Speaking in front of others is enough to cause many people anxiety. And speaking to a live audience on camera? That’s where extra anxiousness can hit you hard! But, why?
I mean come on—it’s just a camera. It doesn’t have sharp teeth. It’s not carrying a gun. It isn’t trying to sell you life insurance.
Depending on the setup, you might not be able to see your audience at all like you could in a Zoom meeting. Since you can’t see all the nonverbal feedback that would come from an audience, you have no idea how your presentation is going over. You can’t see anyone leaning forward in their seats to hear more, you can’t see anyone ducking down to check their email. You can’t see laughs or frowns or anything. That great unknown might be the biggest cause of your anxiousness.
Many of us are fine with staying out of the spotlight and doing our own thing away from prying eyes. Public speaking puts us in front of many eyes and many minds that make many judgments.
Being in a situation where we’re being seen and judged by many people can be a trial of nerves as is. But to be in front of so many eyes and have no clue how we’re doing? It can feel like stumbling down a dark alleyway in the middle of the night looking for your hotel.
The good news is that managing anxiousness in front of a camera is the same as managing anxiousness in front of an audience. Speaking is speaking. Be it before a crowd or camcorder, you have a message to get across.
It’s one thing to minimize the anxiousness you feel. But you also want to feel and exude more confidence too—this article will teach you how to do both!
How Do You Speak Confidently on Camera?
So you want to speak on camera with confidence!
Confidence in what?
The opposite of speaking with confidence is a speaker that is full of uncertainty—they have no faith in their message or their ability to deliver it.
Speaking with confidence gives you a speaker whose entire bearing says I belong up here and what I have to say is important.
Here are practical and punchy tips for being a confident speaker while the camera is rolling.
Aim to Serve
Note that speaking with confidence doesn’t mean thinking, I’m a rockstar and you owe me your attention.
Building that camera-ready confidence is the opposite of building your ego. A big step towards upping your confidence game is internally taking a step down to the role of messenger.
Yes, you’re in the spotlight, but your purpose there is to serve. You have something important to deliver to the people listening and that’s where their attention should go. That awareness will take some of the pressure off of you.
Dress For The Part
You’ll have an easier time sounding like you belong in front of the camera if you also look the part.
You don’t have to wear a suit or a ballroom gown (not that we’re going to stop you). But you also don’t want to look like you just woke up and threw on some pajamas. Taking this extra measure benefits both you and your audience. The more confidently you dress, the more confident you’ll automatically feel. The added bonus is that your confident appearance will get you more credibility with your audience. To guarantee this, try to dress one level above your audience.
On that note, even if you look proper and dignified enough, Your outfit could cause technical problems for the camera,
so take care that your clothing isn’t an extreme shade of a color, such as yellow or red. You’ll look like a flaming torch through the camera. Also make sure that your outfit doesn’t have any distracting patterns that could make the audience spend more time figuring out what those purple hippos in the print are juggling than listening to your presentation.
There are even some patterns that, while tame, will dance when in front of a camera. So be careful.
No Staring Into Souls
Since maintaining eye contact with people is a way of keeping people engaged, that means you should stare directly into the camera from start to finish of your presentation, right?
A good rule of thumb is that when you are speaking to the audience, that’s when you should look into the lens. But if your eyes truly stay locked on the camera the entire time, people are going to wonder what’s wrong with you. Because nobody does that when it’s one-on-one. Not unless they’re a love-struck high schooler.
Don’t be afraid to glance off-camera thoughtfully, to look to the side or somewhere else as you find a thought. It’s what you do in the absence of a camera, so it feels more natural for you and the audience—doing this will help those nerves settle .
But when you do look into the camera, there’s a best practice for that as well…
A camera lens has more to see than you think. There are flares and colors and… whose reflection is that? Mine? Oh cool. If I move left, my reflection moves right—
Yeah, it’s a distraction. But you can still give that illusion of eye contact by directing your general gaze at the camera. Think of it as looking at the ocean with the intent to see the water but not focus on an individual wave.
Speaking of distractions…
Try not to move around or bounce too much. Your viewers will wonder if you forgot to use the bathroom before you started presenting. You’re a presenter, not a moving target at the county fair. If you’re swaying side to side you will literally feel unstable which will translate into your delivery too.
The best thing to do is plant your feet firmly on the ground, legs hip-width apart, and relax into that stance. You will feel more grounded and this will help you feel more calm.
Rehearse, But Not Too Much
We touch on rehearsal in this article, but it’s important enough to repeat. You don’t want to neglect practice, but don’t try and remember every word and line of your script either.
