The Common Mistake Presenters Make On Video

What is the most common mistake video presenters make? After coaching various clients on video presentations, the most common mistake I see is actually quite simple. As is often the case with many mistakes, it’s also one presenters don’t realize they’re making.

The mistake is that people present on video as if they were in a large face-to-face environment.

It’s easy to see why. It’s only natural to take what we know from the real world and map it on to video. However, presenting in person to a live audience uses a very different space, presence, and medium than presenting to a limited camera frame.

For example, when most people present on camera, they often think they can just talk as they normally would in conversation or a speech. Contrary to popular opinion, presenters should not just press record and start talking. Rambling on about your subject area of choice is not the best use of the video medium. So including the usual “interesting” tangents and sub-topic trails in video presentations is the first mistake.

Yes, it’s important to keep your video presentation conversational, but in video, it’s even more important to be succinct. Video presentations need to be short and to the point in order to keep viewers watching. It needs to be conversational, but tighter.

So make your point and move on. We can always replay your video, if needed.

Another example can be seen in video presenters’ body movement. In front of a live audience, speakers are used to being able to move from one side of the room to the other, and this movement can serve as transitions between points. Even moving toward an audience can serve as a point of emphasis.

In video, however, the camera provides the movement. Depending on your content and message, video presenters remain in the same spot, while the camera varies the shot. For example, the camera may show a wide shot initially, then a close-up, and then  a medium shot. The camera also provides movement with camera angles which provides a dynamic flow.

A third example of this common mistake can be seen in hand gestures. The camera frame is much smaller than a face-to-face room, and gestures need to be visible in the camera frame to be seen. If gestures are jerky movements that come into the camera’s view and then exit just as quickly, this can be very distracting to viewers.

Instead, video presenters need to realize that their presentation space is now smaller and rectangular. Your communication space is limited to the confines of the camera lens. Ask your videographer, “how big is my frame?” to best leverage the camera medium and realize where your gestures should be placed to be seen.

So the next time you need to present on video, keep these tips in mind. Make sure you’re not the one making the “common mistake” . . .

What say you?

What to Wear on Video

Working with online video, the question I get asked most often is, “What should I wear on video?”

That is a great question.

There are several simple things you can do to make sure you look good on-camera, and to ensure your message is communicated without visual distraction. First, you want to wear colors that will “pop” on camera. What this means is that brighter, solid colors come across better on camera, as everything on-screen is more washed out than in real life. Bright, solid colors like blue, burgundy, purple, and reds, for example, work best.

If you’re not using a chroma-key screen or “green screen” backdrop, you can also wear green. If you are presenting in front of a green screen and wearing green, however; you can disappear along with the backdrop in post-production when the special effects to remove the background behind you is replaced with another image.

You also want to steer away from wearing lots of black and white. Using black and white as accent colors in smaller sections of your clothing is workable. Otherwise, wearing mostly black can easily be absorbed by darker backgrounds or furniture, and white clothing reflects light toward the camera.

That said, the general principle of not allowing your clothes to draw attention to themselves still applies. Avoid logos and loud, obvious patterns–wearing only very limited patterns. Watch out for vertical stripes, polka dots or bold plaid, for example. Save those for off-camera fun! Another item to keep an eye on is big, shiny jewelry that may be visually distracting to viewers. I once advised a client during a shoot to remove her watch because as she gestured on-camera, it was so fancy and large that it called our attention away from what she was saying.

Gold necklaces and other sparkle jewelry can also create glares under the lights and on-camera, so watch the screen monitor to catch these and remove them, or playback your video to try to spot them if you’re shooting by yourself. This will help you catch visual distractions, so you don’t have to come back to the set and re-shoot.

Most people don’t often consider that what they wear on-camera can make a difference, but by thinking through a few simple guidelines, you can significantly improve the likelihood that your viewers are watching what you say . . . and NOT what you’re wearing.

What say you?

Using Video to Improve Your Speaking

Twenty-five years ago, we began videotaping our students’ speeches in college public speaking classes. As faculty, we thought that incorporating this technology was fairly advanced for the time and were rather proud of ourselves. Cameras were installed in the ceiling corners of all speech classrooms, cabinets were built with VCR shelves inside each lectern, and video viewing labs were opened to provide opportunities and equipment for students to watch their own recordings. All was well in the world of learning and speaking, that is, with the exception of one slight problem.

Students hated watching themselves on video.

In the world of human experience, I think you will find this to be a common sentiment. There’s something about listening to yourself on the phone, watching yourself in movies, or worse yet, viewing yourself present on video. On the other hand as you may have guessed, there really is no better substitute for seeing yourself as “others see you” – which is the affordance this tool provides. Over time, some students discovered this insight for themselves. If students actually took the time (and it was required) to view their presentation from the lens of an “audience member,” they too, saw strengths and opportunities in their abilities and techniques to which they were not privy before.

