5 Tips for Self Shot Video

Fry's 5 Boys Style Illustration

Video is here and is not going to "go away" so finding ways to get comfortable with seeing and hearing yourself talk to camera is important.

If you love yourself already and can’t stop posting videos of yourself online then this article is really not for you.

If however you are “more cautious” then the thought of talking to camera is probably something you’d rather avoid. 

I’d be one of those who supports that view, but there are now occasions when talking to a video camera simply cannot be avoided. Business now, and for the foreseeable future, is all about gathering an online audience. At some point your audience will want to know something of you, so “exposing” yourself in a video, is almost inevitable.

If you really are so worried about how you think other people might judge your broadcasting skills, then, you are at risk of coming across so badly, it will likely have the opposite to the desired effect. There are however a few ways around your dilemma, so don’t despair; all is not lost.

Here are a few things you might try that will help you through this future ordeal.

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Tip No. 1 - Thanks BUT, I'd rather not.

Really truly, just don’t do it unless, due to the nature of the subject matter or topic, you have no other option. If this should ever be the case then I feel for you.

If you really can’t avoid it, then keep your on camera presence as brief as possible. Record enough to camera just to introduce yourself and the reason you are speaking directly to your audience. Keep talking so that the sound quality is consistent but replace your face with something more interesting. That way you can concentrate on the value of what you would like your audience to hear, rather than being worried about how you come across visually.

As a last resort use a high quality, recent photograph of yourself and record your audio track separately before combining both elements in some video editing software. You will need to change this photograph of you for something else within the first three to five seconds of your finished video. This could be done with almost any image which relates in some way to the subject matter you are speaking about. Photographs from a stock library, other video footage of your own, from elsewhere or illustrations.

Keep changing these images, at between two and four second intervals in sequence, for the duration of the audio message they support. Don’t forget to sign off with a brief call to action and a “thank you” with the final image being of you again. Ideally with your name in text below both at the beginning and end.

An alternative to this method is to record your whole message to camera but to only then use short sections of your recorded presence, mixed with the supporting images which form the bulk of the video, where there is a change in the message or to provide emphasis to a particular point.

One final suggestion is to overlay the whole of your “to camera” piece as a small thumbnail sequence in one corner of the frame sitting on a layer above any visual reference material used to support your message. This way; your recorded presence acts merely as a reference to the authority in the information being provided, while the visual information forming the bulk of your video acts as the image memory cue for your message. 

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Tip No. 2 - NEVER try to read it straight.

Reading a prepared script to camera usually comes across to the viewer as exactly that. There are very few occasions when being seen to read something to camera is a good idea. For social media marketing purposes, where the objective is to be seen to be genuine and real, it is a bit of a no-no.

I find human nature to be generally quite tolerant and in many cases, doing something clearly very badly will be forgiven, provided it appears to be a one off.

The only proven method for getting around this is to read the script while looking directly at your viewer using a teleprompter.

Newsroom style tele-prompters are now very affordable and readily available online but are really only worth considering if you plan on producing lots of newsroom style content. 

They allow you to create rapid and frequent, well written, information packed, content that looks off the cuff to the viewer. But only once you have turned yourself into an expert in using this presentation technique. There is a very good reason as to why breakfast television and TV news presenters are seen by their employers as being highly prized assets. You need skill and practice to be good at it.

You will also need to invest in a whole raft of other recording kit to facilitate using one. This is only worth doing if you are in effect setting up a small dedicated in-house recording studio. Many successful YouTubers have already gone down this in house studio route, so perhaps in time, more businesses will follow.

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Tip No. 3 - Talk, just not to the camera.

You can make talking to camera a lot easier for yourself if you simply focus on something else while trying to forget that the camera is there.

Talking to someone who is also possibly asking you questions and who is positioned unseen to one side of the camera is also worth exploring. Eavesdropping on another conversation is something we do all the time so listening to someone talking to an unseen third party will not, in most cases, come across as being strange to the viewer.

One popular broadcast method for making this technique more visually engaging is to use two cameras ( one either side of the interviewer ) which the final video cuts back and forth between to create some movement ie visual interest, on the screen.

Fry's 5 Boys "Acclimation" like illustration

Tip No. 4 - Get someone else to do it for you.

 Seriously!!  If there is no good reason why you need to be seen talking to camera then get someone else to do it for you. We have worked with professional speakers in the past who simply "choked up" when faced with a teleprompter and video camera for the first time. Talking comfortably in a conversational tone to camera is a learned skill.

You might have someone you work with, who knows the subject of your video as well as you and who is both relaxed and happy when talking to camera, do it for you.

We are all different, with different skills or abilities. Just because someone suggests that “you need to get yourself on video” is not a justification for trying to do something you are not well suited to.

The internet has spawned and or disrupted many once established ways of doing things and one of these is voice over artists. The World Wide Web is now full of talented agencies and individuals offering their voice skills to a broad and growing global market at affordable prices compared to more traditional providers. 

I recommend that you consider building a relationship with some of these new voice talents if you have an ongoing need for your videos to sound professional. 

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Tip No. 5 - Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Probably one of the biggest mistakes that many people make with self recorded video is in trying to say too much in one recording. 

If you are simply having a rant that’s fine. It’s a little bit self indulgent but if that is what you believe your audience want to see and hear then carry on. The heightened emotion you exude will help you overcome any fear you might have had of speaking directly to camera. So get fired up but try to keep it short and to the point.

I wouldn’t however recommend the technique for most business to business arenas. Unless you are trying to match Gary Vaynerchuk who has built a successful global brand on the back of this style

Please remember that the medium you are using to communicate with your audience is the internet. It’s not live or recorded broadcast TV. Nor are you trying to produce some cinematic storytelling epic for a captive audience in a cinema. The internet may use some of the same production tools but it has a completely different set of engagement rules. 

One can play it rough and potentially dirty provided doing so does not impact adversely on your core brand values. 

You might try making the whole process more manageable by recording your video in short one sentence sections. Try not to move out of the frame you first placed yourself in when you press the record button but stopping or pausing as you record is perfectly practical.

All you will have done is given yourself a little more work to do in the edit but most editing software now allows you to edit video in ways that were unheard of less than a decade ago.

Cutting your talking to camera content up into small bite sized chunks with pauses to take a breath, check your notes while speaking with confidence straight down the lens with vigour and enthusiasm will be considered acceptable for online consumption. 

Don’t expect the technique to be endorsed by any broadcast industry experts or their film making counterparts. You are not making it for them. 

In Conclusion

My recommendation is that you keep it authentic, relevant, entertaining and informative so as to engage your unseen online audience by providing them with either a reward or value of some kind. This is because they will only give you their time to watch your content if there is something in it for them.

One final piece of encouragement. Practice practice practice.

We all have an internalised self image of ourselves which is possibly why it comes as a bit of a shock to see ourselves on screen looking like someone else. How you look on screen or in a photograph is how everyone else in the world sees you.

There is therefore an element of “get over yourself” involved in being good when talking to camera. 

The more of it one does, the better one will get.

About the Author

I'm Sam Finlay, the founder of moreVisible and I originally trained as an Industrial Designer back in the early 80s. My career developed from technical illustration and visualising within the manufacturing sector, to design consultancy servicing high street retailers and brands, visualising future products, explaining how these would look or function for B2B presentations. Before moving my creative skills into online video & animation production for the digital economy in 2008.

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