If you focus only on memorizing everything, you run the risk of leaving your game in the locker room, so to speak. You want to be able to have plenty of energy and spontaneity for the actual performance.
Each of these ideas can be shrunk down to one common denominator: reduce all distractions from the message you’re there to deliver. That goes for both sides. If you’re not distracted, you’ll deliver better. If your audience isn’t distracted, they’ll listen better.
The Tao of The Fear of Speaking
Back to the matter of anxiousness. In the moment that you feel butterflies tickling the inside of your stomach, you share something in common with every single public speaker, past and present—nervousness strikes every speaker before every presentation. No exceptions.
Are we trying to say that JFK, Martin Luther-King Jr., Winston Churchill, and everyone else that has ever taken the stage—they all brought a little anxiousness with them?
Every TED speaker that you’ve seen dazzle the audience did so with a gnawing anxiousness and nervousness at their heels.
A famous line used in many acting schools is
Our point is this: Get past the notion of getting rid of anxiousness or nervousness before speaking. It’s not only unrealistic, it’s discouraging. It’s also unnecessary.
The hard of hearing don’t wait to be cured before trying to communicate with others. So in the same way, anyone with anxiety who is scared of speaking in front of others still needs to try and accept that nerves are part of the experience.
We all find a way to function despite our difficulties. Anxiousness over public speaking is no different. It can’t be eliminated, but it can be minimized to the point that you barely notice it.
You’re not aspiring to be fearless, but to fear less.
Do you have to memorize your presentation?
Is it possible to memorize a presentation word for word? Yes.
Is it practical? Not for most of us.
Being able to recite your presentation verbatim will actually detract from the quality of it. It’s the same reason that having a manuscript presentation could take the quality down a notch. A manuscript adds the extra workload of getting
Being focused on the words shifts your attention away from the more important aspects, like enthusiasm and vocal variety.
So if you’ve got this mental manuscript, too much of your energy is going to be allocated to getting each word exactly right. You’ll trip when you reach a moment when you aren’t sure which words you had set in stone.
Instead, try “memorizing” your presentation the way most folks giving driving directions. If someone asks you how to get to Location XYZ, you don’t tell them every single house, street, dog, face, sign, and building they will come across. Instead, you list significant landmarks and critical junctures, like where they need to turn. Most people can find their way with such basic information.
Likewise, you’ll save time and energy if you memorize an outline of your presentation. You’ll still be able to find your way, and you’ll have the bandwidth for making the presentation interesting since you won’t be so hung up on precise wording.
Rehearse for Certainty
Oh, the irony. Nobody wants to struggle with anxiousness while speaking on camera. Rehearsal bites a huge chunk out of that anxiousness, but rehearsal is hand-waved away by so many speakers.
Oh yeah? That’s like saying that actors are better when they don’t rehearse. Or acrobats. Or tightrope walkers. Or musicians. Rehearsal is crucial to everyone involved in art, and speaking is an art.
Sometimes there’s no substitute for someone to show you how it’s done. It’s one thing to read about it and theorize. It’s another to have a speaking coach demonstrate each point and tailor them to your personality.
How to Calm Down
Your mind and your body feed off of each other when it comes to anxiety. There are methods for calming down either side, which will go a long way towards a complete state of relaxation.
Remember: Everyone that has to appear in front of a camera—actors, anchors, speakers, they all step in front of that camera with a measure of nervousness. Each appearance in front of a camera represents swimming against the current.
Relaxation Techniques: The Body
The mind/body connection is pretty much a widely accepted science by now.
So if you relax the body, you’re halfway there to relaxing the mind. And vice versa.
This first technique is the holy grail of relaxation for public speakers, Broadway performers, and even soldiers in the heat of battle.
Diaphragmatic breathing isn’t just a tool for anxious speakers. It has been central to many arts that require deep focus and relaxation.
It has also been called “pot-shaped breathing” by yogis over the centuries, which may aid in understanding how the breathing technique is supposed to be done.
You know you’re not breathing with your diaphragm when you’re taking shallow, short breaths that fill your upper chest and nothing else. This kind of breathing is often accompanied by a heart pounding like a freight train. It’s part of the fight-or-flight response to distress.
When you’re breathing from your diaphragm, you’re taking deep breaths that fill both the upper and lower halves of your lungs, and you can feel your stomach protruding slightly on the inhale.
Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of six. This ensures that your breathing is slow and full. The more you do this, the more you will notice your heartbeat slowing down and your anxiety levels lowering. Your body is no longer starved for oxygen, which is vital for thinking while you’re speaking—and for giving your voice more power.
