If you are framed in a medium to close-up shot, (a common framing choice for presenter-style videos) your viewer will detect every little nuance, thought-process, facial expression, and emotion.
Presenting to a camera can feel like an artificial, self-conscious experience. You are delivering a message to an inanimate object which feels unnatural at first.
With human interactions, we can get a good read on a person, their energy levels, and their emotional state. If we are in rapport, we can eventually match or lead the person with breathing patterns, vocal tone, and body language. Unfortunately, this does not happen when you stare into the lens of your filming device.
Social norms and cultural conditioning tend to make us want to break off from making sustained eye contact when there is no sensory feedback from the other person. Presenting to a video camera can feel like being stared at by an unblinking stranger. It’s not comfortable.
The camera does not give the sensory feedback we have become accustomed to over countless generations of human evolution. The camera doesn’t blink, smile, speak, gesture, or give you any encouraging signals. Rather, it observes and captures every little facial nuance, thought-process, and emotion with an unblinking intensity that we don’t experience in our day-to-day dealings with human beings.
In previous articles, I’ve covered the common eye contact pitfalls to avoid. In this article, you’ll learn performance techniques that screen professionals use to soften and warm up their eyes before engaging the lens (the viewing audience).
Before you hit record, practice my pre-camera prep routine. Choose whichever exercises work best for you. As long as your eyes feel relaxed, and refreshed – with a natural blink rate you are on the right track.
1. Avoid the Myopic Stare – Soften Your Gaze
We develop a kind of vacant myopic stare for several reasons;
- Strong studio lights
- Feeling stressed
- Physical tension in the face, particularly the forehead
- Concentrating on a challenging task
- Narrowly focused on a single, object (camera lens).
The effect of this tends to make our eyes appear fixed, steely, glazed, or devoid of any spontaneous expression. It strains the eyes unnecessarily. In an attempt to keep our attention focused and directed towards the lens, our eye-contact and on-camera presence can suffer.
Shift your vision from narrow to expansive (1 min exercise)
- Look up or out a window and take in the expansive, vast sky
- Allow your vision to expand. Keep looking up and out. Focus your attention on what you see in your peripheral vision
- Practice this breathing exercise for five slow breathing cycles: touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, inhale for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 2 and follow the exhale with your mind. Repeat 5 times.
Fire up to Calm your Gaze
There can be something calming, reassuring, and hypnotic about looking into the flames of a burning fire. Perhaps it is something we inherited from our ancestors, not only for survival and security but perhaps as a way to relax and soothe the nervous system from fears about creatures that would hunt them at night.
To relax your gaze and soothe your anxieties, light a candle, sit comfortably, and practice the following:
- Keep your forehead relaxed. Imagine your muscles are slowly melting across your forehead and down around your eyes
- Begin by blinking slowly 10 – 15 times.
- Allow your eyelids to feel soft and heavy. This soft blinking rate can help keep the eyes moist, raise circulation, and reduce eye tension
- Concentrate on relaxing the space behind your eyes.
- Keep your breathing slow and deep.
- Gently focus your eyes on the rhythmic flicker of the candle
- Keep blinking slowly, keep relaxing, and letting go with each flicker
When you feel ready, slowly bring yourself back, and say a positive intention (wish/affirmation/mantra) before you blow out your candle flame.
Palming Tension Relief
This is a Tibetan technique to help soothe the optic nerve and calm your entire neurological system
1. With your elbows resting on a table (and with clean hands), vigorously rub your palms together to warm them up
2. Place your palms against your cheeks with your fingers on your eyelids. Don’t press against your eye sockets
3. Your thumbs are positioned near your temples with the rest of your fingers touching and resting along the bridge of your nose
4. Hold this position, and visualize total blackness in your minds-eye
5. Practice this for as long as it feels comfortable or for five slow breathing cycles: touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, inhale for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 2 and follow the exhale with your mind. Repeat 5 times.
