Dispelling the Buzzwords “Be Authentic”. On-camera Mistakes to Avoid

On-camera Struggles

This is a small subset of a Command the Screen video presentation coaching analysis I’ve used when helping clients with their video presentations.

A client named “Alice” (not her real name) wants to share her thought leadership with her client database in a series of weekly videos as part of a marketing campaign.

Alice was new to presenting on video and struggled with her on-camera presence. She was unhappy with her physical appearance (bodyweight), her eye-contact with the lens, and her on-screen delivery. She felt physically uncomfortable and self-conscious going eye-to-eye and toe-toe with the camera and presenting on video.

Overcoming the Fears

In our 1-On-1s we worked through some of Alice’s most pressing fears.  With a few coaching adjustments, coupled with visual production techniques and personalized filming best practices, Alice began to see and experience herself in new creative ways. She learned specific on-camera techniques to emphasize her strengths and downplay her trouble spots. With newfound confidence, she began to command the screen instead of shying away from the lens.

Alice started sharing her messages in a heartfelt, visually compelling way to her target audience, using a variety of persuasive video formats, visual themes, and symbolism. Whether she is live-streaming an impromptu interview or filming sales promos, she now has the skills, peace of mind, and self-confidence to creatively command the screen in any filming situation.

What follows are some other issues we covered in our coaching sessions. Many of these are common with newbies starting out with video. But no matter where you are at on your video creation journey, understanding these universal themes may also benefit you.

Dispelling the Buzzwords “Be Authentic”

How you behave in front of a Courthouse Judge differs from how you behave with your best friends. What does “be authentic” mean anyway? In life, there are many versions of our “real selves”. How you show up depends on the situation, your perception of yourself, your job, your confidence, your motivation, and of course, other people, and the roles they play in that environment. Context is everything.

Depending on the context, we use different verbal and nonverbal cues to broadcast ourselves. What we say, how we say it, our facial expressions, our body language and gestures, the clothes we wear, and how we try to control our environment, all combine to create the desired impression.

In life, it’s a common human tendency to present selected information about ourselves, a process called “impression management”(2). We present using our numerous “selves” to different groups of people in an attempt to control and manipulate what others think about us in order to get our conscious and subconscious needs met. Try it yourself in the Exercise: The Roles that you Play at the end of this post.

In my experience, the generic advice for presenters to “be authentic” is just an empty, meaningless buzzword.

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  Authenticity is often a manufactured construct 

The Authenticity Mask, a Plan to Manipulate the Viewer

Authenticity is often a manufactured construct used by celebrities, gurus, and brands to influence the reactions and buying behaviors of the audience. A common manipulating marketing tactic is the sharing of past traumas, struggles, or “dark night of the soul” stories.

Or there’s the big vulnerable reveals, or the personal triumphs and transformations. The content creators may not be aware of survivorship bias and the psychological impact it can have on the viewing audience.

The touted advice “be authentic” is in itself an agenda to manipulate the audience. The use of “raw and real”, “candid”, “unplugged”, or “behind the scenes” filming styles are often used to make the celebrity, presenter, or brand more relatable and appealing to the target audience. See, I’m just like you! I care about the same values you do!

Going Mainstream

In mainstream advertising and public relations (PR), often the “talent” (actor or model) seem to be “real” people engaged in their environment, oblivious of the presence of the camera.

Their physical characteristics, wardrobe, vocal tone, message, and overall production look and feel are all designed to sell the message or drive the “authentic” agenda. The contrived candidness can make the viewer less conscious of the fact that they are watching a sales or marketing message.

Being Observed can Alter Behavior

When presenting on video, we are “being observed” by the camera and potential audience. The “Observer effect”(1) is a scientific phenomenon that shows the act of observing changes or influences that which is being observed.

When we know we are being watched we behave differently. So when you really think about it, there can be no such thing as authenticity when it comes to being in front of the lens.

When we are being observed by the camera, it can trigger critical self-monitoring thoughts, as well as negative changes in our physiology, which have an impact on our behavior and how we come across on-screen.

From a visual perspective, the closest you could get to “being authentic” is the REAL YOU that rolls out of bed in the morning, messy in all of your morning glory, with hair fairies, and early morning breath, and totally unaware that you are being filmed by a camera.

Obviously, this is probably not the best visual representation to convince, influence, and persuade your audience.

“Within 30 seconds (providing you are compelling and engaging enough for them to be still watching) your viewer has judged your level of intelligence, honesty, competence, friendliness, and confidence. Once they’ve formed this 1st impression, you are stuck with it”

Sure, your hardcore fans may be less forgiving, but those new viewers to your brand and message won’t be. 1st impressions are crucial.

Within 3 to 8 seconds, your viewers have judged your income, level of education, and even your level of success. It’s doubtful that your prospects will want the real, raw, average version of you.

The market does not pay top dollar for average. Rather they’d want and pay for the very best of you. Wouldn’t you?