I recently participated in a training certification which required each speaker to present a number presentations over the course of several days. Once again, all presentations were recorded on video and we were required to view them. Now with the tables turned, I too, dreaded the task of watching myself on video. However, I must admit that watching those tapes was invaluable. For example, my sister has often remarked at how fast I talk. Over the years, I’ve thought my pace was not that fast; however, after viewing several of my presentations on video over time, I see how I do have the tendency to speed up during certain phrases at ends of sentences. Add repetitive gestures to this list, posture opportunities for improvement, removing vocalized pauses, strengthening transitions, etc. and soon enough, very specific professional development goals become very clear.

There really is no better way to improve your speaking performance than to watch yourself present on video and see yourself as the audience sees you. This lesson crosses many genres as well. The best actors I know understand what it’s like to sit in the back of the auditorium and not be able to see actors’ gestures and movement on stage. Good actors maintain a stage presence and mind’s eye that keeps this audience’s perspective in mind, and reminds them to match the size of their gestures to the size of the theatre. Additionally, a good teacher knows what it’s like to be in a classroom as a “student” themselves with no prior knowledge to connect to the content being taught. So the skilled teacher creates a context or shares a metaphor to which students can connect, always keeping that new student perspective in mind. And the list goes on . . .

With so many technological advancements at our fingertips now, we have no excuse for not leveraging tools to help us improve and sharpen skills. This is true whether you’re a speaker, presenter, teacher, trainer or leader. Even recording a presentation on your own computer camera and viewing it over time is one way to advance your presentation skill set with the help of technology.

Professional speakers, teachers, and presenters can always improve, always grow, and always continue sharpening their saws. But in the process, be careful not to rule out video. It may just be . . .  your best improvement tool.

What say you?

4 Tips for Speech Anxiety

We’ve all observed a variety of nervous speakers over the years. For me, none was as terrified as a student of mine on her first day of Public Speaking class in college. She was so scared of the words “public speaking,” that she could not even allow herself to enter the classroom. Before starting class I had to speak to her in the hallway and let her know we were about to begin. Although she had registered for my class, she was in a great state of angst and simply could not bring herself to cross the threshold of the classroom door. Her fear of speaking in public was too great. Sadly, nobody was even delivering speeches that first day.

This example of severe speech anxiety is unfortunate. Obviously, there were deeper issues at play here as well. For most of us, though, it is possible rise above the fear of the unknown and deliver memorable, powerful presentations to a complete group of strangers. Following are some tips I’ve devised for clients and myself over the years. Feel free to experiment with them and see how they work for you.

No, there’s no beta blockers involved! This is the all-natural approach. Keep in mind, too, that speaking is a journey. The more presentations you do, the more your confidence and ability will grow.

4 Rs for Rising above Speech Anxiety:

1. REHEARSE out loud to somebody you know beforehand. Even if you’re not thoroughly ready to do a run-through with a friend or family member, do it anyway. The dynamic space that you create when a presenter and a real audience member interact is invaluable. You will always learn something from the rehearsal, and the elements that need to change will naturally emerge. In addition, practicing out loud is the medium in which you’ll be delivering your presentation. Different parts of your brain are engaged for oral delivery versus just reviewing speaking notes in your head. Because you’ll be delivering it as an oral form, you need to practice formulating the words in oral rehearsal. Inviting someone you know to be your live audience member will be enough to simulate any speech anxiety symptoms in a safe environment. Observe any anxiety signs that manifest and practice the 4 Rs as you rehearse.

2. REALIZE your body’s survival response to a threatening situation is normal. Your body will organically experience a physiological reaction to any seemingly life threatening situation (see last blog post). The trick is to allow these symptoms to be, but not to let them impact your thoughts. If you see your hands shaking, don’t let your mind create more fear by thinking “everyone must see my hands shaking, I look stupid.” Accept it – it’s a natural response to your fight/flight/freeze survival instincts. Don’t focus on them because what you focus on will grow. Instead, keep your head in the game, and focus your thoughts on your audience and content. Redirect any remaining nervousness into energetic delivery. This will help you deliver a more upbeat, animated, and energetic presentation.

3. RE-FRAME Your Mindset. Kindly remind yourself, “It’s not about me, it’s about my audience.” Do not allow your mind to create more fear than the body’s physiological response, because this can amplify any anxiety that’s already there. The most important outcome to focus on is the effect you want to have on your audience: influencing them, informing them about something, persuading them, challenging them, etc. Keep in mind we are often harsher in our minds about what could happen in the future than what reality actually delivers. I have not witnessed an audience yet that wished a speaker would do poorly. They are not thinking, “This better be terrible!” No, your audience wants you to do well. They’re hoping it’ll be fun and they’ll enjoy what you have to say. So keep a close monitor on what your inner dialogue is saying. There’s some interesting research out there that shows that students who say they are bad in math are actually bad in math. And those who say they are good in math, are actually good in math. Keep check on the dialogue in side your head. If you tell yourself, this will be great, it likely will be.

