It used to be that tips for improving on-camera appearances were exclusive to people giving media interviews. But today, any employee might find themselves with a camera lens in their face as part of their job.
During the past few weeks, I’ve coached and heard from mid-level managers presenting marketing programs via Skype to team members in India, a woman orienting her American colleagues on FaceTime to an upcoming CEO tour through Asia, and three employees creating “video selfies” to support an internal communications project.
If you suddenly find yourself having to communicate to a remote audience via technology, here are the best on-camera presentation tips I’ve used over the years to ensure you make a positive and lasting impression.
* Note: These tips don’t directly address media relations interview techniques, although much of what’s here can still be applicable.
1. Know what you’re going to say.
Before you turn on the video camera or smart phone, stop for a moment and think about your primary message.
- What’s the objective of this communications exchange?
- What’s the one statement you want your audience to remember?
- What do you want the audience to do?
Be explicit if you want action.
As a rough guide, you should be able to say this single message in one sentence and in one breath. If you can’t, shorten the statement.
This core message is typically the first thing you say to introduce your topic, and the last thing you say to summarize. The points between the first and last point should be organized, if not prioritized.
2. Don’t memorize your speech.
It’s unnecessary to write out and memorise your entire presentation. It’s time consuming. It also takes lots of practice to make a memorised speech sound natural. If you falter when delivering it – even a little bit – it could rattle and disrupt your confidence.
On the other hand, do not wing it. You might think you’ll sound casually articulate, but it’s never the case. You’ll stammer and stutter for the right words. You’ll go off on irrelevant tangents. Most of all, your core message will come out fractured and unclear.
The best model is half-way between memorizing it and winging it.
- Rehearse by writing down your notes, concisely and in order.
- Practice by paraphrasing your conversation over and over, never saying it the same way twice.
- For “‘important” presentations, I suggest paraphrasing your speech 8-10 times.
By not repeating your presentation verbatim, you learn it well enough to know what you’re saying, but not well enough that you’ll sound robotic.
3. Look at who you’re talking to.
If you’re being interviewed on-camera, look at the interviewer or your colleague directly. Don’t look at the camera lens.
If you’re addressing a group of people who are remote from you, including an interviewer, look at the camera lens.
Person or lens, talk as if you’re speaking to a friend. Think of it as a conversation, not a one-sided dialogue.
At some point, you’ll probably look away from the interviewer. That’s OK. It will look natural if you either look to the side or look down – but never up. A glance toward the heavens will look like you’re searching for the answer, giving the impression you are unprepared or you’re lying. Or worse, both.
4. Keep your appearance simple, neat and generally conservative.
Keep your clothing, hair and jewellery uncomplicated.
It’s true: cameras add pounds. To compensate, wear dark solid colours. Also, never dress in all one colour – particularly in all white, black, red or green. Avoid neons, stripes and prints.
Wear clothes which both you like and your mother would be proud, with the primary focus on clothes which are extremely comfortable.
Iron your clothes that morning.
Never wear a new outfit for the first time on camera.
If you’re in a studio, wear something light because the cameras get hot.
- If you’re wearing a tie, gently tuck it into the waist-band of your trousers (under your coat, of course) so it remains straight.
- Take everything out of your trouser pockets, especially things that jingle like coins, or add strange bumps like an iPod or a wallet.
- Get a haircut a few days before the interview.
- Shave that morning.
- If you have a beard, get it trimmed or shaped.
- If it’s a production, use powder. It removes the glistening from sweat and oiliness which can make you look uncomfortable even if you’re not.
- If your jewelry makes noise, take it off.
- Straighten your jewelry so it’s not wrapped awkwardly around one breast or both.
- Never try a new hair-style for the camera.
- If you’re particularly nervous, don’t wear high heels.
It’s OK for a bit of your personality to shine through, but whatever you wear that says “you” – a tie, a shirt, a piece of jewelry – should be discrete. It should speak softly for itself, not announce itself with a scream.
Glasses? Eye contact is vital to establish your credibility. If you do lots of work on camera, get non-reflective coating on your lens. If nothing else, clean your lens before the camera goes on.
5. Look confident.
Authenticity comes from many aspects of a person’s behaviour, but two things stand out: 1) you must be you, and 2) you must look confident regardless of how you feel.
