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10 Tips for On-Camera Success


Here are the top 10 things everyone should know about delivering the best performance in a film or video interview or on-camera presentation.

1: Be Conversational

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen repeated over and over again from people delivering a message to the camera is what I call the “author’s” flaw.” People feel as if the camera--and by extension the audience--deserve a formal and precise presentation.  They spend hours writing and massaging the exact words that they will use on camera, then memorize the words, then present them from memory—or worse, read them off of a cue card or teleprompter.

What has been forgotten in this approach is that people do not generally speak in the same voice that they write.  Written messages do require precise wording, perfect grammar, and great construction, however, you would never write a perfect and formal speech before having a conversation with someone, would you?  Therefore, you should never write a precise and formal speech to deliver to camera because your video essentially is a one-way conversation with your viewer, and it should have the same feel as it would if you were in your office talking to that person.

Does this mean you shouldn’t organize your thoughts and message in advance of being on-camera?  Of course not—you will definitely want to know what you want to say, the key points you want to hit, and the logical order you wish to present your points in.  Once you have done the organization, however, you should then do your presentation conversationally, and you should practice doing that BEFORE the camera rolls.

2: Consider Your Audience

Effective communication of any kind, but especially video, requires that your message be tailored to your audience.  If you feel you have multiple audiences you wish to reach, the best approach might be to make multiple messages—each one tailored to a particular audience.  If you follow this approach, each time somebody views your video, they will feel as if the video was made for them, and them alone.

A great example of this concept in action are the series of videos we made for an auto dealership.  Instead of making one video for all of the different components of their business (parts, new car sales, service, etc.) we made individual videos tailored to each location.  Thus, service customers saw one video, and sales customers saw another, and each audience felt like the message was just for them.

When you have a message that is can be tailored to different audiences, we suggest that you do so and make the language, tone, and presentation fit each audience’s particular needs.  Following this simple approach will dramatically improve the success of your on-camera message.
 3: Avoid Third Person and Passive Voice

As we noted in tips one and two, when you make a video, you are generally speaking to one person at a time.  If this is true, then it should sound like it.  Think about videos you have watched and I’m sure you can remember times when a person said, “they” or “them” instead of “you.”  I bet at the time, it made you pause for a moment and stop listening because you suddenly felt as if the video might not be directed toward you, but to some vague and generic mass of people you don’t even know.

The same holds true for passive voice.  You should never hear yourself saying things like, “one should…” or “people have done…” This makes your point seam weak and may even sound as if you are hedging.  Instead use phrases like “I suggest,” or “I have,”, or even “we have…”  Active voice implies personal endorsement of your ideas and conviction.

4: Use Positive and Comfortable Body Language

This is a pretty standard tip, but we’ve added our own important spin on it.  Sit or stand up straight and don’t slouch, but DO NOT appear stiff.  If you naturally slouch a little (as I do), it may be difficult to sit or stand up straight for a long time without appearing stiff.  Sometimes, thinking too much about your body language and posture can make you look stiff—even if you don’t feel like you are.

I have often heard directors say to people, right before the camera rolls, “sit on your hands.”  This is terrible advice.  If you normally talk with your hands, then, by all means, talk with your hands.  Constraining your normal body language will make you feel unnatural, and your performance will reflect that.

The key to good body language is finding that balance between stiff and formal, loose and informal.  Practice your presentation in front of a mirror or using a webcam where you can watch yourself while presenting.  After a while, it will become so natural you will no longer think about it.

5: Choose Your Wardrobe Carefully

Back in the bad old days, the limitations of video cameras dictated a lot of the wardrobe decisions people made.  Today’s video cameras have far fewer limitations, however a few still exist and should be considered.  First off, video cameras still have problems with high-contrast lighting situations.  What this means is that it is best to NOT wear clothing that is significantly brighter than your skin tone—especially white.  Also, do not wear a very light color with a dark jacket.  Video cameras can also have trouble with tight patters and small stripes like herringbone patterns or really small patterns in ties.  Thus, stick to solids or broad stripes.