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Yes! The Camera Does See you Differently

 Huh?… Oh, I didn’t realize that you were so small and short in real life!
You look so much bigger and taller on the TV! 

With that, we need to remember that video is intimate and that the video camera sees you differently.

Video production techniques can make you appear larger than life, or small and insignificant. They can make you look thinner or heavier, tall or short.

They can even make you appear infant-like, or powerful and commanding. Your audience will experience you and form opinions about you that may be very different from how you appear in real life.

Are YOU Enough for the Screen?

Over the years working in casting I’ve auditioned 1000s of people, from professional actors and models to untrained every day “slice-of-life” people. Very commonly, a person’s everyday self does not translate well on-screen.

Our everyday selves can come across as flat and wooden. Or, at the other extreme, people over-emote and force their emotions, facial expressions, and speaking volume. They come across as over-hyped and insincere in their delivery, or what I call hitting a “false note” onscreen. And all they are doing is introducing themselves by saying their name to the video lens!

 Unfortunately, because of this, they lost us (the viewer) at hello! 

This is where the Goldilocks Principle applies for being neither “too hot nor too cold” on-screen. To avoid these common energy extremes you want to discover your middle energy range. My in-house coaching exercise will assist you here.

About those Shouting Moments

When presenting on video you need to modify your delivery style to cater to the technical demands of the camera lens. Everything you do within the frame takes on a greater visual significance and conveys an emotional meaning for your audience.

When we are excited and passionate about our topic our natural tendency is to increase our vocal volume. This is great for presenting on stage for a live audience, and in our face-to-face interactions, but it does not translate so well for on-camera work.

 For a compelling on-camera screen presence, we need to “draw the viewer in” 

Get them to Lean in

We want your viewers to “lean in” to you and your message.

If your vocals are forced where you are shouting or projecting at the camera, it can have a repelling effect on your viewers.

People don’t seem to enjoy being shouted at or talked at. They will often resort to protective behaviors like leaning back, turning away, or tuning the speaker out.

Too much volume can make you come across as boorish or overbearing, reducing your on-camera charisma.

“How” you deliver your message can be more important to the viewer than the message itself. 

Studies in human body motion and interpersonal communication have shown that communication requires the use of all of our human senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). It’s through these senses that we experience and make meaning of the world.

The words we use, our vocal tonality (tempo, pitch volume rhythm, timbre), and our movements and body language all combine to enhance or detract from our communication.

That is why to enhance the meaning and understanding of your message extra care and attention should be paid to the look, sound, and feel of your communications in the video medium.

 Project your energy to the camera lens – not your voice 

Prevent your Message from Falling on Deaf Ears

Key Takeaways

  • You don’t need to project your voice on-camera. This is a common newbie mistake for generating false energy onscreen.
    • Instead, speak as though your target audience is standing 4 feet away from you and trust that your microphone is doing its job
  • Speak to the camera (your viewer) as you would speak to a person whom you respect in a social setting
  • Experiment with your vocal quality.
    • Play with your tone, tempo, and speaking rhythm
  • Pro-tip: it’s better to express enthusiasm by using a slightly quicker pace rather than raising your vocal volume
  • For a commanding presence, the only thing you should project to the lens is your energy (enthusiasm, behavior, specific movement) not your voice (volume).

This is a small subset of the type of initial high-level analysis I provide for my clients. Obviously, there are a number of personalized recommendations that I am not able to share publicly. But hopefully, some of these coaching highlights will have helped you too.

Remember, you can always book a time with me to troubleshoot your video creation or a production challenge. See below for details.



(1) The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect or viewing effect) is where individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.

(2) E Goffman – The Presentation of Self Everyday Life

Exercise: The Roles that you Play on Authenticity

  • List the numerous ways that you alter your behavior over the course of a week?
  • How does your behavior change around people you know vs those you don’t?
    • How does it change around those whom you perceive to have more or less power, wealth, beauty, recognition, fame, success? Or anyone or thing that triggers social or status anxiety in you?
    • Note any affected behavior that you use around others i.e. smile when you don’t want to, appeasing others or wanting approval, wanting to stand out, or be noticed. What strategies do you use? i.e. speak louder, showboat, criticize, one-up, etc. Or perhaps its felt sensations like closing down, avoidance behaviors, hardening, tightening, rearing up or becoming indifferent, etc  
  • Note the different tones of voice, speaking style, and the types of words that you use
  • Note your posture, your breathing, your gestures i.e. small, confined, expansive, closed-off, blocking, etc
  • How much do you open yourself up to rejection, discomfort, separation from the herd?  How much do you march to your own drumbeat –  independent of the good opinion of others, your friends, family, and mainstream, media enculturation?

These are only a few aspects of the many ways we self-present using our numerous “selves”.

Also, think about what would happen if you did not modify your behavior during a situation? What impact would that have on you, your career, family, lifestyle, goals, network, etc?




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creen presence issue.

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