10 things to look for in your speaking video

Stop wincing when you watch yourself on video, and look for these things instead.

A friend and colleague recently gave a sermon at his church. When I told him how well he had done on the video, he disclosed he hadn’t looked at it—and didn’t want to. He hadn’t even listened to the audio.

He has this in common with the best in the business: Any professional newscaster, actor, or performer will tell you they hate how they look and sound on camera. New research suggests there may even be a physiological reason you hate the sound of your voice.

As a coach, I see it differently: If you’re lucky enough to be recorded when you speak, you have an opportunity to learn things you might never otherwise realize. If a video is available to you, watch it. Or make your own recording by rigging an ultralight camcorder or finding a pal with a smartphone.

Rather than torturing yourself with how bad you think you look, focus on the cues below; they would be hard to discern without a camera’s help. I tell my clients to look for the items on this list when they watch themselves speak:

1. Visual “ums”

Instead of saying “um” when you pause to think, you may look to the side (or up or down), make a repetitive gesture or walk in a pattern. You might put your hand to your face, wink, or grimace.

Watch for patterns (pause the video, if you must, in order to catch them), and work on buying yourself time to think with new phrases, or work on your message more in advance. If you repeat a gesture often, like putting a hand to your face, put your clicker or your note cards in that hand to interrupt the pattern.

Watch the video as soon as you can after your talk so you’ll be better able to remember what you were thinking when your visual “um” occurred. It may help you avoid repeating it next time.

Visual “ums” often happen when you don’t quite have your message down, or if you forgot something you wanted to include.

2. Invisible gestures

You may gesture like a windmill, but if you do it below the lectern or out of camera range, all the audience will see is your body slightly moving. It’s great to gesture to keep your speech fluid (gestures help you avoid “ums” and stumbles), but if you want your gestures to help get your point across and hold the audience’s interest, make sure we can see them. This typically means gesturing at shoulder or chest height.

Also watch for the reverse: gesturing in front of your face. We want to see you.

3. A body with a mind of its own

Some speakers will sway from side to side, or drill a path into the floor as they pace back and forth. Both call for change.

You might want to focus on keeping your body stable, or move in different directions if you like to roam the audience. If you are going to move, vary the pattern. Think of forming a triangle rather than straight line, and when you pause in your talk, stop walking to break up repetitive moves.

4. Your reaction to interruptions

Listen for unexpected noises—door slams, crying babies, audience laughter, applause, sneezes, etc.—during your talk. How do you react? Catch your immediate reaction, and think how you might handle it next time.

Also pay attention to how you react when someone asks a question. Your face may give a different answer from what your mouth delivers. For example, you may show apprehension when you don’t need to.

When you get applause, you have two choices: Talk through it (a forceful tactic called “surfing the applause”), or pause to let it happen. I prefer not to step on the applause.

Knowing your unforced reactions helps you plan for the next time interruptions happen.

5. Expressions that don’t match your words

Your face is part of your connection with the audience, but if you grimace when giving praise or look sad when talking about something exciting, it’s confusing.

It’s not unusual for speakers to feel disconnected from their facial expressions, and video helps fix that. Most people’s mouths are either flat-lined or slightly downturned when at rest, making you look bored or sad. Smiling, even a little, corrects that natural downward turn. Smiling also helps reduce stress, and it makes you feel better.

6. Gesturing

Gestures are good for both speakers and audiences. They help your brain form words fluently, and the audience will understand you better—even if the gesture doesn’t match your words. A little gesturing goes a long way.

Think of gestures as condiments: If you gesture for every word or syllable, you weaken the impact. Don’t over-salt or over-pepper your talk.

Count your gestures in the video. Watch for a repetitive gesture that could be a visual “um.” If you immobilize your hands in your pockets, clasp them tightly or don’t gesture at all, your speech may be less fluent.

When your talk is being recorded on camera, keep gestures small and less theatrical. Don’t play to the back of the theater; play to the YouTube viewer.

7. Your posture and body language

Are your shoulders up around your ears or slumped? Can we see stress in your expression or body? Are you leaning in one direction? Are your arms crossed in a defensive posture? Are you looking down when you should be looking up at the audience?

Turn off the sound for this review, and see what your body language says.

8. Nerves

Do you look at ease? You may be surprised; most speakers find they feel nervous, but don’t look like it. If you’re not sure, ask a friend.

Most of the time the audience can’t tell you’re nervous. Many TEDMED speakers told me this tip helped them “nerve up” most before going on stage, so keep it in mind.

9. A clear message

Can you hear your message clearly throughout the talk? To find out, you may have to listen to the audio once and then watch the video. Is it hard to follow your progression? Did you forget a key point? Did your gestures, movements, facial expressions and props help get the point across? What will help you be clear and focused next time?

10. Good things

What did you do that was wonderful? You might need some outside perspective on this, but look for your successes.

Did you nail a great laugh line, pause with effect or gesture with aplomb? Did you feel and look poised and in command of your subject? What did the audience like and react to positively?

Note what went well so you can do it again.

Another reason to embrace video

Conference organizers want to see videos before they invite people to speak. Once you review your video, don’t hide it. Share it on social networks, repost it to your blog or website, and share it when you’re seeking a speaking gig.

Denise Graveline is the president of don’t get caught, a communications consultancy, and recently finished coaching the TEDMED conference. A version of this article originally appeared on The Eloquent Woman.


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