2. Demonstrate Empathy With Your Viewers
Imagine your target audience is watching your presentation. See them in your minds-eye. Imagine how they will feel about the message you are presenting. Get emotionally involved in your subject matter and “feel” the content of your message so your facial expressions match your content.
Look with intent into the center of the camera lens as you make your key points. Hold the energy of alert expectation as you engage the lens. It’s as if you are expecting your audience to react or respond.
Remind yourself to “soften” your gaze and remember to blink naturally. Blinking keeps the eyes relaxed and stops them from drying.
3. My 3-Second Rule
Remember the camera stands in for your viewer. So you must maintain friendly consistent eye-contact with the camera lens. If you need to break eye contact with the camera lens, use my 3-second rule. I have found through experience and with client coaching sessions that if “you” the presenter frequently break eye contact, you can appear distracted or disinterested in your audience. It’s like the aggressive networker at a party constantly scanning the room looking for their next target.
Also, you risk losing the viewer’s attention. People mirror what they see. If you are looking away from the lens for more than 3 seconds it’ll distract most people and throw them off your message.
Instead, instruct your brain that what you are doing is important and that you need it to keep focused on your audience.
4. Your Studio Space Ambience
You set the scene for your audience. You also need to set the scene for your mind.
- In your film space use images, symbols, or objects that inspire you. Choose ones that create a felt-sense of expansion, appreciation, or joy. Place them around or near your camera’s set-up, so that it remains visible in your peripheral vision
- Keep your film space clean and clear of any clutter. Remove non-essential items. It is less fatiguing on the eyes and the brain
- If your film space feels heavy and stagnant, open the windows, light in sunlight, burn a candle, or burn some sage. Also sprinkling salt around your space and leaving it overnight can change the vibe of the room. You’ll need to vacuum the following day
- Keep a healthy, flourishing green plant in your film-space. It can bring a sense of calm and peace to the nervous system and soften the eyes
- Check out this article for your on-camera mindset prep
- If you find yourself squinting as you look for the lens on small screen devices. Place a bright-colored adhesive post-it flag near the lens casing. This will help you to quickly re-engage with the lens (without searching for it) if you look away or drop eye-contact.
5. Filming Technicals: Your Camera Height, Head, and Body Position
My filming best practice is to adjust your camera height so that it sits level, just below your eye-line. Make sure the camera angle is NOT looking down on you, nor looking up at you as this will lessen your on-screen impact.
When looking at the camera, ensure that your eye-line meets the height of the camera lens with your face square on. Keep your head neutral and lower your chin slightly. This will help create a more attractive, flattering jawline and on-camera posture. It will also help to keep your throat (vocals) open and shoulders balanced and relaxed.
6. Filming Technicals: Your On-camera Movement
Any movement you perform in a close frame will appear exaggerated on-screen (it’s a technical thing). Some presenters have a distracting habit of bobbing their heads about in the frame. Excessive movement can upstage your delivery and dilute the impact of your key messages especially if you are filmed in a medium to close frame. Its stillness, not stiffness that commands viewer attention on-screen.
It is important to slow down all your movements on-screen so the camera can track them effectively (i.e. they don’t blur on screen). And ensure that you keep your gestures “specific” to highlight your key points and avoid any unnecessary/random movement.
Remember to have fun in front of the camera. It will help keep your presenting style natural and tension free.
If you have a question or you what me to cover a topic for you let me know. I’m always listening!
And, you can always book a time with me to get the tailored support and guidance you need on any of the performance areas covered in this post. See below for details or learn more about my services here.
Established in 2006 Bianca Te Rito, founder of STEBIAN.com provides an exclusive, consulting service helping business thought leaders, speakers, award-winning authors & VIPs productize their thought leadership and present themselves, their products, services, or brand message to their target audience in the most effective way possible on video. Get the tailored expertise from a real-world operator with over 20 years of TV/Film industry experience working in front of and behind the camera. Learn more about our custom offers here.