Fake it till You Make it. The Worst Advice for Your Oncamera Presence

“Presenting on stage is like a Surgeon operating with a scalpel.
Presenting on video camera is like a Surgeon operating with a laser.” 


In my 20+ years of experience working in front of and behind the camera, people new to video presenting come across very differently on camera than they do in the flesh. Even confident speakers and presenters who are used to presenting on stage (or in front of a room), don’t know that they need to adapt their physical presentation style to suit the technical requirements and subtle nuances that the video medium demands.

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. I see it a lot with professional speakers/presenters who want to crossover from stage to screen.

Many “big name” speakers aren’t aware of how their stage persona can undermine their video presentations. As a result, they’ve unwittingly decreased their credibility, influence, and authority and failed to bring their best-capable-selves to the screen.

On-camera Presenting Requires a Modified Approach

Presenting on video requires a modified approach, a fact that very few people are aware of. It requires the presenter to “pull people in” (screen presence) whereas stage presenting requires the presenter to “push out to the audience.”  Therein lies the problem for many stage presenters.  Note: this is also a common challenge for theater actors making the cross-over to film and vice-versa for screen actors crossing over to the theater stage. Each needs to learn and unlearn or modify their performance to suit the medium.

When coaching public speakers I adapt their on-camera delivery style so they can present their message to their target audience, in the most effective way possible and help them avoid the stage vs. screen pitfalls.

 It is an inescapable fact.
“How” you deliver your message can be more important to the viewer than the message itself. 


Micro in-the-Moment but Macro On-screen

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. Our non-verbal communication is enhanced either in a negative or positive way on-screen.

However, the camera does not give the sensory feedback we have become accustomed to over 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 normally experience in our everyday dealings with other human beings.

The trouble with this is that we tend to mirror or copy what we see (a human survival mechanism), attributed to firing mirror neurons in the brain.

So. if you spend a considerable amount of time in front of the camera lens, you’ll eventually begin to match what the camera is doing. Because it doesn’t move or change it’ll have more of an influence on you (the Observer effect).

It’s also why you’ll often feel extremely drained after being on-camera. Unless you stay consciously aware of your energy levels. Your usual, animated, expressive self, your enthusiasm and interactivity will often begin to peter-out. This feeling does not make for a powerful, warm and inviting screen presence.

Your Body talks

Without realizing it, your body language can undermine your screen presence and authority. That involuntary elbow flare-out each time the presenter speaks about pricing, the tentative, sporadic eye-movement or incongruent body language and messaging are all visual tells on-screen that can provoke skepticism, and distrust with your viewers.

Broadway vs Screen

Often I’ll see stage presenters using public speaking techniques in their videos, their stage mannerisms upstage them every time on-screen. Think of it as being the difference between broadway theater style acting vs screen acting.

Theater actors need to project their voices very 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 doing.

None of this is required for the lens.

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Stage Presenting vs. Video Presenting

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

It’s the style of presenting and public speaking that you see with preachers, politicians, and motivational speakers. This style of presenting might be ideal for speaking to a live audience. However, it can seem contrived on video.

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

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

Presenting on stage is like a surgeon operating with a scalpel.  However, presenting on video is like a surgeon operating with a Laser.

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. Big broad gestures, body movements, and facial expressions can come across as “artificial” or inauthentic on video.  When framed in a medium or close-up shot, if you incorporate theatrical gestures or expressions into your video presentations you can appear over-cooked. In film acting, industry-speak its called “over-acting or-faking it” for the lens.

Faking any emotion, or expression on-camera will make your delivery unbelievable. Its death to the credibility of your sales message. And you will lose your audience.

If you are filmed 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  

Avoid the Old School Effect

  • No need to shout. 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
  • Avoid the “one-note” with your emotional tone – where your entire video presentation is devoid of any emotional scale. To be effective on-screen, you must make the audience see the images behind your words
  • Don’t point fingers. Most people don’t like having fingers pointed at them
    • It can make the viewer feel as though they’re being talked down too (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 escalate unconscious tension to the receiver of your message
    • Golden rule: If it doesn’t work in life, don’t do it on camera
  • 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 out of nowhere on the screen (remember: Talladega Nights)
    • Keep them visible or out of the frame – make the choice
    • Use specific gestures to highlight a point. 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. As a result, your message deflates like a balloon and loses its impact
      • If you want to use hand gestures, learn how to cheat them correctly towards the lens
  • Long pauses slow the pace of your video down.
    • Pauses work well with stage presenting because they draw people in. However, video viewers want their information delivered in fast succinct chunks. 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 society most viewers simply won’t stick around to hear you out
  • “Overactive Eyebrows” or exaggerated facial expressions on-screen can look and feel like a pantomime. Rather you need to “pull the viewer in” with your presence.   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.

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

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 “BS” 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 

Apply the following to be Engaging On-screen

  • Keep your energy levels up
  • See your viewer in your minds-eye and visualize having a 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 or more importantly you either. Faking it until you make it is a misnomer for authentic on-camera work
  • Keep your hand movements small and within the boundaries of the camera frame. 


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.







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