Winning on Camera

posted in: Knife Industry, Work, YouTube | 0

I studied broadcast journalism in college, but’s let’s be clear about something:  I was awful on camera.  Not poor or mildly bad.  Awful.  Don’t believe me?  Watch a few seconds of these videos:

Limping to Somewhere

I never felt comfortable in front of the camera during my reporting classes and I never enjoyed it.  I limped through the reporting courses, took the producer track instead and decided I would avoid the front side of the camera like the plague.  Producing, shooting, editing?  Perfect.  On camera?  Nope.

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

A year later, I found myself working at an e-commerce knife retailer, Blade HQ, shooting video content for YouTube.  Our on-camera personalities came and went for several months, but we badly needed a consistent face on our YouTube channel.  I reluctantly stepped up.  I remember the first video where I was on-camera and the familiar “I hate this” pit in my stomach.  But it had to be done.  And then it had to be done over and over and over.  For the next year and half, I was the on-camera face and personality of a YouTube channel that grew to 25,000 subscribers.  I kept limping until the pain was gone.  I kept pushing until I had developed the skill.  By the time I left that job, I had created over 500 videos and I was comfortable and casual in front of the camera. I was winning on camera.

At my next job, I immediately became the company pitchman and PR guy at trade shows.  I was the presenter in over 25 videos on other people’s YouTube channels:

Here’s a comment from one of those videos:


When I read that unsolicited comment from a random dude on YouTube, I knew I had arrived in some strange way:  I no longer looked and felt like a moron in front of the camera and it felt good– really good. I wasn’t awful anymore. And that sure felt like winning to me.

From Awful to Winning

In our world of constant video, it seems everyone will be in front of a camera at some point.  Maybe it’s a news interview.  Maybe it’s a product pitch at a trade show or some college kid making a documentary on your area of expertise. With that in mind, here are several tips and tricks that I’ve found for nailing it (or at least not crashing and burning) on camera:

  • Be genuine.  Unless you’re an excellent actor, people will see through you if you’re fake.  Video isn’t kind to charlatans.  Carefully chosen words don’t have to be gilded in deadpan corporate gold leaf.  Be real.
  • Find your niche. I was an awful reporter because I felt fake.  It wasn’t the real me.  Creating outdoor programming at Blade HQ came naturally and I could laugh, smile and be real.  The flow was right.
  • Energy  I typically ramp up my energy by 25-30% on camera.   Low energy or too much high energy come off awkward.

  • Relax.  If I imagine the lens is a friend, it’s easy to simply look it in the eyes and talk.  It becomes a natural conversation.  Smiling, combined with a deep breath, works wonders.
  • Keep moving.  If you flub words, misspeak, or drop the ball, say “excuse me,” correct your mistake and move on.  Stopping, stalling or “ums” and “ahs” are annoying and distracting.
  • Know your material.  The more I know, the easier it is to speak to it on camera.  Nothing is worse than trying to scramble with unknown facts and figures.  If I know my topic inside and out, it’s easy.
  • Control your hinges.  When you’re nervous, your joints twitch.  These twitches are obnoxious and don’t convey confidence on camera.  To avoid this, think about your body in terms of hinges.  What is your neck doing while you speak?  Shoulders?  How are you keeping your hands and wrists in control and your movement deliberate?  Are your hip and ankle hinges making you sway?  Master your big hinges so you can focus on making your mouth hinge say the right things.   Practice in the mirror.  Here’s an image to help you think about your hinges:
20markers [Converted]
Learn to control your hinges on camera. Nervous twitches are distracting.
Photo from Creative Commons
  • Rinse and repeat.  If being on camera does not come easily, and you have to do it, practice over and over until it does.  Watch yourself and assess your performance.  Have others watch you and assess your performance (YouTube is an excellent place for this… few people in the world are more honest than those who comment on YouTube videos.)
  • As part of these recommendations, it seems only fair that I throw in a few on-camera selections from the past few years. I’ve still got work to do, but I’ve come a long way from where I was: