Speaking in front of camera – is it the same as public speaking? Tips on how to talk in front of cam
Whenever I produce or direct a video and have to interview a business or corporate spokesperson on camera, most of the time they have had some type of exposure to public speaking or presenting in front of big crowds. I often have such people come in for an interview confident and ready to roll, but as soon as we start the recording, the face freezes, words stumble, the brain blocks and the majority of people just immediately get stuck. Why is that?
Well, because public speaking in front of a big audience and speaking in front of the camera are two completely different scenarios. I thought I’d share some basic tips how to best present yourself during an on-camera interview. Most of the tips can be applied if you are talking directly into camera addressing the audience.
Have a conversation. The key is to understand that it’s an intimate conversation one is having with the viewer at the time the video is being watched. Most of the time we stream videos alone in front of the computer screen or on a mobile device. We are not watching videos on a big screen in a stadium with a crowd. Hence the tone during the on-camera interview needs to be simple and resemble a conversation interviewee would be having with somebody at a coffee shop, for example. You are not addressing the crowd, you are not moving from one end of the room to another, and you don’t have a PowerPoint presentation to refer to. And because of it, on-camera interview requires a much more different personalized approach.
Identify a persona in the audience. It’s easier said than done, but what might help to get into a more intimate conversational mode is to think of the one person you would tell your story to. Sometimes it is a producer asking questions and listening closely to your answers, soaking them in and nodding in agreement to what you are saying. If the producer is not the right persona for you, identify in your mind a possible customer, colleague, friend, etc. who you would be telling the story to and relate to that feeling within yourself how you would be speaking to that person.
Keep eye contact with the interviewer. There’s always the question: “Where do I look?” If you are being interviewed by a video producer/director, always keep your eye contact with him/her. Going back to the first point I made, - you will be having a conversation with this person. As soon as your eyes start wondering around, camera will pick this up and the viewer on the other end may not be able to connect with you. Of course, in real life when we talk, we rarely look into the person’s eyes throughout the whole conversation - our eye angle often shifts when we think, and that is normal. But this is the one thing that camera is unforgiving about - eyes must stay as focused as possible on the producer (or on camera if you are addressing the audience directly). That way, the viewer of the video will feel that you are talking to him/her the whole time. Remember, we watch videos alone, hence, we need the connection with spokesperson’s eyes.
Think in keywords. One of the most important things to remember is to NOT memorize any of the answers. There is a reason why I personally don’t like sharing all of the questions prior to the interview. But if I do, I strongly advise to not write out full answers, but rather identify key points you would like to make when answering each particular question. I have had situations where people would write out every single word, print it in big font and bring those answers as cheat sheets to be taped under the camera lens or for me to hold. A big no no! Having answers written out is a big distraction during the interview because at that point you would be trying to remember how you worded it out and try to say exactly the same thing on camera. This not only lengthens the process, but also becomes more stressful due to your frustration that you cannot remember what you wrote yourself the night before. I always say to the spokespeople on camera that they are the experts in their field, they already know the message, so all we need to do is just get it out in a natural conversational manner with as many takes as we need to until all of us are happy with the outcome.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Often times one thinks that when responding to questions on camera the answers need to come out perfectly in one take. Sometimes it is the case, but only if you are the President of the country addressing the audience live. But most of the time we have the luxury of going into post-production. We can get as many takes as we need to capture the right answer and messaging (hey, whatever we don’t use, we can always repurpose in bloopers). In the end, your interview will be edited together and you’ll be amazed at how good you will look and sound. But….don’t tell this tip to anybody, it is the biggest secret of all in the video production industry! That said, minor mistakes or stumbles always make us look human, you are not a robot who has a chip in the brain and can blast out the answers with a push of the “start” button.
Express your emotions. We all have our way of talking, how we use our hands, what our voice sounds like when we tell stories, etc. But as soon as one sits in front of camera, all of this goes into the backend. Just so you know, camera loves emotion and body language that helps accentuate the message. I am not saying that you have to be super happy or overboard in your facial expressions or hand motions, but when you use those natural assets timely, the video will become more lively. Rarely do we speak in a monotonous voice or don’t use gestures as we speak. So why not add some flavor of your personality that will shine through the camera lens and help better connect with the audience.
Those are the basic tips that you could take with you to your next video shoot. And all the lessons that you have learned as a public speaker, take them and scale them down to the one person you would be telling the story to. If you need on-camera coaching, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.