Recently, you may have read our article about the importance of building your brand with personal storytelling. If you’re going to be present on social media (which is kind of a necessity in 2021), you have to get used to talking to the camera. That means improving your on-camera presence.
Unfortunately, this does not come easy. Even for the pros, like your favorite YouTubers and Instagram influencers who seem to do it so effortlessly in their IG Stories, it is not a natural thing to do. It takes time and lots of practice.
Here are a few key tips that you can adopt that will help you get a head start and make things easier.
Before you hit record, give yourself a few moments to breathe. You need to take your time with this and really relax. Clear your mind of all the crazy things going on. By taking this moment to center and ground yourself, you’ll become more focused and clear about what needs to be done. It only takes a moment to do, but reminding yourself that there’s no rush or pressure on you can make a big difference.
This may seem a little counter to my first tip, but hear me out. Tip #1 is about calming your nerves and getting mentally focused on the task at hand. This is about getting your adrenaline pumping so that energy comes through to your audience. Compare the difference in energy levels between when you first roll out of bed in the morning, to when you’ve just finished working out or have drank a coffee. Before you hit record, gee yourself up a bit and generate some energy. That’s palpable and the audience can sense it.
If you’re regularly producing videos, 9 times out of 10, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so that you know what you're going to say.
You don’t need to write a whole script to read. (And unless you're trained properly, people can always tell if you're reading.) But even just a few simple bullet points can help guide you and keep you on track.
If you don’t know what you’re supposed to say, it can be easy to go off on a tangent, ramble too much, or get lost. Consequently, you’ll lose the audience. Worst of all, it may also lead you to keep making mistakes and having to do multiple retakes. This is frustrating and takes you out of the groove very quickly.
When it comes to improving your on-camera presence, you need to experiment and find what works for you. Do you prefer to have a person with you, behind the camera? Or no distractions at all? For example, do you like to have the screen facing you so you can see that you’re framed and in focus; or does it draw your eyes and focus away from looking at the lens? Take the time to try out different shooting scenarios and see what works best for you.
Linking in with #4, this is imperative. Look at the lens of the camera! Try NOT look at your camera/phone screen. Remember that talking to the camera is like holding a face to face conversation. Maintaining eye contact is important. Of course, you don’t want it to come across as unnatural or weird. You can take a moment to look away and break that eye contact but primarily, keep looking at the lens. Your audience will feel a lot more connected with you.
One great way to do this is to imagine there's a person right behind the lens--in the camera body itself (they’re really tiny). It helps a lot!
Remember that you can cut all the bad stuff in the edit. If you happen to stumble and mess up, it can be cut. The majority of us have a habit to use filler sounds such as "um" or "err" between our words when we’re thinking. You may not even notice you’re doing it until you watch the footage back. Don’t let these phase you so much. Just get into the flow and talk as if you were having a conversation with someone (the tiny person in the camera, remember?)
As you become more natural and comfortable talking to camera, you should see less use of "ums" and "errs." If you really want to cut these out, slow down and instead of saying "um," just take a moment to pause while you think about your next sentence. It’s okay to be silent for a moment.
As mentioned in the article about personal storytelling, it’s so important to be yourself. Your authenticity is valuable and it’s what keeps bringing people back to watch. Your audience is craving a connection with the real you so, remember to show that. Actively remind yourself to just be you. There’s no need to force extra energy or pretend to be somebody you’re not, because that’s acting.
Our last tip is very simple and perhaps the most important. None of the others are applicable if you don’t commit to practicing this. The more you practice, the more you find your groove. This will help you improve your on-camera presence, because the only way to be comfortable is to do it a lot.
Accept that on the very first day and through the first few takes, you won’t be very good. That’s okay. Whether it’s learning to drive, skiing, editing, taking photos - it’s the same as any other skill - you have to put in the practice. Over time, you’ll get there.
Josh is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, and storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK). He’s really passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.