We are all speaking more on camera, whether we like it or not – on webinars, Zoom/Skype/Team calls and meetings. Presenting and speaking in this format is very different from presenting on a stage or in a meeting room.
Now that you’re limited to a small screen, your audience misses that energy and expression that often only happens when you’re presenting in person. This lack of cues may make them more likely to multi-task while (half) listening to you – checking emails, fixing themselves a coffee or staring out their living room window. Presenting remotely also means that your “stage” has dramatically shrunk. You can use this to your advantage, but it also presents additional challenges. For most people, it’s pretty demanding to sit on your own while retaining your energy and focus.
This new way of speaking in front of an audience requires different considerations and preparation. If you set the stage well and tailor your performance for the camera, you are more likely to keep your audience engaged and create the impact that you want.
Setting the Stage
How you position the camera is very important and may require some trial and error. The camera should be at eye level and slightly angled down, rather than up (no one likes to look up your nose!). If you want to present standing up (I recommended this to keep your energy up and your body free to move), this may mean that you need to find a chest of drawers or a shelf where you can place your computer/phone. You can prop up your laptop or phone on a box or some books to get the right height.
You should stay in the frame of the camera for the length of your presentation. To do this, you may need to slightly adjust the way you normally move to make sure you remain in the frame, but do not come across as rigid. Unlike when you’re presenting in a conference room setting (when being close to the audience is key), you might prefer to be farther away from the camera, so the audience can see more of your body (at least from the waist up). How you position yourself will depend on your performance elements. If you need to use the “stage” more, you’ll need to be farther away from the camera. Use this unusual setup to your advantage – come closer to the camera (and your audience) when you want to make a point or be more intimate.
Keep in mind that the audience wants to see your facial expressions and be able to hear you. This requires good lighting (positioned in front of you) and a quiet space.
Remember that your audience will not only see you, but also what’s in the background of the shot. Set yourself up in a space with a neutral background to limit distractions. If you have a shelf or bookcase behind you, make sure it’s tidy. You want your audience to be concentrated on you, not on a pile of books and papers!
Think carefully about what you will wear and what it looks like on camera (and in contrast to your background). Plain block colours are best. Complicated patterns can be distracting and usually don’t show up well on camera.
A dog barking next door or cars passing an open window can also distract the audience from your presentation. Make sure you’re in a quiet place and let others know that you’ll be presenting and are not to be disturbed. Close the doors and windows.
Performing on Camera
Remember that when you’re presenting, your audience is only an arm’s length away from their own laptop or phone. This creates a sense of intimacy that’s very different from presenting to an in-person audience.
What’s more, most people will be alone when watching you present. This means that your audience can’t experience the usual buzz, feelings, and (most importantly) the reactions of their fellow audience members.
Your audience only sees what you have framed in your camera shot. Everything seen within the frame takes on a greater significance. One advantage of this is that you now control your audience’s gaze – you are telling them where to look and what to pay attention to.
At the same time, big broad gestures, jerky body movements, and extreme facial expressions can come across as “artificial” or inauthentic on video, so you may need to modify your performance style accordingly. The golden rule is to keep your movements natural, relaxed and in congruence with what you are saying.
The audience will be confused if your hands are not in the frame and then suddenly appear out of nowhere. If possible, always keep your hands visible. If your frame is only to waist-level, keep your arms/hands bent by about 90 degrees at your waist.
No matter how you’ve set up your camera and the frame, you won’t be able to move as much as you normally would on a live “stage”. This means you may need to adjust your movements and how you use the space.
Practice your presentation and record yourself.
Get someone to review the video with you.
As with movement, being closer to the audience will mean that you need to adjust your volume (no one wants to be shouted at or strain to hear what you’re saying). Speak as if your audience is standing one metre from you, and let the microphone do its job. You don’t need to fill an auditorium with your voice like you would on stage. This closeness with the audience also allows you to play with your vocal variety. For example, you could move closer to the camera and whisper a personal thought or a side note.
It can feel strange to “perform” in front of your computer and this may affect your energy. To keep your energy levels up, imagine you’re having a one-to-one conversation with an audience member. You can also put a photo of a person (or even a teddy bear) near the camera lens and present to them instead. When you would normally make direct eye contact with someone in the audience, look directly into the camera. Each audience member will each feel like you’re speaking directly to them. Again, this takes practice.
Just as with an in-person presentation or meeting, take a few minutes before the event to warm up your body and voice and focus your mind.
Preparation is key to speaking with confidence and conviction online. Take some time to rehearse and review your footage with a friend or colleague. Trust yourself and have some fun with this. We’re living through a trying time, and taking pride in your presentation will not only lift yourself up, it will also help you to inspire and engage your audience.
If you need help preparing for an upcoming presentation or meeting, contact me for a coaching session.