Successful presentations – whether for analysts at results, investors at your CMD event, or exuberant guests at an awards dinner - depend, in equal measure, on a particular set of skills: confidence, energy and showmanship.
Behind that trifecta sits another set of enabling behaviours. You must display an expert grasp of subject matter and story, be well rehearsed, learn to work the stage with easy movements, and employ language that resonates with everyone in the room, building trust with your audience as you go. It also helps if you’re funny. The best Ted Talks confirm all of this.
Additionally, if you’ve done your homework, take comfort in knowing your audience will forgive any minor transgressions. You can easily recover from a misstep during a big presentation with a small joke and by leveraging your charisma and story, so feel free to clear your throat or take a sip of water – they’ll wait.
Now let’s flip the switch.
You’re a presenting pro. You understand how to work a room and bring your audience on a journey. You’ve mastered the art of blending data with story, of showing up with personality and being personal. You have presence.
So how is it possible that being in front of a camera lens is so much more difficult than informing and inspiring a crowd of 500? Well, I can tell you that for most people, it is.
Have you ever felt out of breath in a filmed interview even though you’re sitting down? Too hot? Unsure where to look?
Did the interviewer interrupt or ask you to “take it again from the top, but shorter?”
Did your shoulders or neck start to ache? Were you reprimanded for using your hands too much or too little?
How did your sitting position feel? Did your watch or jewellery repeatedly sound off against the table?
Were you conversing or lecturing? Can you tell the difference?
Was it hard to listen and process instruction?
Afterwards, did you feel like napping, or drinking?
For the past 20 years, I’ve spent most of my working life in interview; chatting, questioning, interrogating, and supporting people from all walks of life, especially those in senior management positions, share a message or a story.
I conduct in depth research, write interview briefs, and coach clients in advance if they are willing and time allows.
Usually, on-camera interviews take place with a small crew and a limited number of people in the room, whilst in other moments, larger venues with multiple cameras, crew, and entourage are the order of the day.
For pre-recorded interviews, we edit videos after filming to capture clients’ very best performances, creating the most compelling version that’s on message, the right length, and hits the right tone to meet the communication challenge we’ve been set. There may be a long version of the interview for an event, the company website, YouTube, an employee town hall, and shorter versions targeted for viewers on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
That’s the process. It’s often more straightforward than people think but believe me when I say, I’ve witnessed every type of reaction to being interviewed on camera – from seemingly physical torture, mental discomfort, and anger, to jubilance and genuine enthusiasm for doing it again when a client feels they’ve nailed it.
So how do you nail it?
The same trifecta for achieving success during an in-person presentation still applies, only the rules become far more focused.
Things that don’t change:
- Know your facts, have a clear position, tell a story.
- Bring the energy – understand the power of the medium and the reach it gives you. Relax and show up with enthusiasm.
Things that do change:
-Practice and refine your messages but don’t script yourself. Scripts lock you in whereas bulleted discussion points promote conversation and a conversational delivery.
-Say yes to coaching. It’s very different to media training for large presentations. Your coach will give you ample opportunity to practice your interview techniques and watch yourself back so you have time to understand your tics and adjust accordingly. Different kinds of interviews employ the use of different techniques. Your coach will help you focus like a laser beam on the tools you need. For now, let’s stay focused on the basics.
-What you wear on camera matters. Less is more. Avoid distracting colours, prints, branded clothing or jewellery unless you’re selling any one of those things. You will fill up the frame and you will be scrutinised, so make it about what you’re saying, not what you’re wearing. Presenting against the distractions of a large room with lots of people on personal devices, side conversations and coffees provides a far more forgiving environment. On camera, it’s just you.
-You likely won’t have a hair and make-up artist at smaller shoots so make sure you are happy with how you look. Take a minute and use a mirror. Re-shoots are costly.
-Establish eye contact from the very beginning. Will you be looking at the interviewer or down the lens? Once you know where you should be looking, don’t look anywhere else. A good interviewer will help you maintain eye contact. Remember, in a large room it’s okay for your eyes to dart around. On camera, this makes you look shifty or crazy. Or both.
-Have a dry run if you can – warm up your voice and get used to your surroundings. Build a rapport with the interviewer if you haven’t met them before. Be confident - you are the expert!
-Don’t answer questions monosyllabically. Remember, you’re having a conversation. Start by repeating the premise of the interviewer’s question so you have a few seconds to consider your response.
-Your messaging and body language need to be in sync. Nervousness and a lack of preparedness often results in strange or sudden body movements that don’t match your message and tone of voice. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and control your breathing. Feel free to use your hands if that comes naturally, but everything in moderation.
-Unless you’re being interviewed for a feature length documentary, keep it short. If you’re unsure about how lengthy your responses should be, ask. Do you need to provide a twenty second answer or a minute long one?
-Amp up that smile. As long as you’re not delivering bad news, start your responses with a smile and bring the most charismatic version of yourself to camera.
-If you don’t like the way you answer a question and you’re in a pre-recorded interview, stop, collect your thoughts, and start over. At the end of the interview, go back and take the first two questions again.
-Don’t fidget. Every movement you make on camera is amplified – where you look, how you move, the tone of your voice, smacking your lips, ‘umming’. Anchor yourself by placing both feet firmly on the ground if you are sitting. If you are standing, lean slightly on a table or chair, or ask the crew to place a box in front of your legs to keep you rooted and on your mark. Be deliberate in any movement.
-Trust your crew. It’s their job to make you look good so take instruction and ask their advice.
As with anything, the more regularly you appear on camera, the better you get at it. Until then, pace yourself. Slow down, know what you want to say but be prepared to deliver the same message in a variety of ways. Bring a friendly, energetic you into the room. Be patient with yourself, and if you get the opportunity to have more than one take, say yes, no matter who you are and how busy you are. Your reputation (and ego) will thank you later.
Sonal R Patel is a Partner at Brunswick Creative, leading the Film team, and an award-winning Executive Producer. She has worked in NYC and London in television and production for 25 years. Find her on LinkedIn @sonalrpatel