Why do some people sparkle in real life, but get them in front of the video camera and they freeze up like a deer in the headlights? Their confidence drops, and they shrink in stature. Conversely, some people go the opposite way and overcook their performance; speaking louder than normal, using exaggerated facial expressions and gestures (think Jim Carrey in the Ace Ventura movies).
From my many years of experience working in front of the camera as an actor and presenter, as well as working behind the camera evaluating the on-screen performance of thousands of people as part of a casting agency; I can tell you that both of these things are a symptom of the same cause. Quite simply, people get nervous.
Nobody Wants to Look Inadequate on Video
Rest assured, it is completely normal to feel nervous when presenting on video for the first time. It is not natural to talk to an inanimate object like a camera – it is a learned skill. The “cold staring eye” of the camera lens can be very unsettling until you get used to it. The camera doesn’t blink, smile or give you encouraging feedback like a real person does.
When we speak to a real person our mirror neurons (the empathy centers of the brain) cause us to automatically match the moods and expressions of the people we are talking with. However, because you are not getting any human reaction when you are presenting in front of a video camera, people who are new to presenting tend to either stare at the camera with a blank, vacant, bug-eyed expression; or they will over-compensate to make up for the lack of human feedback with exaggerated expressions.
Are you a Zombie?
Most people who feel nervous tend to become self-conscious. It might be because they don’t like how they look. Or they don’t like the way they sound. Or they are not sure how to present themselves effectively to the video camera. As a result, they project very little social energy. They shut down their displays of emotion and come across as “flat” or “wooden” in their delivery.
Or are you More Like Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura?
Other people overcompensate and force their energy. They “chew up the scenery” in a way that makes Jim Carrey look subtle. This approach can look fake and quickly becomes tiresome onscreen because it lacks authenticity or any real connection with the camera. This style may be appropriate if you are a theater actor appearing in a play, or a public speaker presenting on a stage when you need to make sure the people in the back row of the theater can see your facial expression. However, it is not ideal for presenting on video where everything on the screen will be magnified.
Here is my 6 Step Approach to Deal with On-camera Nervousness:
1. Be Prepared
Make sure you have a good script to work off. Learn your content so you know what you need to say, and how you need to say it. See: Don’t Blow it. How to Deliver a Great Video Presentation
The great thing about video presentations is that you are not “in public” until you upload your video. Unless you are being filmed live, you can have practice runs, make mistakes, and film as many takes as you need until you get it right.
2. Hold a Thought
Know your material and have a clear point of view. Have a clear thought or intention in your mind before you push the record button. Getting clear on your intention will bring the right energy to your face and your eyes. Our eyes are our key communicators and will be the first thing your viewers will look at, so make sure they are alive and full of life. See: Presenting to Camera? Avoid these Common Eye Contact Pitfalls. NOTE: If you aren’t feeling it, your audience won’t be either.
3. Avoid Self-Monitoring
The moment you start thinking about how you are coming across, you tend to disengage from your message and your viewer (the camera). By mentally holding a thought and focusing on the intention of your message you won’t have enough mental space to drop into self-conscious thinking. Keep focused on what you want to communicate to the viewer.
4. Take a Break
If you are flubbing your lines or making lots of mistakes, it’s usually a sign that you are rushing or forcing your delivery, or that your energy level is dropping. Stop filming and take a 5-10 min break. Nothing longer or you’ll start to lose the flow.
Never film if you are tired, in a bad mood, sad, angry or upset; unless of course, it is part of your video presentation. Even then, you must ensure that it is well-scripted. Pretending that you are okay on camera (when you are not) generally won’t translate well on screen. Your audience will sense that something is up. It’s mirror neurons! Instead, only film yourself when you are “on” – as in great attitude / refreshed / and excited. See: Look Good on Video. Get Your Beauty Sleep!
5. Work it Off
When you are nervous your body releases cortisone, the “flight or fight” stress hormone. To counter this stress, do something physical to release any stored tension held in the body; especially the jaw, facial muscles, shoulders, neck, hamstrings, and lower back. Do some quick vigorous exercise or stretching. If you want to “Give good face”, make sure you do some eye yoga, and warm up your jaw and facial muscles.
And don’t take yourself so seriously. Tell yourself a joke before you press record to snap out of serious mode and reduce tension. See if you can psychologically transform your nervous energy into excitement and eagerness.
6. Let it Go
Even when you are well prepared, chances are, you are still going to feel nervous. Don’t try to fight it either. As I often tell my clients, “What you resist, persists”. One technique (I learned many years ago) called The Sedona Method can be very helpful. It would take a whole book to explain it fully, but in greatly simplified terms, the 3-part technique is as follows:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in. Focus on how you are feeling inside right now (i.e. fear, anxiety, stress, frustration, anger etc)
- Don’t resist what you are feeling. Instead, allow it to be here. Just know that everything is OK just as it is
- Now, could you allow yourself to let that feeling go? Ask yourself, can I let this feeling of X go. Often you’ll get a “Yes” or a “No” and that’s OK, just keep breathing and repeating “Could I let this go? Will I let this go?”
Talk yourself through this process as many times as you need to, you might feel a “positive click” or hear a “resounding yes” or feel the emotion dissipate just keep repeating the process until you feel calm and centered. A few cycles of this technique will quickly get your energy levels in the right place to deliver a masterful video presentation!