Video interviews, live-streamed speeches and social media videos are becoming more and more common. What do you need to consider when communicating on camera? Theatre director Paul Bourne has some advice.
Today, we are all movie stars. We continually find ourselves in front of a camera. Whether we are Facetiming loved ones, being video-interviewed for a job, or being filmed in front of a live audience, it’s important to remain clear and connected when communicating on camera.
The camera is your friend, but it can also capture a version of you that might appear a little strange or off-balance. Here are some of the things to think about when you find yourself preparing for the spotlight.
Emphasise your personality
I always advise people to add a ‘little more’ when they are in front of a camera. That could mean being a little more serious, a little warmer or a little more confident. The ‘little more’ means emphasising the chosen aspect of your personality by about ten per cent. Think tactically about which part of your personality you want to move into focus. It will vary depending on the scenario and your audience.
Check out this video where I talk about how to step forward and use your personality to its full extent.
Think positively about being in front of the camera
The camera picks up on a great deal of detail. If you do start to twitch, mumble or lose focus, the camera will pick it up and multiply it. You have to want to be in front of the camera, to appear confident, energetic and engaging. Before you start recording, think 'I love this – I can make the camera my friend'.
Frame your narrative
'Framing' is essentially a technique for structuring your thoughts. A simple way of framing might be to structure what you are trying to say into past, present and future. For example, if you wanted to talk about how you created a positive change, you could explain how things were before the change, how they are now, and how they will be in the future. Another way of framing could be to talk about the problems that exist, followed by the solutions and the benefits.
For each frame, think about three or four points you wish to make. As the subject comes up, think of those frames and it will be easier to recall the content. Defining the frames of the story will help you remember the core content and give the story a natural quality. Instead of searching for lines or specific sentences, you are recalling general aspects of the structure.
Take a look at this speech. It looks like I am improvising, but I had frames of the story that I knew I was going use. I establish one story, but I don’t close it, I keep it open so that I can come back to it.
Be bold. Be the hero.
When I speak on camera, I put forward the 'heroic' version of myself. I’ve structured what I am saying and, most importantly, I’ve thought about who I want to be. Paul the hero knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. This doesn’t always mean being forceful. I often shift into a softer voice and ask some open questions, but it is always done with purpose and intent.
Think about your body language
I use my hands a lot when I’m speaking, even in interviews. But be aware of how much you are moving as too much can be distracting for your audience. If you have a lapel mic, moving too much is also likely to distort the sound.
On the other hand, there’s a danger of moving too little, which can stiffen the body, reduce your energy and mean that you are less engaging to your audience.
Find a balance. You need a good energy level to appear confident and communicate your messages effectively. Record yourself before your speech or interview to test it. Ask yourself: 'What does my body language communicate?' Think about how much you are smiling and what your hands and eyes are doing.
Speak clearly, and don’t speak too fast
Communicating with high energy is important to engage your audience, but don’t get carried away. You risk being misunderstood if you speak too loudly or too quickly. Remember, you are speaking into a microphone when you are on camera, so use your natural speaking voice.
You can manage the pace of your speech through controlled breathing. Take deep breaths before you go live and continue to breathe in a controlled manner throughout your time on camera. If you find yourself breathing or talking too quickly, take a deep breath and reset.
Practise any difficult words or phrases
Before you start an interview or speech, make sure you have practised anything you might find difficult to pronounce. You could also have those words or phrases to hand on cue cards. This will make sure that you don’t stumble and disturb the rhythm of your speech.
If you are reading from an autocue, make sure you read it in advance and annotate it where possible. It’s good to think about where you want to pause and which words you want to emphasise. Reading from an autocue is a specialised skill, but the key to it is to practise!
Be prepared… for anything
You should prepare for any questions that your audience might ask, but you also need to prepare for any unexpected questions or topics. Don’t try to answer a question with a prepared answer that you have written for a completely different question. Be ready to adapt in the moment. Of course, the key to this is to listen to the question.
Take a moment to think about the answer, and frame your thinking before you respond. Think about the problem or the topic they are asking about, and make sure to talk about it in your answer.
It’s all in the eyes
You might be looking at the camera or the interviewer, but the viewer is looking straight into your eyes. Think about your facial expressions, and focus on your eyes in particular.
Your eyes will elicit reactions from your audience. They will feel warm if your eyes convey warmth. They will feel serious if your eyes look serious. Brighten your eyes and the viewer will engage with you.
Think about ‘costume and make-up’
Put a bit of effort into choosing your outfit. You’ll want something that is right for the occasion, but that you also feel comfortable in. Imagine what your audience will see and how you want to come across. Looking the part can help you feel confident in front of the camera.
In terms of make-up, don’t use too much or too little. You want to shine on screen, but not literally. Consider this when you carry out your practice run in front of the camera.
Get the cameraperson’s opinion
If you are 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 come across on camera. You can also ask them to do a short recording before you begin, so that you can see and hear yourself.
Each time you make a recording, take a look at it afterwards and review it. This will develop your personal awareness and allow you to improve your performance for next time.
Practise at home
You will find that all of the tips in this article will come naturally to you with practice. Try practising in front of the mirror at home or record yourself and watch it back. Think about how you are framing your narrative and how your voice sounds.
The best way to deal with nerves is to practise. It is normal to be nervous before speaking on camera, but if you have thought through your material and practised, you have nothing to fear.
Being in front of a camera can be nerve-racking, but it can also be exhilarating. Embrace the opportunity you have been given, and enjoy it.
Paul will be running workshops on communication skills for aspiring policy leaders as part of our Future Leaders Connect programme at Cambridge University this week.
You can join our Future Leaders Connect members and ask your question to a group of world leaders in our live-stream on Monday 23 October, 19:30 UK time. Follow the hashtag #FutureLeadersConnect.