More and more, speakers are presenting less in rooms and more in front of cameras. Whether it’s recorded pieces to satellite links, teleconferences or training videos, the camera is a common object in the life of many communicators. Surprisingly, it’s also still one of the biggest problems faced by speakers: so many of us just seem to freeze up in front of it.
That’s bad enough when the camera is at the back of the lecturer theatre on a long shot, or even behind you on-stage. The best advice in these situations is simply to ignore it – simply behave as you would if the camera wasn’t present. Let the footage merely record how you would speak normally.
Increasingly, however, the close-up is being used by speakers for effect. From YouTube videos on, the close shot is used now by more than just Hollywood directors looking to capture their star’s exact expression at a moment of high drama. In many ways, this makes sense: a close-up offers you the opportunity to bond directly with your audience, looking down the lens of the camera as you would into the eyes of an audience.
The problem with the close-up is that it can be nerve-wracking. Speakers rely most, of course, on their voice – it’s the instrument that will cover a large room most convincingly. But the close-up brings into play your facial expressions in a way that they are simply not focused upon in a large room. The good news is this needn’t be scary. There’s one thing you can do to help.
By smiling, not only do you put the audience at ease by presenting a facial expression they will read as welcoming and confident; you actually help yourself. Plenty of evidence demonstrates that by smiling we increase our own sense of well-being. In other words, smiling for your close-up will actually help you feel happier about being in close-up.
On top of the smile, be loose. Relax your shoulders, let your head move a little. Don’t overdo this, of course – avoid at all costs the nodding dog syndrome – but in close-up stiffness becomes even more obvious. That fixed grim and those high, rigid shoulders? They scream “nervous”, and your audience won’t hear what you’re saying over that. Loosen up a little!
That said, don’t pretend you’re not in front of a camera. Especially if lighting is involved, try to accept that a little make-up might be a good idea. Men in particular can find this onerous, but famously Richard Nixon in part lost the 1960 US Presidential election to John Kennedy because he sweated on-screen. A little bit of make-up might have changed the course of history.
The close-up is often not the best angle for filming speaking. Moving around onstage, and especially the interaction of the audience, is too important not to capture with a longer lens. Increasingly, however, there are applications where a closer camera can make a lot of sense. Speakers are all about communication – and learning to love the close-up is something you may have to do if you’re going to communicate in the most appropriate way in 2018.