As documented in Joe Navarro’s excellent book, What every BODY is saying, we developed these threat responses as early humans to help us to avoid being detected and eaten by large carnivores that preyed on us as early humans.
In our modern society, when people feel threatened, they still react in exactly the same manner our ancestors did a million years ago. They can’t help it, the threat response happens at a subconscious level, driven by the limbic system, the primitive part of our brains.
In our modern society, when people feel threatened, they still react in exactly the same manner as our ancestors did a million years ago
Presenting on video is obviously not as threatening as confronting a lion in the grass, but our brains still use subtle modifications of these primitive responses for lower level threats. In my work with clients, I see many people who are put in front of the video camera for the first time exhibit some or all of the “Freeze > Flight > Fight” responses, and they occur at a subconscious level without them even realizing it.
For example, a subtle manifestation of the desire to protect ourselves by “freezing” is exhibited when people try to make themselves look smaller by taking up as little space as possible and restricting their breathing and movements. As you can imagine, this is not the best way to give a powerful video presentation!
Don’t be a Shrinking Violet
I see this happen often in people who are new to presenting on video. They are hunched over and project very little social energy. They seem unsure of themselves and come across as “flat” or “wooden” in their delivery.
As an FBI investigator, Navarro writes that people being questioned about a crime will often keep very still, hold onto armrests, interlock their feet behind the chair legs, and “freeze” that position for an inordinate period of time. Then from time to time, they will use their hands to touch, rub or stroke themselves in an effort to reassure themselves. These “pacifying behaviors” are subtle manifestations of the “freeze” response, and usually, happen at a subconscious level without the person realizing they are doing it.
Do you use any of these pacifying behaviors in your own video presentations?
Do you use any of these pacifying behaviors in your own video presentations? Watch your playback and check. Also note that most public officials, spokespeople, TV presenters, or interviewers have been trained to avoid such things when addressing their audience. Very rarely will you ever see them use pacifying mannerisms on-screen.
Your Feet Don’t Lie
The “flight” response also manifests itself in subtle ways. A person will subconsciously signal their desire to flee without even realizing that they are doing it. They will try to “distance” themselves from the threat (which in this case is the video camera), by leaning away or turning their feet toward the exit. Or they try to block the threat by placing objects in front of themselves i.e. cups, laptops, desks etc. The feet are a dead giveaway. If you are hosting video interviews, watch where your interviewee’s feet are pointing, and it will give you a good idea of where they subconsciously would rather be.
The “fight” response is the brain’s last resort. When a person is confronted by a perceived threat, and they cannot avoid detection by freezing, and cannot save themselves by fleeing, the only alternative left is to fight. In our evolution as a species, we along with other mammals developed the strategy of turning our fear into rage. We scream, kick and punch in an effort to ward off predators.
A subtle manifestation of the “fight” response is to use non-physical means like an aggressive posture; jaw jutting forward, chest puffed out, and arms and legs spread wide in an effort to appear bigger and leaning in to invade someone’s personal space.
Aggressive communication is a modern manifestation of the “fight” response; being argumentative, sarcastic, or using insults and put-downs in an effort to make themselves feel superior. This type of masking behavior stems from a deep sense of insecurity and fear.
“What you do speaks so loud…I cannot hear what you say”–Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I first start working with clients, I ask them to send me examples of previous video presentations they have recorded. I begin by watching them with the volume muted. This enables me to pick up their subconscious messages before I listen to their words. There are a great many things I learn during this process that I can use to help them deliver more effective video presentations. One of the things I look for are subtle signs of the “Freeze > Flight > Fight” response.
For my recommendations on how to overcome your fear and nerves, see my previous article: 6 Tips to Master Your Nerves on Video.