The World Is Watching Video. Are You Camera-Ready?

Video has exploded online.  There were 44 billion views of video content in June 2013 (comScore), and 85% of the US Internet audience consumed online video during the month.  The video giant YouTube says that it currently processes 100  hours of video every minute, and attracts more than 1 billion unique users every month who collectively watch 6 billion hours of video during those 30 days. That’s 50% more than last year.

Websites have been feeling the pressure to include video to keep pace with user expectations, and 70% of them now feature video content.  According to estimates,  1 in 3 shoppers watch product videos as part of the buying process all or most of the time, and conversion rates increase anywhere from the tens to hundreds of percentage points when they do.  Video viewed on mobile devices jumped 300% in 2012, mostly driven by the explosion in tablets and smartphones, and it will explode further as more people around the world join the mobile revolution.

The rapid growth and demand for video, as well as the relative ease of shooting and uploading content online, will have one sure result: More people will end up in front of the camera. Consequently, those people will need techniques and skills that make them credible and presentable to viewers.

If you are an executive,  entrepreneur  or a  spokesperson for your company, you can expect to have opportunities that put you in front of a camera. But are you ready? Do you actually have what it takes to make a good impression?

In most situations, you show up and the shoot begins — there isn’t much of a safety net in terms of direction, so you need to create your own. Knowing what you want to say is part of it, but arguably even more important is how you appear and project yourself with the camera and lights turned on. The audience will be forming opinions of you within seconds.

Whether it’s presenting at an industry conference, communicating live to key stakeholders or pitching a new product, it is all too easy to blow it when you’re inexperienced on-camera. Videos have a habit of living on indefinitely on the Internet. The fluffed line, monotone voice, bad hair, poorly chosen outfit, shiny nose, sweaty upper lip, or just under-prepared content may come to haunt you. As a result you may not be asked back and have to live with your unflattering performance for eternity.  Producers who book guests prefer those who know what they’re doing and understand what’s expected of them.  So, if you want to get booked, or you want to present yourself as someone who is ready to speak to a wider audience, know what’s required and learn how to be your best on-camera self.

So, where to begin?

The good news is that there are very talented people working as stylists, voice coaches and  photographers in associated mediums, such as  commercials, radio and film, who are ready to help you. In my experience, these professionals can genuinely help people look and sound their very best, and it doesn’t take that much time or investment to start building confidence.  As with other smart moves you’ll make in your life, put yourself in the hands of professionals.

I’d suggest starting with your voice. Many of us don’t like the way we look or sound on camera but it’s hard when we first review ourselves to get beyond our face, hair or wardrobe choices.  Watch a video of yourself and listen — how do you sound? Convincing? Authoritative?

Marilyn Pittman is a highly regarded voice coach who trains NPR reporters. She coached me several years ago and cracked me out of what she called my “BBC sing-song rhythm and tone.” She works with lots of executives and thinks that women in particular could be doing more with their voices: “Women business leaders need to sound authoritative, warm, and dynamic. Developing a good speaking voice involves breathing correctly, projecting your voice, varying the rhythm, tempo, pitch, and volume, and knowing how to convey the right tone and meaning of your message.”

Next up, find a wardrobe stylist to help you determine what will make you feel your most confident and empowered self on-camera.  It’s not always easy to determine this for ourselves. The colors and shapes we might like in our “regular”  lives don’t always translate well on camera.  “You’re going to be seen within a square screen and you’ll be sitting against a colored background.  Knowing the framing of the shot and what the background color is going to be will help you determine what to wear, so ask,”  says stylist Chris Aysta. One editor-reporter I hired at CBS shops with a stylist each season to pick up a few pieces to add to her wardrobe that make her feel camera-ready.  She’s often on the news at short notice,  and doesn’t need the added stress of wardrobe selection.

Hair and makeup is an area where many people fall down.  Men typically do very little, or nothing.  Sarah Hyde, a talented professional I’ve worked with recently, has this to say: ”All men need a little color because the camera can wash them out, and a little anti-shine because lights really reflect on the skin.”  She adds, “Given that the women tend to look polished, why shouldn’t men be too?”

For women, there may be a presumption that there will be a hair and makeup professional at their shoot.  Be sure to ask. Typically, online video budgets are low and there isn’t anyone to help you.  When left to themselves the tendency for women who are inexperienced on camera is to do too much.  In truth HD cameras, which most studios now use, can be cruel because they show so much detail.  They love gadgets and hate skin!  The bottom line is that if you’re a regular on-camera you need an HD makeup kit, and to know what should go in it you need to consult with an expert.

Now you’re ready to step out in front of the camera.  Your voice has been trained, your outfit complements the studio background and your hair and makeup is just enough and not too much and it still feels like you. But there is another slew of decisions to make: where to look, to smile or not to smile, to nod or not,  how expansive to be with your gestures?  Non-verbal cues are powerful.  Author Carol Kinsey Goman who I’ve worked with many times offers this statistic: 93% of the message people receive from us has nothing to do with what we actually say.  Learning about the power of non-verbal communication through on-camera training and practice is critical.

Finally there’s the content.  Don’t wing it!  Anticipating questions and knowing what you’re going to say is crucial to your performance and you should prepare your content in advance.  If you’re not prepared, you risk slowing down the entire shoot, or under-delivering if it’s a live broadcast.  Ideally you’ll have a video producer or communications specialist to work with.  Good producers are typically talented writers and understand new concepts readily, and they want to put on a good show.  They should be able to give you an idea of what’s expected, which can help you communicate your ideas more conversationally and succinctly.  If you’re not lucky enough to have a producer, the simplest tip is to read what you’ve prepared out loud to yourself.  You’ll soon know if your content is long-winded and needs to get to the point sooner since you’ll immediately be tired of listening to yourself!  But again, having a producer to work with is preferable.

And that’s it! There’s a lot to master, but as video production people we want to see you do your best. Here’s what we want to see: You’ve worked your content and know how to present yourself on camera; You know what to wear, how you sound and how you look; And you’re comfortable with your non-verbal and well as verbal communication. Now you’re (finally) ready to make not only a good impression, but a lasting impact.

Marianne Wilman is President and Executive Producer of Screen Presence. She is also an online consultant for media, technology and consumer internet companies.