Most people believe that an actor’s job is simple. Hair, make-up, wardrobe. Then sit in a trailer and wait until you’re ushered on set. 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 that on-camera work is challenging. You’re put under a microscope, expected to perform, be natural, articulate, speak with passion while staying on message. Oh, and remember to blink, smile, and not talk with your hands.
Being on camera is a distinctly unnatural event – the lights, the crew, the pressure. So how can you rise to the challenge when it doesn’t come easily to you? I like to say we get paid to make people look good. To that end over many years working with non-professional talent, we’ve developed tips and tricks to make the most of our on-camera personalities, ensuring they’re portrayed in the best possible light.
You may be on camera for a live television interview, you may be one of many people being interviewed for a larger piece, or you may have to deliver a pre-scripted message using a teleprompter. Whichever it is, these tips will ensure that you make the very best of the occasion.
1. 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, giving little thought to the delivery itself. Video is a visual medium and as such makes the delivery far more important than the content. Yes, what you say must be correct, but consider the viewer who is taking in your message. As you speak the words fly by. Their brains process the words, but when it is all said and done, it’s the feeling, the experience, that will leave the strongest impression. Consider your own experience of watching your favorite band perform live. The environment, delivery, and feeling stays 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 gaps and gaffes. The live content would fall flat compared to a studio recording. But the feeling of the moment is far more potent than the content itself. The same holds true for video.
2. Be Authentic but Not Yourself
Before sitting down and clipping on a microphone, you should have a very clear idea of how you want to be perceived. 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, so carefully consider it. When I was working with a senior executive to prepare for an employee-facing campaign launch, I asked him how he wanted to be perceived. He considered my question and admitted he’d never given it any thought since no other video producer had ever asked. Together, 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 that the executive was not only authentic but well received.
3. Understand How Much Editing Will Take Place
This is something people rarely consider: How much editing will take place, if any? At my firm, it’s quite common to edit 3–4 hours of interview footage down to 2–3 minutes. In that situation, interviewees can say almost anything because we will painstakingly edit, line by line. However, if you’re delivering content that producers are not planning to edit much or at all each part of your delivery must be clear, concise, and well delivered, top to bottom.
4. Don’t Over-Prepare and Stay Within Your Wheelhouse
These two tips go hand in hand, naturally. If you’re speaking on a topic that you know well, you have no need to over-prepare and your delivery will be natural. Over-preparation kills delivery, as 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 messaging carefully but don’t lay out the delivery in advance. Save that for the camera.
5. Don’t Try to Hide Something from the Audience
There is no worse faux pas than trying to hide a technical element from your audience. If you have speaking notes, bring them out and put them on the table. It’s okay to look down at notes if you admit that 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 it and introduce it. There’s nothing wrong with pre-taping an element for technical reasons. These are just three examples that we deal with often. The point is to embrace things are as they are. An audience is forgiving provided you’re honest with them. If you aren’t, 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.
Consider holding a pen while on camera to give you something to do with your hands (but don’t click it!).
Speak with confidence.
Try not to move into “delivery mode,” shifting your voice up an octave and beginning to “act.”
Don’t beat yourself up for small slips during the recording. Almost everyone feels awkward during the process and that’s what editing is for.
It’s okay to be nervous.
What are your tips and tricks for being great on camera? Tell us by leaving a comment below.
Mark Drager is the Founder of the Toronto-area Video Production Firm Phanta Media. In his daily role at Phanta, he leads clients through the strategy and creative development processes, which leads to kick-ass, extraordinary video projects. Mark’s been known to be a bit blunt with his no-nonsense, direct approach and he abhors mediocrity. Connect with Mark: @PhantaMedia on Twitter, facebook.com/phantamedia on Facebook and at firstname.lastname@example.org by email.
A leader in the Canadian public relations industry, Andrea Lekushoff has more than two decades of experience as a communications strategist and trusted advisor for some of the world’s most respected brands. Email Andrea