It’s not quite as involved as diaphragmatic breathing, but it is still effective. You might not have time to sneak in some breathing exercises, but stretching will only take a few seconds.
Do this exactly the way you see it in the cartoons when the character first wakes up in the morning. Take a long, deep stretch and a breath to go with it. You’ll be surprised at just how calming this is.
If you do have more time though, stretching and exercise are both fantastic ways to get nerves out and reduce your anxiety.
Relaxation Techniques: The Mind
Perhaps you prefer to do your calming protocol from the inside out. That’s just fine. What you do for the mind will spread to the body.
Laughter has often been appraised as a full-body full body exercise. There are both aerobic and anaerobic aspects to it that improve your overall feeling of well-being.
In this age of the internet, there’s no shortage of jokes, skits, and memes on the internet they can deliver a quick injection of hardy har har.
But what if the last thing you can think about at the moment is laughing? Well, good news. You can fake laughing and your body will eventually adopt it as the genuine thing. Just as we cover in visualization next, your senses and your brain do not know the difference between the fake and the genuine.
There are entire laugh therapy groups where the session starts with a lot of fake laughing. And by the end of the session, the participants are actually in stitches.
This point about visualization belongs under the heading of rehearsal, but that might be too confusing. Just as your body responds to a fake laugh the same way it responds to a genuine laugh, so your brain reacts to a mental visualization the same way it reacts to an actual visual.
By visualizing yourself getting in front of the camera and giving a stellar presentation, you are actually rehearsing for success. If you take the time to picture not only how you will look as you give your presentation, but also how you will feel as you roll out a confident delivery, your brain builds the road map for doing the actual thing in real life.
Visualization works, and it’s a dependable method of rehearsal for many athletes and public figures whose income depends on their success.
When You Can’t Calm Down— Turning Anxiety into Excitement
Trying to relax before speaking in front of a camera might feel like swimming upstream. Is there an easier way? Yes. But it will take some readjustment of your mindset.
The traditional approach is to eliminate as much of your anxiety as you can before you have to speak. Since that anxiety isn’t going anywhere, why not find a way to make it work instead of making it leave?
Calm is the opposite of anxiety, so you find yourself in conflict when you try to calm down. Excitement, however, is a close cousin of anxiety. It’s just connected to more positive emotions.
Think about it.
Anxiety and excitement
- Are both heightened states of arousal
- Both signal the brain for increased levels of cortisol
- Both prepare the body for action
See how much of the hard work is taken out of the equation? By simply flipping from anxiety to excitement, you move from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset. Your physical state has not changed at all, but now all that energy is an asset and not an obstacle. You stand a much better chance of doing better without having to manage your heightened state. You’re surfing the wave, not swimming against it, and the view from up there is amazing!
It can be as simple as telling yourself three little words: “I am excited!”
So how is it possible to get such different results from the same physical state? There are three components to every emotion:
- How our bodies react to it
- How we express it
- How we experience it
The components of good or bad? Those are labels supplied by us.
This is shown in the way that two situations can be judged very differently, even though they have a lot in common.
An athlete hears the starting gun and processes it as excitement. The adrenaline floods their system and they go all in because they know there’s a reward at the end of their task.
Someone that has to give a presentation in front of a camera sees the green light turn on and just feels anxious and nervous—despite a good performance also having its own rewards.
Both situations involve being observed and judged by others.
Both situations add a lot of weight to both success and failure.
The difference, then, isn’t in the situations. It’s in how we personally feel about the situations. It’s the way the circumstances are framed in our heads.
You might find that the answer to your nervousness isn’t resisting it, but reframing it.
When you feel that nervous gut feeling coming on, and the negative self-talk coming out of the woodwork, that’s your chance to flip it into something positive.
As you approach the situation where you’ll be speaking in front of the camera and you hear that negative self-talk, “I’m all nerves. I’m going to make a mess of the presentation and a mess of my reputation at the same time.”
Flip/reframe it as something more like, “I’m all excited. I’m going to channel this extra energy into speaking loud and proud. I’m super-hyped over the opportunities this will bring!”
It seems too simple. But small things make huge differences. The flip of a small light switch can illuminate an entire building. The flip of a small thought can brighten your frame of mind and state of being.
Ready For Your Close-Up?
If none of these tips make the impact you’re looking for, it may be necessary to seek help from a professional speaking coach. Articles like this are one-size-fits-all. Professional training is tailored to what you—and only you—need to have a breakthrough.
You may not know how many people are watching you while you are speaking and you don’t know how many more will watch the recording. That’s a source of anxiousness outside of your influence. But there’s a lot you can do to control your anxiousness levels on your side of the camera.
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