On-camera Skills. How to Be Engaging and Genuine on Video

Here’s the thing, you might be great on stage in front of an audience, but being able to speak to a live audience does not necessarily mean you will come across well on video and vice versa.

In my 20+ years of experience working in front of and behind the camera, my experience has been that people new to video presenting come across very differently on camera than they do in the flesh. I’ve seen it occur at various skill levels.

Even confident speakers who are used to presenting on stage (or in front of a room) don’t realize that in order to be effective, engaging, and compelling on-screen, they need to adapt their physical presentation style to suit the technical requirements and subtle nuances of the video/screen medium.


Often, I’ll work with professional stage presenters eager to incorporate more thought-leadership videos into their marketing mix. They try to use old-school public speaking techniques on-screen, but their stage mannerisms upstage them on video.

Many are oblivious to the fact that their larger-than-life stage persona can come across as an inauthentic caricature on-screen. Because they haven’t modified their approach for the subtleties of the screen, they often end up inadvertently reducing the effectiveness of their video message, their credibility, thought leadership, and authority.

“In this context; presenting on stage is like a Surgeon operating with a scalpel. Presenting on video is like a Surgeon operating with a laser.” 

Stage Presenting vs. Video Presenting

I’ve seen stage presenters try to use similar techniques to theater actors.  Some speak in exaggerated tones. Some use big hand gestures, with lots of finger-pointing and arm waving. Some pause for dramatic effect. Some exaggerate their facial expressions.

It’s the style of presenting and public speaking that you see with preachers, politicians, and motivational speakers on stage. It might be ideal for speaking to a live audience, but on video, where you are speaking direct-to-camera, it can come across as unbelievable and contrived.

It’s like tuning into a movie only to discover you’re watching B-grade acting in a B-grade film. Within the first few seconds, you instinctively know the film is going to be a poor investment of your time. Something about the acting doesn’t gell or sit right with you. Your unconscious B.S. detector has been triggered.

 If it doesn’t feel real – your audience will stop watching  

Adopt a Modified Approach

Presenting in an effective, compelling way on video requires a modified approach. It requires the presenter to “pull people in” (screen presence), whereas stage presenting requires the presenter to “push out to the audience.”

Think of it as being the difference between broadway theater-style acting vs film acting. Theater actors need to project their voices loudly so the people at the back of the theater can hear. They use exaggerated facial expressions and expansive body movements so everyone in the audience can see what they are trying to emotionally and physically convey.

None of this is required for the lens.

Therein lies the problem for many stage presenters. Note: You’re not alone. This is also a common challenge for professional theater actors making the cross-over from stage to film and vice-versa for screen actors. Each needs to learn and unlearn their habits and modify their performance to suit the medium.

“How” you deliver your message can be more important to the viewer than the message itself.

No Sensory Feedback

Remember that while humans have evolved as a species over the last two to three million years, spoken language is thought to be a relatively recent invention, only tens of thousands of years old.

As a result, we have evolved to be more proficient at communicating non-verbally. However, the camera does not provide the sensory feedback we have become accustomed to over generations of human evolution. This means that when we operate within the confines of the video frame, our non-verbal communication can be enhanced in a negative or positive way on-screen.

The camera is inanimate. It 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 normally experience in our everyday dealings with other human beings.

Anyone can put themselves on video. But not everyone is watchable.
Being able to present effectively on video, has become a vital skill for the business leaders of tomorrow. 

We Mirror What We See 

At the time of writing research findings suggest that we tend to mirror or copy what we see (a human survival mechanism), attributed to firing mirror neurons in the brain.

The trouble with this is that untrained people who spend a considerable amount of time in front of the video lens often begin to match what the inanimate camera is doing. Their energy levels drop, and along with it their self-expression and natural animation.

The result is either a tense, wooden, lackluster delivery or the complete opposite an overcooked, forced screen presence. Needless to say, none of this makes for an engaging viewing experience.

The Body Revels Tells the Truth of the Moment

Without realizing it, your body language can undermine your screen presence and authority. For example, poor, slumped posture, turtle necking, and shallow breathing can make you and your message visually register as less trustworthy to your viewer.

Physical mannerisms like an involuntary elbow flare each time the presenter speaks about pricing can be a visual red flag. Likewise, shifty, sporadic eye-movement and incongruent body language with the verbal messaging can unconsciously provoke skepticism and distrust in your intended viewer.


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Why Fake Won’t Work On-screen. Video is Intimate – Stage is not

Unfortunately, what works well on stage does not come across well on video, because the video camera sees things differently than the human eye.

Within the confines of the camera frame everything on-screen appears magnified. When framed in a medium or close-up shot, if you incorporate big broad theatrical gestures, large body movements, exaggerated facial expressions, and loud speech into your video presentations, you’ll come across as inauthentic and overcooked on video.

