The first two weeks of the new semester have passed and the modern age “digital speech of introduction” has been assigned and graded. I’ve enjoyed watching students’ speeches (for the most part) and I’ve developed a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for communicators everywhere who realize that speaking well on camera isn’t something you may need to know how to do. In this video age, it is a communication imperative. This dawned on me a couple of years ago and it prompted me to add the digital video assignment to the basic speech class at Penn State and a more professional version to the organization communication course. In short, if you are alive, you need to speak on camera!
Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speech writer even contended in her book about public speaking that “Sooner or later, we’re all on C-Span.” Well, I’m not sure I agree with that, but I do believe that we will all have opportunities to speak “on camera.” Whether that’s over Skype with the grandchildren or being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, speaking effectively on-camera is a must-have communication skill.
Another observation is that today’s college-age population is relatively comfortable speaking on camera. I think it is the You-Tube phenomenon. But comfort does not mean effective, so here’s my list of dos and don’t for on-camera speaking. Get your smart phone out, turn on the camera and give it a try. The technology may have changed, but one thing never will: practice makes perfect!
1. Atmosphere – Choose a neutral place, or a professional setting such as a desk area. We don’t want to see your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (unless you are a realtor giving a home tour). Keep the background neutral and neat. YOU are the main focus.
2. Dress – Again, neutral and veer toward the formal. We don’t need to know your favorite sports team. And we don’t want too much information about your physique (unless you are promoting a fitness video). No cleavage, tattoos, or underwear should be revealed. You know what clothing flatters you without revealing too much–wear it!
3. Smile – Not constantly because you’ll look suspicious and weird. But a little and at try to look pleasant. I was struck by the number of speakers who said “I have a passion for ______” with the enthusiasm of someone being sedated for a root canal.
4. Delivery – Speak from notecards with key words on them only, not the entire script. Some speakers write out the script and strategically place it somewhere to read it word-for word. Invariably, it means that they are looking off camera. Look INTO the camera. Make a few key-word notecards for yourself and glance at them, but natural beats memorized every time.
5. Lighting – Bright is better (trust me on this). Anyone over 45 understands that “let there be light” may be our favorite declaration. So position yourself in a well lit area.
6. Not too close – Oh, sure you can eliminate the awkward or messy background by zooming in really close, but if we can see your nose hairs, pull back, OK? It’s weird to have you so close. This isn’t a soap opera. Viewers like to have a sense of context.
7. Relax – Who are you? Let your personality come through. But don’t relax so much that you are speaking in tangents unrelated to your topic.
8. Don’t curse – Please.
9. Have some fun – It will show on camera that you aren’t tortured by this experience and that’s a good thing. Maybe you’ll get that job you want, or the business you need, or you’ll get to know your family better.
10. Practice – You’ll get better!