On-Camera Skills Series. 5 Pro-Tips for Video Presenters 

If the Video Lens Can’t See it – It Simply DID NOT Happen

Talented performance-driven film directors know how to take an actor’s natural charisma and “direct” them to make sure that their every glance and gesture connects with the lens (the audience). This ensures that the viewing audience feels connected and engaged with the character and compelled enough to keep watching.

It also emotionally punctuates a scene, helping the audience unconsciously click onto what’s important, who they should focus on, and pay attention to during that moment onscreen.


via GIPHY

But, no matter how powerful and thrilling the performance is during the “Take” if the camera can not see it – it simply did not happen.

This can be devasting to inexperienced actors simply because they failed to direct their energy and performance toward the lens. As a result, the scene will need to be reset and reshot. The actor has now piled on unnecessary performance pressure to recreate the exact physical action, energy, and emotion for continuity, etc.  Not to mention holding up production and possibly driving up unnecessary costs for the production team.

No one wants this kind of situation on a film set.

And the same could be said for your own video creation process.

 What works well in a real-world setting, does not often register favorably on video 

Lost in Translation

Everything you see on-screen (within the confines of the camera frame) serves a purpose for that moment of screen time.

It is intended to drive the scene forward, to create deeper visual meaning, and make the audience feel something for the character or situation, etc.

However, what looks good to the human eye, or seems natural to do in real-life, often does not visually translate well on-screen. If it does not meet the technical demands of the video medium.

It’s in these moments that you may need to “cheat”.

 

Technically. You DO have Permission to Cheat

The camera sees things differently from how we view things in real life. When working with actors, a film director might ask the talent to “cheat” a glance, hand gesture, or body position toward the camera lens.

This is called a “technical cheat”.

To the actor performing the cheat, it will feel completely unnatural. However, to the audience, these “technical cheats” look natural within the confines of the camera frame. And as you have learned, if the lens cannot see your action, nor can your viewer. It becomes a lost shot.


via GIPHY

TV show example: 

Picture this scenario. I’m on location filming an emotionally conflicted scene where my Character is being pressured by her estranged husband to get an abortion.

We are shooting with a single camera set-up and it’s an over-the-shoulder shot (my partner is still visible in the frame with their back to the camera). It’s time to shoot my dialogue.

The director asks me to “cheat my eyes towards the lens” and to not look directly at my co-stars’ face as I perform my defiant scene. Because of the “technical cheat” – I’m not able to see the suffering and pain in my scene partners’ eyes, etc.

I performed the whole emotional scene looking at the far edge of his right eye (the one closest to the lens).

This angled my face more towards the camera – Although it went against my natural instinct I remember thinking, “This feels so unnatural”. It felt awkward looking past another human beings face to only focus on a single point, the corner of his eye.

However, this “cheat” registered so much better on-screen and made for a better viewing experience for the audience.

The shot was designed to allow the viewer to enter the emotional world of my character, and become part of my Character’s inner conflict and struggle. Psychologically the viewer was right there with me in the frame.

 Video Presenter Pro-techniques  

The next time you are in front of the camera, try out some of these on-camera pro-presenter techniques in your own video presentations:

1. Don’t Play Below the Belt

Great video presenters use very controlled hand gestures within the frame, or they keep their hands completely out of the shot.

If you keep your hands out of the frame

    • Avoid jiggling or fiddling with them in your lap. Since your viewer cannot see your hands, the excessive movement will look odd on-screen

Holding or demoing products 

    • Hold your products up high so they are in the frame
    • Likewise, elevate your hand gestures higher than you normally would (i.e. at chest level). It will feel unnatural at first but it will serve you better on screen
    • Stay in-bounds – visualize an inverted triangle that runs across your chest or shoulder line and points down towards your navel. This is your in-bounds zone. Anything that moves out of this zone can look flappy and uncoordinated onscreen

Be specific

    • Hands are the first place to show tension – avoid wringing or clasping or clenching your hands
    • Avoid randomly flashing or moving your hands in and out of the frame
    • Non-specific movement onscreen can upstage your message and quickly tire or irritate your viewer
    • Avoid frenetically gesturing with your fingers when speaking. Again highly distracting and visually annoying, not only to the viewer but also to the camera lens. It will have a hard time focusing on the moment. The result can be a blurry mess onscreen

Avoid psychological blocks between you and your viewer

    • Ensure your hands don’t come between you and the camera lens
      • They don’t block your face or break your eye-line with the lens
      • Avoid credibility reducers like face or mouth touching

Remember: What works well in a normal “everyday” setting or situation may not come across well on video. So practice cheating your hands up (or not) into the frame. Keep your hand movements small and stay within the boundaries of the frame.


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2. Don’t Turn Your Back

If you are demoing products or performing some form of action. You’ll want to avoid turning your back on the lens (your audience). Instead, keep your body angled toward the lens. This is another skill used by trained actors and presenters. No matter the action or movement, they’ll keep their body open and facing outward. They won’t turn away or reduce their physicality and positive body language. They “play” all their action (intention, energy, focus, etc) at the lens, because they know how important it is for the lens to capture it.

An example of this would be writing on a whiteboard.  You’d keep the front of your body and face pointed towards the lens and connected to the viewer. But your feet may be positioned on profile to the camera, here you’d twist at the waist to keep your body open towards the lens.

