My ability to talk is a bit of a family joke and was well-documented by teachers who noted on every single report card that I had a tendency to “talk too much.”
Everyone agreed a job in sports broadcasting seemed like the perfect fit for me, but no one in my family believed me when I said I was exhausted after talking all day.
After all, what was so different about getting paid to do something I did naturally?
Here’s the difference: the camera.
It’s part of the reason you’re Zoom’ed out, frustrated by having to dial into yet another meeting that seems like even more of a waste of time than usual and more exhausted by the end of the day despite not leaving the house. Certainly, the stress and uncertainty of during this pandemic are part of that dynamic but you should also acknowledge the stress of being on camera.
Virtual meetings, happy hours and interactions might be the next best thing to face-to-face interaction during a time of social distancing but it’s not the same as being in person.
I speak from a lot of experience as a sports broadcaster with 20 years of experience in the industry. Being prepared and camera ready for your virtual meetings isn’t just about adjusting your lighting or organizing the bookshelf in the background.
It’s a visual medium. That means everything in view becomes part of the message, whether you intended for it to be or not. The audience is easily distracted. (As a sports fan just think about how many times you’ve missed what the announcers said because you were focused on crazy fans in the background.) That means you need to...
Adjust your lighting so the audience isn’t thinking about the role you’d play in a horror flick. Take advantage of natural light by facing the window.
Choose your wardrobe carefully. Basic rule of thumb - solid colors look best on camera. If you choose black, navy or gray add a single pop of color with a tie, scarf, jewelry or lipstick.
Declutter your background. You can show some personality, display a trophy or bookcase, but make sure the audience isn’t more focused on what’s behind you than what you’re saying in front of them.
Sit still. Stop fixing your hair, spinning in your chair, fidgeting and making huge gestures with your hands. All of these things are natural reactions if you’re nervous or uncomfortable. They’re also very distracting to your audience. Tip: If you don’t know what to do with your hands hold a paperclip. (I used that trick in the early days of my TV career when I couldn’t figure out what to do with the hand that wasn’t holding the microphone.)
It might seem like these are additional steps that aren’t nearly as important as the presentation you’ve prepared, but what’s the purpose of delivering a message if no one going to hear it?
Look into the camera. Whether you like seeing yourself on camera or not you’ll probably keep looking just because you can – or you haven’t figured out your camera position is not the same place the audience is positioned on your screen.
This dynamic feels weird for a couple reasons. First, you’re used to looking at people in real life. On camera you’re looking into a lens. Even if there’s a photographer you’re still looking into a black whole and not the person behind the camera. Secondly, you’re not use to seeing yourself during the day unless you’re in front of a mirror or checking out your reflection in a window. There’s a definite benefit to being able to check your hair and your lighting in real time before you start the presentation, but it’s also easier to obsess and get distracted by a bad hair day or a perfect lipstick application. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
Talk to one person. You can’t interact with a remote audience the same way you would in person. When you can’t see any one person (because you’re looking at the camera and not the screen, remember?) it’s easy to try and talk to everyone at the same time. That only adds more distance between you and the audience.
The best way to make a connection with the entire group is by thinking about one person. Deliver your message like you would if you were sharing it with one person over coffee, lunch, drinks or a 1-on-1 meeting. That doesn’t mean your delivery becomes more casual. It means you become more conversational and personable. Smile, add warmth to your delivery, make eye contact but know that it’s okay to glance off camera to look at your notes because that’s how most people communicate in real life.
(Sometimes when I’m on TV I think about a specific fan I know is watching the game, or a friend who’s text their watching the pregame show from a bar, or my husband who just lost a friendly wager with me on time of game.)
Bring the energy. I’m not just talking about excitement, I mean energy. Enough to carry both sides of a conversation. Being on camera and talking to a remote audience is like carrying on a one-sided conversation. You can’t feed off the energy of the crowd. There’s no reaction to things you’re saying, and it feels flat without additional energy.
The solution is to exaggerate your energy level. It feels ridiculous the first several (hundred) times you do it on camera- just ask every broadcast intern – but it comes across as engaged and natural to the remote audience.
Plan ahead and script your exchanges. If you are presenting in a group remember normal flow of dialogue doesn’t work on camera. Talking over someone or stepping on each other’s comments leads to confusion and awkward pauses while regrouping.
On TV there’s a simple solution, scripting and practice. A rundown (think of it like a meeting agenda or outline) is provided to every member of the broadcast before a show. That document clearly indicates who’s talking, what they’re talking about and how long someone will be talking. Cross talk is planned and practiced. That means we know when we’re supposed to joke around for a few seconds and we’ve already practiced, because we don’t talk over each other and miss a cue from our producer.
This might seem like overkill, but it’s necessary for communicating effectively on camera and to a remote audience. If you’re presenting in a group, script the presentation, include the length of time someone should be talking, (Is it two minutes or 10 minutes?) and practice the transition or cross talk between presenters.
Side note: scripting material doesn’t make it less effective and it doesn’t make it less genuine. Broadcasters, actors, comics and presenters deliver scripted material all the time. It’s the way you deliver the material that determines the message gets delivered. The more practice and the familiarity you have the easier it is be warm, genuine and personable instead of sounding rehearsed.
Last thing, you don't have to figure this out all on your own. It's helpful to get real-time feedback and find a safe space to try new things and that's why I created a semi-private coaching group called Camera Ready. All it takes is three 1-hour sessions delivered in one week for you to be more comfortable and confident on camera. If you want private 1-on-1 coaching send me an email: [email protected] and I'll get you set up.