On-camera Cheating Techniques to Look Good on Video

Great film directors know how to take an actor’s natural charisma and “direct” them to make sure their every glance and gesture connects with the viewing audience. Everything you see on-screen (within the confines of the camera frame) serves a purpose and is intentional.

In technical terms, it’s called “cheating”. Because the camera sees things differently to how we view things in real life, a director might ask an actor to “cheat” a glance, hand gesture, or body position in a way that feels unnatural. However for the viewer, these “cheats” look perfectly natural, because remember, all they see is what is captured within the confines of the camera frame.

What works well in normal situations may not come across well on video camera

On-camera Cheating Techniques

Cheat Your Hands Up

Hold your props or products up high so they are in the frame, but make sure that they don’t come between you and the camera i.e. block your face or break your eye-line with the lens. 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. Do not move your hands in and out of frame! Great video presenters use very controlled hand gestures within the frame – or they keep their hands completely out of the shot (note: if you keep your hands out of shot then avoid jiggling them – because your viewer cannot see your hands, the jiggling movement will look a little odd on-screen – like there is a party-in-your-pants-kind-of-thing).

Cheating your hands up is important, but keep your hand movements small and within the boundaries of the frame. As per my article “Are you an old school dinosaur?” What works well in a normal “everyday” setting or situation may not come across well on video.

Cheat – keep your hands above your belt

Play Towards the Camera

Avoid turning your back on the audience. Cheating your body toward the camera is another skill used by great video presenters. They have learned the skill of keeping their body open and facing forward toward the camera, even while writing on a whiteboard that is positioned behind them. Yes, it can be done! They “play” all their action towards the camera lens. The rule is if the camera lens cannot see you or your expressions, then your audience won’t be able to either.

Keep Your Verbal Delivery Snappy

Pausing for effect can work well in a stage / live presentation, but when presenting on video you need to keep your viewers engaged. Long pauses or labored delivery can frustrate or test your viewer’s patience level. Watch a few big brand TV commercials (i.e. Proctor & Gamble)  to get an idea of pace.

Nothing screams B-grade amateur more than “eyebrow acting”

No Eyebrow Acting aka Over Emoting

Use facial expressions and voice inflection to communicate your emotions, but don’t pull exaggerated faces. In acting terms, nothing screams B-grade amateur more than “eyebrow acting”. The camera captures every nuance, twitch, eye glint (in a close-up), so learn to communicate through your eyes. You can do this by knowing what you are going to say, having a strong point of view, and matching your emotion to the messages (i.e. put your heart into it) – that is enough.

The old school dinosaur way of presenting does not work for video. Leave the stage presenting and theatrics for the stage. Viewers are savvy and their “BS” detectors are sharp – they will see right through any stagey antics or faked expressions.

Chin Up

Keep your head and chin level. The moment you drop your chin into your chest while speaking or begin to slouch or relax – your onscreen presence and energy will be negatively impacted. Instead, hold the mental image of remaining “alert” on-camera rather than “relax” on-camera. You’ll notice a big difference with this little adjustment.

Move – then Speak

If you want to move around, place marks on the floor to make sure you stand/stop in the right place for lighting and camera (called “hitting your marks”). If you need to move around – move first (you will always grab your viewer’s attention with movement) and then start speaking. If you speak then move, your movement will upstage your message. To highlight a point, pause or stop your movement.

Let’s get Cozy

If you are appearing on camera with someone else, be prepared to stand much closer to them than you normally would in real life – almost uncomfortably close! You may also be asked to maintain your eye line in a certain direction (this is common in interviews) – where you can be asked by the director to look at a different place than where the other person actually is.

Stop the Fidget

If you are not gesturing on purpose in a way that is congruent with your message, then keep those pinkies still. Avoid touching your face, scratching, itching, rubbing, or hand clasping and fiddling with objects (often heighten with on-camera nerves). If seated, don’t swivel or rock in your chair. Keep your body relatively still. When standing – avoid rocking from side to side or shifting your body weight as you talk. On-screen movement catches the viewer’s eye – random or anxiety driven movement can be highly distracting to your viewer.

Learn Your Lines

Know your content well. Otherwise a common glazed over facial expression will occur as you try to recall your lines, and the audience will sense you are not really connecting with them. I don’t buy it when people use an autocue either. Plan what you want to say, learn your material well enough that you can start over again from any point in your script, and then “say what you mean – and mean what you say!”*

*Quote: Sanford Meisner



  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.

    • 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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