How to look your best on camera

Few things can make a person feel as awkward as being in front of a video camera. If you or an executive need to go under the lights, these tips can help you look more polished and natural.

Most people believe an actor’s job is simple.

You go to hair, make up and wardrobe, and then you sit in a trailer and wait until someone ushers you on set. You work for a few minutes to deliver your lines, and hit the mark.

This is a common perception, that is, until you or someone on your executive team has to be on camera for a corporate video shoot.

The reality is on-camera work is challenging. You’re put under a microscope, and expected to perform, be natural and articulate, and speak with passion while staying on message.

Oh, and remember to blink, smile and not talk with your hands.

Being on camera is distinctly unnatural-the lights, the crew, the pressure. So, how can you rise to the challenge when it doesn’t come easily to you?

Over many years working with non-professional talent, my team and I have developed tips and tricks to make the most of our on-camera personalities, ensuring they portray themselves in the best possible light. I like to say we get paid to make people look good.

You may be on camera for a live television interview, be one of many people being interviewed for a larger piece, or have to deliver a pre-scripted message using a teleprompter. Whatever it is, these tips will ensure you make the best of the occasion.

1. Remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

More often than not, people fixate on the words they use to deliver a message and give little thought to the delivery itself.

Video is a visual medium, which makes the delivery far more important than the content. Yes, what you say must be correct, but consider the viewer taking in your message. As you speak, the words fly by. The viewer’s brain processes the words, but the feeling and experience will leave the stronger impression.

Consider your experience watching your favorite band perform live. The environment, delivery and feeling stay with you for hours, if not days. If you were able to record the concert and play it back, you’d plainly hear the technical gaffes; the live content would fall flat compared to a studio recording. But the feeling is far more potent than the content itself. The same holds true for video.

2. Be authentic, but not yourself.

Before you sit down and clip on a microphone, you should have a clear idea of how you want people to perceive you. How you’re perceived is different from just being yourself. Understanding the target audience and objectives will help you tailor your perceived self for the camera.

When I was working with a senior executive to prepare for an employee-facing campaign launch, I asked him how he wanted employees to perceive him. He considered my question, and admitted he’d never given it any thought; no other video producer had ever asked.

We decided he should come across as approachable and authentic, yet firm-much like a college football coach. In that situation, focusing on a specific delivery style ensured the executive was not only authentic, but well received.

3. Understand how much editing will take place.

This is something people rarely consider. At my firm, it’s quite common to edit three to four hours of interview footage down to two to three minutes. In that situation, interviewees can say almost anything because we will painstakingly edit. However, if you’re delivering content that producers don’t plan to edit very much, each part of your delivery must be clear, concise and well-delivered.

4. Don’t over-prepare, and do stay within your wheelhouse.

These two tips go hand in hand. If you’re speaking on a topic you know well, there’s no need to over-prepare, and your delivery will be natural. Over-preparation kills delivery. You’ll appear insincere, even canned. Stay with what you know, and the content will appear fresh. If you’re forced to deliver content that is not in your wheelhouse, plan your message carefully, but don’t lay out the delivery in advance. Save that for the camera.

5. Don’t try to hide anything.

There is no faux pas worse than trying to hide a technical element from your audience. If you have notes, put them on the table. It’s OK to look down at notes if you admit they’re there. If you have a teleprompter, don’t try to make it look as if you don’t. People use teleprompters all the time. If you want to add in a pre-taped segment, just mention and introduce it. There’s nothing wrong with pre-taping an element for technical reasons.

These are just three examples we deal with often. The point is to embrace things as they are. An audience will be forgiving if you’re honest. If you aren’t honest, all your efforts to look your best will make you look worse.

Other important tips to consider:

  • Don’t dart your eyes.
  • Don’t swivel in your chair.
  • Hold a pen to give you something to do with your hands (but don’t click it!).
  • Speak with confidence.
  • Don’t move into delivery mode (shifting your voice up an octave and beginning to act).
  • Don’t beat yourself up for small slip ups. Almost everyone feels awkward on camera. That’s what editing is for.
  • Remember that it’s OK to be nervous.
  • Have fun!

What are your tips for being on camera? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

Mark Drager is the founder of the Toronto-area video production firm Phanta Media. A version of this article originally appeared on the Broad Reach Communications blog.

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Topics: PR

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