 You’ll lose 50% of your communication in the visual medium of video 

3. Avoid Profiles

If the viewer can only see you on your profile you’ll lose 50% of your communication, in the visual medium of video. As with your back, that’s a total dead zone.

Your facial expressions and eye contact are powerful communicators of your intent on-screen.

The rule is: if you cannot see the camera lens, the viewer cannot see your facial expressions. As you have learned, you could be giving the best delivery of your life, but if the camera is filming the back of your head (i.e. whiteboards/screens, etc and failing to correctly position the body) or the side of your face then your viewer will miss the meaning and intent of your message.

Not only that it can create visual tension in the viewer. Filmmakers often use this visual technique to heighten dramatic tension, by obscuring the facial information and intent of the speaker.

In business videos, it can be highly frustrating to watch someone speak on profile for too long:

  1. You’ll create a psychological disconnect
  2. You’ll lose half of your screen presence, connection, and expression and
  3. You’ll reduce the effectiveness of your message, and how it’s received.

Remember:  connection, emotion, and intimacy are transmitted through your facial expressions and eye contact. If these aren’t visible on-screen, most of your intent will be missing from your message.

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4.  The Filming Technicals

Adjust your Camera height

  • Adjust your camera so that it sits level, and just below your eye-line

Head and body position

  • Ensure that the camera angle is neither looking down on you nor looking up at you as this will lessen your impact on-screen
  • 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, but 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.

5. Master Your On-camera Movement

Any large movement you perform in a medium to close frame, (the standard filming size for a talking-head video presentation), will appear exaggerated on-screen (it’s a technical thing).

As discussed excessive movement within the confines of the frame will upstage your delivery and dilute the impact of your key messages every time.

Body Movement to avoid on-screen

  • Some presenters have a distracting habit of bobbing their heads about in the frame. This is a common energy leak and requires better energy management
  • Avoid rocking, back and forth, or constantly shifting your body weight from left to right
  • Slow your movements down so that the camera can track them effectively
  • Keep your gestures “specific” to highlight your key points and avoid any unnecessary/random movement
    • Repetitive movement i.e. head nodding or gesticulation like finger-pointing only draws attention to the mannerism. Your message may become lost on the viewer
    • Stillness, not to be confused with stiffness, will always command attention on-screen
      • Superfluous movement can shift the focus away from what you are saying. It can make you seem weak and nervous or appear unsure of yourself.

If you have a question or you what me to cover a topic for you let me know. 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.

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Cheering you!

2 comments

  1. Sri says:

    Hi Bianca,
    Many thanks for sharing insightful valuable on video presentations. I have read various articles from you and i am a fan. I am not sure if this is the right place to ask but I have to prepare a 90-second video presentation for a B-School application on a certain topic. Besides the content part, i am confused as to how should i present myself in the video:
    1. Since i would be speaking on a topic, is it better to stand up and deliver the 90 second speech or speak while sitting?
    2. Should i include some creativitiy by video editing and adding some clips/ pictures or is it better to keep myself in he frame for the 90-second.
    3. It is given that i have to wear formals, but should i be concerned as to what color shirt i wear and the color of background (walls/hall)where the video is being shot.
    Kindly share some pointers.
    Cheers
    Sri

    • Hello Sri

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I am thrilled that I could help you in some way and really appreciate hearing that you have been following our series – thank you.

      Wow! How exciting for you re: application – ok let me jump in here;

      1. My recommendation to my clients is that where possible stand. Standing with feet comfortably apart is a grounding, powerful, confident stance for the presenter. It looks better on camera, makes clothing sit well (no wrinkling or bunching around the arms and neckline etc), and gives us better breath control. When presenting while seated, we have tendency to “relax” or worse slump or slouch on-camera. Firstly, this does not look good on-screen, secondly our energy drops, and thirdly sitting compresses our solar plexus making breathing tense/shallow which can elevate anxiety.

      2. Since this will be a 90sec “application” video my recommendation would be to keep all eyes on you and avoid adding clips or pictures. If your presentation “cannot” do without the clips (i.e. they reinforce your personal brand, give people reasons to believe you etc) then by all means include them but use them sparingly (nothing longer than 4seconds onscreen). Personally I think that with an “application video” the viewer wants to see, hear and get an impression of the real-life you – not so much of the static imagery. If in doubt, leave it out.

      3. Is there a way you could call the production company or whomever is shooting your video and ask them what you should bring? Otherwise, wear a color that complements your skintone. Also bring several clothing color options to your shoot (just in case) and make sure that they are camera friendly – I’ve written a couple of articles / videos here: https://stebian.com/2012/04/what-not-to-wear-on-video/

      4. Most of all, have lots of fun at your shoot – smile often during your delivery (remember the viewer will feel what you are feeling on-screen). Take your time – the camera will wait. Get in a couple of early nights prior to your shoot (to look refreshed on-camera) and have everything organized. On the day of the shoot, bring your own water – (stay hydrated), make-up, styling options and give yourself plenty of time to arrive. For better vocals avoid consuming dairy products (on the day) and warm yourself up thoroughly.

      All the best with your application Sri – cheering you on!

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