How many of us ever wanted to speak in public? Or ever thought we’d have to engage in public speaking? The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, which even has its own name (glossophobia), affects some 73% of the population. (I personally think that percentage is higher.) The underlying fear is of judgment or negative evaluation by others. And the bottom line is that, except for those few of us who sought the spotlight in either Hollywood (my sister) or in front of a jury (me), most of us would rather die than present in a public forum. Psychology Today’s Jerry Seinfeld put it this way:
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
Then guess what happened?! COVID-19 came along and now, almost every one of us speaks on camera nearly every day.
So what can we do to increase our comfort with speaking on camera? Put another way, how can we reduce our fear of being negatively judged by others? Let me share some of the tips I’ve gathered over five years of speaking in front of the camera.
First things first. Everyone asks me “How do you manage to look so good?” in front of the video cam, and it’s no secret that, the better you look, the more confident you’ll feel. While I’m always flattered by the question, anyone can do it. There are several solutions that work together to create a more flattering look.
Raise Your Monitor
Start by raising your monitor. Get yourself a pedestal for your computer. The monitor camera lens should be at eye level anyway to prevent neck pain and, at that level, you’re not looking down at the camera, which makes us all look bad (jowls, anyone?).
Buy yourself one of the ten-inch ring lights from Amazon. $30. This one comes on a tripod that expands to 4” tall. Mine sits on the kitchen table right behind and above my monitor. But you can also mount your cell phone in the middle of it and record or Zoom with that. (This one comes with a cute little wireless remote shutter controller.)
Avoid back-lighting (i.e. no bright windows directly behind you). In fact, if you can’t use a virtual background, make sure that what we do see behind you isn’t terribly busy, but it shouldn’t be too distracting, either, with a single object, for instance.
Ring lights usually come with a choice of lighting. Play with it. I use the one that’s the warmest, called “yellow.” You might prefer a cooler setting, or perhaps one that is brighter. To each his/her own.
Enhance Your Appearance
Zoom, at least, has a facial enhancement feature that will take ten years off your face. You don’t really think I look that good, do you?! In Zoom, go to:
- Settings; then
- Video; then
- My Video; then
- Touch Up My Appearance.
Ensure that you are visible down to at least your mid-chest. More looks too far away, and closer makes you a “floating head.” Don’t give yourself too much head room, either, so frame your head so it’s more above center than at center of the screen.
If you wear glasses, find the angle at which the ring light (or any other light) does not glare off your lenses. Your audience must be able to see your eyes, as they would )most of the time, at least) in person. So run a test recording and keep an eye on that as you speak (pun intended); you may find that some head movements accentuate glare, so you’ll want to eliminate that problem by rearranging your ring light, monitor, camera, etc. until you are able to avoid any glare entirely.
It’s funny; I often present on The Power of Body Language. Certainly, in person, body language is critical. As collaborative professionals especially, we know that the key to success in any relationship lies in one’s ability to communicate well. And, as I explain to my clients at least once during any divorce process, it’s not the words you use but your nonverbal cues that speak the loudest. 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
The movements that constitute body language and facial expression are controlled by the limbic brain; they often occur subconsciously – we make them without even thinking about it. Similarly, our minds read the body language and facial expressions of others, without our having to think about it, without even being aware that we are assessing them.
We can, of course, learn to deliberately read body language as well as adjust our own body movements and facial expressions so as to enhance the message we communicate to others.
Having said that, how can body language still be important on camera? When just your upper chest and face are visible?
Eyes – The eyes are the windows to the soul. ‘Nuff said.
Face – So much information can be conveyed through the face alone. Consider someone who is happy, sad, angry, excited, afraid, despondent, astonished, startled, shocked. . . . You can picture my “someone” without knowing anything more about who it is. The words themselves evoke expressions on the human face in your mind.
Smile – One of the most common indicators of emotion is the smile; it is often faked. A genuine smile will engage the whole face.
Head – Head movements are also crucial clues. Consider that we (in the U.S., at least) convey assent with a nod and refusal with a head shake. But a fast nod might convey understanding and impatience, while a slow nod might mean interested agreement and encouragement to continue. A head tilt also tells us something, depending on its direction, speed, and connection with whatever the eyes and mouth are doing at the same time.
So be expressive. We are naturally, but we tend to dumb it down in front of the camera, We should not. Our audience doesn’t get the benefit of our whole body language, because they’re limited to what they can actually see: the upper chest, arms, and face. Face is a lot, so don’t be afraid to use it. And I do use my hands, even when sitting at my computer, because the gestures, even if they themselves aren’t seen, are suggested by the related upper body and head movements.
Laugh a lot. At your stories, at yourself, at your audience. Doesn’t matter. Laughter works and you should let it flow from you, even when talking substance about collaborative issues.
I have some pointers here, too. (Years ago, my sister, who appears in film and on camera all the time, took me in hand and I’m happy to share what I learned from her.) Even guys should consider whether a little “pancake” (i.e. powder) would help reduce the glare off the nose, the forehead, or, in some cases, the top of the head. Something as inexpensive, easy to acquire, and simple to apply as Mac Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation, which comes in a variety of shades, will take care of that.
And even if you never wear blush in real life, consider whether a little color makes a lot of sense now. Try a stick that just provides “tint.” You can use this one on your lips, as well, unless you tend to stronger colors in real life, in which case, do the same on camera. Again, it only takes a second to apply and can make a real difference in, not just your on-camera appearance, but also your self-confidence.
Last, but far from least, dress professionally, even when you’re sitting in your dining room. The new witticism “No Pants Required” is far from true. Working from home does not permit us to relax the rules of professional attire. “Dressing for Success” doesn’t just send the message to those whom we meet that we are professionals, it also encourages us to behave to that high standard.
And more than anything else, always remember that you are far more critical of yourself than we are.