To look confident while standing, your feet should be a bit less than shoulder-width apart. Stand flat on your feet, never on the balls of your feet. Your hands should be in front of you, never locked behind you.
To look confident while seated, sit slightly forward. If you’re sitting at a table, you should be forward enough that your back doesn’t touch the chair. Sit up straight. Don’t swivel in the chair.
My favourite trick, courtesy of William Hurt in Broadcast News. If you’re in a coat or jacket, sit gently on the tail of the coat so it brings the fabric down flat upon your shoulders.
6. Talk with your personality.
Your voice is how you express your personality, passion and interest to the audience. How quickly or loudly you speak, how your voice flexes to make a point, or even how you say a sentence from its start to its finish, these are the signals to the audience about who are you as a person.
The best presentation voice has nothing to do with your words, and everything to do with how you breathe.
You should breathe fully and completely between sentences or when the interviewer is asking you a question. Never breathe in the middle of a sentence, unless it’s where a comma would be used in writing.
Enunciation is the next most important aspect because we must be able to understand what you say. The key to enunciation is to put the final syllable or consonant on each word.
Speed is the next most important aspect. To test yourself, ask a friend or colleague to listen to you but not look directly at you from a distance of 3-5 meters or 10-15 feet. If they can’t understand you without looking at you, you’re too fast.
Finally, a pause about pauses. It’s preferable every now and then to stop talking, to breathe. Silence can be very powerful, and should primarily be used in a key spots when you want the audience to think about what you just said.
7. Use gestures which are meaningful and precise.
The audience watches your hands nearly as much as they watch your face. Why? Because your hands add depth to your words through visual punctuation.
The best gestures are precise. Your fingers are typically upwards and active. When someone watches you without hearing your words, your gestures should describe exactly what you mean.
The best gestures when standing are mid-chest, never broader than your body, and never higher than your neck.
The best gestures when seated are slightly above the table. Skip what your Grandma told you, you can put your elbows on the table.
Never touch your hair. It says you’re lying.
Your Grandma was right, clean your fingernails.
Everything I ever learnt about gestures is in this post.
8. Film yourself as a rehearsal.
A simple rehearsal on camera gives you a chance to see how you look when delivering your message. It forces you to get used to your voice. Most important, it allows you see if your words match your actions.
Albert Mehrabian’s landmark research showed us that the three aspects of a speaker – their face/body, their voice/tone and their words – must be in sync to create a unified perception. In other words, it’s absolutely important that how you say what you say is as important as what you say.
The best way to watch yourself on video is to do it alone, or with a coach you trust. When you watch yourself, do it with the mindset that you’re a member of the audience, not from your own personal viewpoint – and certainly not with an opinion about your attractiveness or personality.
When you watch yourself …
- Are the words from the speaker mirrored in their body language? An example of it not working: a presenter who looks sullen, with dropped shoulders and tiny voice, who says “I’m so excited to be here.” People will believe what they see, not the words themselves.
- What do you think about this person presenting? Would you listen to them? Why? Why not?
- Things that work: An easy speed, each word enunciated. The gestures are precise. There’s plentiful eye contact. These are things you want to notice and, more so, repeat.
- Things that don’t work: Words don’t flow easily. There are loads of verbal tics (ums, uhs). The speaker fiddles with a pen, a piece of jewelry, their hair. These are things to stop or change.
9. Be positive.
No one wants to hear negativity. Every message should be positive.
During those occasions when you are delivering bad news, it’s most important to be honest and concise. Don’t sugar coat. Don’t pretend you understand how the audience feels. The best response is to sound genuine, and if asked, never hesitate to answer a question directly, even if you have to repeat.
If you don’t have an answer, tell your audience you will get back to them ASAP … and make sure you do.
10. Be considerate of yourself if you are your own subject.
If you’re using your own video camera or smart phone to film yourself, here’s a few final tips.
- Keep the background simple.
- Get rid of things behind you which might look like they’re sprouting from your head.
- Keep lighting simple. You should face the light source. Never place it behind you. If possible, put it at an angle and slightly high to avoid dark shadows.
- Avoid zoom. The deeper the zoom, the more pixelated the image.
- Make sure to clean the lens of your smart phone.[/toggle]
All of these tips fly out the window if one overall aspect is missing: your comfort. How to manage your fear deserves its own post. Click to read Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking.
In the meantime, anything else you’d suggest for on-camera presentation tips?