naturally and with warmth. Make the audience feel like they have been invited into your home. Julia Child was a master of this skill. She didn’t lecture you about the fine art of cooking. She made you feel like you were spending time with a friend in her kitchen.
When it comes to speaking, complex sentences are your enemy. For the same reason you should use an informal, inviting tone, you don’t want to sound like you’re reading an essay–speaking isn’t writing. Keep your sentences short and rhythmic. Your audience has more opportunities for distraction when watching you on video than they would if they were watching you in person or reading your text.
The best way to speak rhythmically on-screen is by using what’s known as “rhythmic builds.” They help you avoid overly complex sentences and create a crescendo that sounds pleasing to the ear. For example, instead of saying, “I am committed to working hard, coming up with fresh innovations, and helping us become number one in our industry,” say, “I am committed to working hard. I am committed to coming up with fresh innovations. I am committed to helping us become number one in our industry.”
Visual language can help your audience really see what you’re talking about. Think of yourself as a play-by-play announcer for an action-heavy sport like hockey. A hockey announcer doesn’t just relate the facts of what’s going on in the game. He colors the action with his language and makes you feel like you’re actually there. Do the same when you’re telling a story, talking about your past, or sharing your vision for the future. In all those cases, use vivid imagery.
You have to adjust your movement to the realities of the camera. First, consider how wide the shot will be. In the business world, most on-screen opportunities are going to be a close “three-button” shot, showing your shoulders and above. Media interviews, webinars, and Skype interviews will almost always follow this format. In these situations, stay composed, relaxed, and steady. If the camera is fixed, you need to make sure you’re staying in the frame. If the camera is being operated by someone else, you don’t want to make them guess where you’re going. Either way, too much movement can be distracting to your viewers.
You probably don’t normally think about your facial expressions, but you should be conscious of them when appearing on camera. If you notice that your smile gets frozen or your forehead remains furrowed, focus on taking a sip of air followed by a slow exhale. This can be like pressing a “reset” button on your facial muscles.
To add natural highlight and spontaneous emotional expression, picture vivid images in your mind’s eye while you speak. That can be hard to remember while you’re staring into a camera lens. So for instance, if you are talking about your vision for success, think about a pivotal moment when you achieved a goal or were recognized for something (like getting your college acceptance letter or a major award). Envision yourself opening that envelope and remember the elation you felt as you read the words. By concentrating on the image of that moment while you talk about your vision for the future, your facial expressions will be genuine and engaging. That way you can take your audience into that moment while you’re on-screen.
Being on camera can sometimes feel like being under a microscope, but with a little practice you’ll watch yourself improve. The thing about video, of course, is that you can literally do just that. After a while, you’ll find you’ll be able to re-watch that last performance and feel proud of your delivery.