Speaking On Camera Like A Pro
Once-upon-a-not-so-long-ago, getting to grips with speaking on camera was a relatively niche requirement for most of us in the business world. Not anymore. Whether it’s Zooming colleagues, video job interviews or presenting via Webex, one way or another we’re all in the spotlight these days.
BBC Presentation Coach and BeSpoke trainer Elspeth Morrison has spent years honing easy-to-apply tricks and techniques that will calm nerves, cool heads and have you speaking on camera like a pro. We spoke to her about how to come across well onscreen. Let’s start with the preparation.
Getting Ready for Your Close-Up
Just as a photograph can capture a ‘you’ that seems unfamiliar or even unflattering to the version of yourself you hold in your head, the way we come across on camera is not always how we imagine or intend. Here are some things to think about when it comes to putting your best face forward.
Consider your brand
Whether you intend it to or not, when you’re on-camera everything that’s in shot says something about you – just think of all the attention drawn to messy bookshelves and ill-considered backdrops in the early days of the recent lockdown for proof of that. Make sure whatever is in the background isn’t distracting or, worse still, saying something about you that isn’t right for your audience. Similarly, choose your outfit with care. You’ll want something that’s right for the occasion and that makes you feel confident.
A practice recording is not an act of vanity but of preparation. It will ensure you get all aspects of your on-screen ‘brand’ right and neither look overpowering nor fade into the wallpaper behind you. Best of all, it will allow you to see yourself on-screen as others see you. Invaluable.
Frame your narrative
Giving some basic structure to your thoughts (aka ‘framing’) will make it easier for you to deliver your message and for your audience to understand it. Start by dividing your content into three parts: past, present and future, perhaps, or problem, solution and benefit – with very little effort the basis of the opening, middle and close sections of your narrative are now in place.
Within each of these sections, consider three or four ‘headline’ points you wish to make. Having headlines and a framed narrative will make it easier to remember your content. Instead of searching for your lines or trying to remember an exact script, you’ll be telling a story around your key points, which will make you sound more natural.
Keep it simple
The spoken word is usually much simpler than the written word. A good rule of thumb is to speak as you would in a conversation with an intelligent friend. Avoid jargon, multi-syllabic words or ones that might trip you up – it’s amazing how certain words and phrases that look good on the page can be a mouthful when you say them out loud. For example, try saying ‘executable plan’, ‘digital strategy’ and ‘similarly’ – chances are, at least one of them will snag. And a little snag off screen often translates to a big stumble when the camera rolls.
Loosen up… and lighten up
When you’re on-screen, everything you do is magnified. If you’re tense or uncomfortable it will show up. To appear relaxed and engaging, you need to be physically released. Before you start recording, roll your neck and shoulders a few times, shake out your hands, stretch your jaw and blow through your lips like a horse. That should lighten you up a bit!
Tips for Speaking on Camera
Elspeth has spent years prepping journalists, presenters, actors and more to speak confidently and naturally on-screen. ‘Being in front of a camera can be exhilarating once you’ve mastered the basics and built your confidence,’ she says. ‘Embrace the opportunity and try to enjoy it.’ The following tips and techniques will give you a head start on doing just that.
Captivate with the eyes
A smile that extends to the eyes – officially known as the Duchenne smile [after the C19th French neurologist who identified it]; more recently known as ‘smizing’ – conveys warmth and is a shortcut to connection. The actor George Clooney is a master of the technique. Whether you’re speaking to an interviewer or to camera, viewers are looking into your eyes so ‘look’ back. Imagine – as Clooney himself is said to do – you’re speaking to an old and trusted friend. It will radiate warmth and help you connect directly with your audience.
Connect through body language
Open body language invites trust. Keep your chest broad and your shoulders relaxed and avoid crossing your arms or clasping your hands in front of you. Everything tends to be exaggerated on screen, so just as moving too much can be distracting for the audience, moving too little can reduce your on-screen energy and make you come across as wooden, so find a balance. Recording and watching yourself back a few times will help you to pick up any distracting habits. If you do use your hands while you speak, keep them close to the body or they’ll appear disproportionately large thanks to the distorting effect of the lens.
Engage with your voice
Energy is important, but don’t get carried away. When you speak on camera, you want to sound like you’re having a conversation with your listeners, not giving a them a speech. Elspeth says ‘Think of the mic on the camera – or iPhone or laptop – as a human ear and judge the distance accordingly. You’re neither bellowing to the senators of Rome nor voicing a chocolate ad.’ If you’re recording outside where there might be more ambient noise, dial up your volume a little, but the rest of the time ‘stay in the room’, so to speak.
For more information on vocal delivery check out our blog Using Your Voice To Bring A Presentation To Life.
Get the cameraperson’s opinion
If you’re working with a cameraperson, ask them for their advice. They can see what the viewer will see, so ask them how you look and how you’re coming across on camera. If there’s time, a short test recording before you begin will let you can see and hear yourself in context.
Practise, practise, practise!
Like anything else, the techniques outlined here will come more naturally with practice. Record yourself often and in all the different settings you find yourself speaking on camera. Watch yourself back objectively, noting what you do well rather than simply focusing – as so many of us do – on what you do badly or what needs work. Each time you make a ‘real’ recording, review it afterwards. This will develop your personal awareness and allow you to improve your performance for next time.