4. RELAX as soon as you can in the presentation. By relax, I don’t mean be lethargic, but rather, assertive and calm. For some of you, you may not be able to relax until it’s over. Others of you may be able to relax half way through. Some may be able to relax within a few minutes, or when the audience laughs for the first time. Ideally, you would relax before even stepping on stage. Again, this is a journey and the more experience you gain speaking, the quicker you’ll be able to lock into a comfortable rhythm. Once you do relax, you’ll begin to enjoy your audience, the magic of the moment, and sharing what you’re passionate about. If you’re truly relaxed, you’ll also be able to think on your feet, natural humor will emerge, and you’ll be more attentive to your audience’s reactions. Ahhh, but how do you find this calm? It’s there, because it’s always been there. It’s that deep stillness core that lives inside you. Use slow, deep breathing to find your calm before walking on stage. Your body and thoughts will respond to this lead. When you focus on the in-flow and out-flow of your breath, all thoughts will clear in your head. For those of you who meditate regularly, this will be easier for you. By using slow, deep breathing beforehand, you will notice your body began to settle and anxiety symptoms begin to calm.

Experiment with these 4 Rs and see how they work for you. Then you’ll be on your way to being more prepared, more confident and more comfortable!

How do you manage speech anxiety? What say you?

Speech Anxiety: It’s Not Your Fault

iStock_Verbal Comm_SmallSpeech anxiety. We’ve all been there:

  • Sweaty palms – Enough moisture to flatten . . . well, even Harry Potter’s hair.
  • Out of control heartbeat – As if you ate all your Halloween candy right before.
  • Rapid breathing – making it look as if you finished a 5K only moments ago.

Yes, the embarrassing symptom list goes on:  developing facial rashes, hands shaking uncontrollably, voice quivering with angst, and of course, the all-time favorite—going completely blank, only to stare at a room of strangers like a deer in headlights.

The good news is . . . it’s not our fault.

Sure, the fear of speaking in public and presenting to others ranks right up there with the fear of death. However, it’s important to remember that the fear symptoms we manifest are simply a physiological response to survival instincts.

Our bodies’ intelligence knows full well that if we actually took the time to “think” of a solution when faced with a life threatening situation, we would not survive. This is because by the time we would have figured out a solution, the lion would have likely already eaten us.

For the human race to survive, our defense system needed an immediate response to fear in order to either fight off life threatening danger, flee as quickly as possible, or freeze until the danger went away. Two of these reactions I happen to witness when taking my dog outside on a hot summer night. Apparently, when it’s dark and hot, all toads love to be going about their business. Unfortunately for toads–at least, in my neighborhood–our dog happens to be fascinated with them. When my dog senses a toad nearby, of course, he tries to go after it. We hold him back with the leash, but the toads always sense predator danger and freeze. They remain as still as possible and then when they think their environment has improved, they flee or shall we say, jump to safety. Equipped with a defense system ourselves, this can certainly be helpful in dangerous situations, but the challenge is that we can feel anxiety and fear in all kinds of situations, and not exclusively life threatening ones.

Have you observed your reaction to touching something hot? For example, when you accidentally touch a hot burner (not that we want to make that a habit) your response is similar to how your body reacts to any seemingly threatening presentation. It’s an automatic response. The point is that by the time your reflexes saved your finger, your brain was just getting the message. So if our bodies waited for thoughts to catch up, well, let’s just say – it’s a good thing, it doesn’t. Once again though, it’s not entirely our fault. High order thinking skills are also inhibited during the physiological response to fear, because equipping you for fight or flight is the higher priority.

Now, of course, speaking in front of strangers is technically not a life threatening situation. However, our physiology will still respond with a defensive reaction to any situation where we feel severe anxiety or fear. So whether life threatening or not, anxiety triggers your body to begin protecting you by shunting oxygenated blood to your limbs, accelerating your heart rate and overall equipping you to get out of danger’s way.

So what do we fear about speaking in front of others? Well, we might be afraid of looking stupid, embarrassing ourselves, the unknown, being the focal point of attention, having all eyes in the room on you, and the list goes on.

The good news is that there are many things we can do to manage speech anxiety and move forward to deliver effective, memorable, and powerful presentations.

Stay tuned as we dedicate the next series of blog entries to what you can do to manage your own speech anxiety and rise above it.

Most importantly, remember that any speech anxiety you feel is a natural biological reaction. That alone should make you feel better.

It’s not really you.

It’s only natural.

It’s not your fault.

Feel better yet?

Stay tuned . . .