In film, acting industry speak it’s called “over-acting” or “hamming it up” for the lens.

Faking any emotion or expression on-camera will make your delivery unbelievable. It’s death to the credibility of your sales message, and you will lose the attention of your audience.

If you are filmed at a distance in a full-length shot, then you may be able to get away with some of these “old-school” techniques – but generally, you won’t – so don’t!

 Unfortunately, what works well on stage, does not translate well within the confines of the video frame  

The Camera Represents Your Viewer

Remember, the viewer of your video presentations is only an arm’s length away from you on their viewing device.  This is an intimate distance, and very different compared to if you were presenting to a live audience.

Under the scrutiny of the camera lens, your viewer can detect every little facial nuance, twitch, or eye glint. Their B.S. detectors will be more finely tuned.

 Remember, the viewer of your video presentation is only an arm’s length away from you on their viewing device 

The following tips should help you, whether you’re just starting out or if you are a seasoned pro who wants to make the cross-over to video.

 Avoid the Old School Stage Presenter Effect 

1. No Need to Shout at the Lens

  • Being shouted at by someone in a video presentation can be downright unsettling. As in life, most people don’t like it and will tune you out or won’t stick around long enough to hear what you have to say
    • Instead, speak as if your viewer is standing 4 feet away from you, and let the microphone do its job.

2. Avoid the “One-Note” Emotional Tone

  • This is where your entire video presentation is devoid of any emotional range
    • To be effective on-screen, you must make the audience see the emotions behind your words in a genuine way

3. Watch those Fingers

  • Most people don’t like having fingers pointed at them
    • It can make the viewer feel as though they’re being talked down to (i.e. parent/child roles)
    • It can be visually distracting and dilute the impact of your message
    • Its often associated with aggressive behavior and can create unconscious tension in the viewer
    • Golden rule: If it doesn’t work in life, don’t do it on camera.

4. Avoid big Hand Movements

  • They tend not to fit within the boundaries of the camera frame
    • It can be distracting to your viewer to have your hands appear from out of nowhere on the screen
    • Keep them visible, or out of the frame – make the choice
    • Use specific gestures to highlight a point, but avoid flapping your arms and hands about
  • Sporadic movement within the camera frame will draw the eye and distract the viewer away from your message
    • On-camera movement or lack thereof visually underscores that something is important
    • As a result, your message will deflate like a balloon and lose its impact if there is too much sporadic movement on-screen
    • If you want to use hand gestures, learn how to cheat them correctly towards the lens and use movement strategically.

5. Ditch Long Pauses

  • Long pauses slow the pace of your video down
  • Pauses work well with stage presenting because they draw people in. But they need to be used strategically on video
    • Often times video viewers want their information delivered in fast, succinct chunks
    • Most viewers won’t have the patience to grant you the luxury of watching you search for your thoughts every few seconds
  • Speaking too slowly or in a labored way on video can feel like an eternity for the viewer (just like a slow-loading website). In this fast-paced, attention-deficit world, most viewers simply won’t stick around to hear you out.

6. “Overactive Eyebrows” or Exaggerated Facial Expressions

  • Can look and feel like a pantomime
    • Instead, you need to “draw the viewer in” and not overly indicate your emotions.  (This is an advanced screen technique. Contact me for coaching on this)
  • To command attention on-screen practice stillness (not to be confused with stiffness)
    • Stillness requires a level of quiet alertness, focus, and present-moment awareness.

 Red-Flag Your Energy Levels 

When you are tired it’ll show on-screen.

Sometimes masked feelings like irritation, and frustration can contribute to low energy levels. Either way, they will negatively impact your screen presence.

The key is to stay consciously aware of your energy levels throughout your video filming sessions and to make a note of your energy dips between takes.

Here are some red flags that you need to take a break:

Cognitive Strain Includes:

  • Feeling extremely drained after being on-camera
  • Feeling frustrated, or irritated
  • Blanking on words or ideas mid-sentence

Physical Strain Includes:

My golden rule: If you are not feeling it – your audience won’t be feeling it or you either. Faking it is a mistake for authentic on-camera communication

 How to Be Engaging On-screen 

    • Keep your energy levels up
    • See your viewer in your minds-eye and visualize having an intimate conversation with them, one-on-one
    • Understand how the camera sees you and how to work with your expressive features on-camera. Manage your eye-contact well with the lens (your viewer)
    • Convey your emotions with subtle gestures and heartfelt facial expressions
      • Never, fake it on-screen. Your micro-expressions will give you away (within the confines of the frame) and your audience will sense that something is off
      • My golden rule: If you are not feeling it – your audience won’t be feeling it either. Faking it until you make it is a misnomer for authentic on-camera work

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.

Here’s to your camera-ready presence.





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