Even more important than the technical considerations, however is the perception consideration.  Your wardrobe, like everything other you choice you make for your on-camera appearance, should fit your message and your audience; It should complement, not detract from, what you are saying, and present you the way you want to be perceived.  Remember, what people see will be as important as what you say, and if there is a disconnect between what you say and how you look, your audience will tune out.

6: Wear Makeup

There are countless examples of why makeup matters, but the most famous is the story of the Nixon/Kennedy debate in the 1960 election.  It is historical fact that people who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won, while the television audience overwhelmingly said Kennedy won. Why?  Well the simple reason is Kennedy took the makeup, and Nixon did not.  As a result, Kennedy looked tanned and confident, and Nixon looked sweaty and pasty.

If you are being professionally videotaped, the crew will either have a makeup artist on the team, or will have somebody offer to give you some pressed powder or gel.  Most likely, this will be the only makeup you will need or get.  If, however, you are doing your own video, you will need to apply your own makeup before you roll the camera.  We suggest going to a department store makeup counter and asking the professional for what shade of makeup works with your skin tone, then buying pressed powder with a matte finish (make sure it does NOT have mica or any other sparkle in it.)  Powder gels like Lancome Pure Focus are even better, but can be difficult to find and expensive.

7: KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid)

We talked earlier about keeping your message informal and tailoring it to your audience.  Now we are talking about eliminating complexity.  What we have found is that multiple short videos that each contain one to three ideas are far more effective than a long video containing several messages.  This has become even more salient in the online video age.  When was the last time you watched a video longer than 3 minutes online that wasn’t a movie or TV show you purchased?  If you answered, “never,” your are not alone.

Our suggestion is to distill your messages to three simple points, then deliver those points simply and repeat.  If your overall message is longer than three points, break the message into multiple videos.  You will find that your videos will get more views, AND more complete views when crafted in this manner.

8: Look at the Lens Like you are Looking at a Friend

This is one of the simplest things to do that is often overlooked.  If you are delivering your message to the camera, look right AT the camera—not above it, below it, or off to the side.  If you saw Michelle Bachman’s response to the President’s State of the Union Address, then you saw how bad it looks when you talk to the side of the camera.  My guess is that she was looking at a cue card or Powerpoint presentation instead of the camera, but, whatever the reason, it just made her look bad and detracted from what she had to say.

When is NOT looking in the lens OK? It is OK in an interview situation where you are looking at the interviewer.  Other than that, you should be looking directly into the lens.

9: Bridge: Answer the Question you want to Answer, not the Question that was Asked

In interview situations, the interviewer always has an agenda of what he or she wants to talk about.  That agenda may or may NOT coincide with your communications goal.  In cases where it does not coincide with your message, it is your job to make sure that your message is the one that gets heard.

This technique is called bridging and it is what every good communicator does when being interviewed.  For example, if your message is, “The economy is getting better and my firm’s earning are going to reflect that next quarter,” and you are asked, “Why are your firm’s earnings so dismal?”, you should answer the question you wanted to hear, as if that is what was asked.  So, your answer to that question would be something like, “I don’t know about the past, but with the economy improving, we expect to see a dramatic increase in earnings next quarter.”  Before going into an interview, ask to see a list of questions and prepare bridges to the answers you want to give.

10. Be Calm and Well Rested

This seems so logical that it doesn’t even bear mentioning, however I cannot tell you how many times I have come in to put someone on camera and they appear tired and disheveled.  Invariably, I find out that they stayed up late preparing their message, or had trouble sleeping because they felt ill prepared.

Do NOT fall into this trap.  Prepare your message well in advance.  Practice your presentation a few times, then, put it away. Go out to dinner with your spouse or a good friend.  Do something you find relaxing, then get a good night’s sleep.  Worrying too much and over-preparing can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


If you have a big appearance coming up, and want some practice, we can help.  You can come to our Berkeley office for an on-camera training session, or we can come to you.  Contact a Frame x Frame Representative to set something up.