Even before the coronavirus pandemic made “social distancing” part of the global lexicon, individuals and businesses were on the fast track to making webinars and videoconferencing a bigger part of their business models. COVID-19 just seems to have sped up the process.

How you perform on-camera has suddenly become VERY important and applicable to a lot more people. Many who never dreamed of being behind the lens, now have to worry about how they come across on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and other such platforms. For them, it’s a whole new ball game.

My “MVP” Top Ten

Below, I pulled together a top-ten list of some of my tried and true tips relating to the “Mental, Vocal, and Physical” (MVP) elements of on-camera performance success. These tips apply equally well to boosting your performance on various videoconferencing and webinar platforms.

  1. Be Yourself/Authentic—The best on-camera performers are often those who stay true to their off-camera personal styles that have helped them captivate and connect with audiences in person. When something you’re doing on-camera feels false to you, don’t do it. If you’re typically serious and thoughtful in your approach, don’t suddenly become Jim Carrey. Likewise, if humor is important to your style, stick with it.
  2. An Audience of One—When presenting/speaking to a camera, remember it’s always an audience of one. Each person, no matter how many there are participating in the videoconference/webinar, feels as though you are talking to just him or her. If you can’t see the person (or persons) on your screen, visualize them. This will help you set tone and come across as more natural. If you can see the viewer(s), use that ability to read body language and play off any nonverbal feedback you receive. You might just avoid that annoying habit of stepping on the other person’s words if you see he or she is about to say something.
  3. Deliver the Right Pitch—Being able to vary pitch is essential for keeping your audience’s attention. Luckily, most of us DO NOT sound like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and have at least some vocal variety in our normal conversations. But often that natural inflection is lost once we step in front of a camera, especially if reading off a teleprompter. That’s when we tend to lose our natural variation because we’re simply saying the words and not thinking about their meaning. To reclaim natural inflections, always stay connected to the content and let that serve as your automatic pitch control.
  4. Mind Your Pace & Breathing—When most people appear on camera, they want to get it over with as quickly as possible, often leading to a pace of speaking that is like a runaway train. A viewer-friendly pace is measured and deliberate, yet still energetic enough to hold attention. If you are speaking about an especially technical topic, you’ll want to slow down to accommodate the extra processing time listeners will probably require. Conversely, you can likely speed up a bit if your topic is less dense. Similarly, don’t be afraid to pause. The longer you go without taking a breath when you talk, the thinner and thinner your sound becomes and the more rapid your pace. Full vocal tone requires you to take full breaths on occasion and can also be a solid weapon against anxiety.
  5. Variety is the Spice of Speech—Everyone’s vocal range is unique. Some people have a very wide range, while others have a more narrow range. One is not better than the other—they’re just different. What’s important is to not confine your voice to one or two notes, relegating your oratory to the equivalent of a lawnmower hum. Vary your pitch to appropriately reflect your content, knowing that it’s OK to exercise your full vocal range, dipping into the low notes as well as lilting to the high notes of your voice.
  6. Silence Can be Golden—Whether on-camera or not, we should all learn to be more comfortable with silence and use it to gather our thoughts before leaping into the next sentence or concept. It’s always good advice not to start talking unless we have something to say and to pause if necessary to protect ourselves from sounding less intelligent than we are. Also, whatever you do, don’t try to fill the silence with “um” and other filler words. They’re annoying and the equivalent of verbal drool.
  7. It’s OK to Gesture—When the camera goes on, many of us suddenly become hyperaware of our physical selves. We’re wondering, “What should I do with my hands?” Simply eliminating movement, such as hand gestures, can backfire because not moving creates stiffness that looks uncomfortable. The best approach is for your body language on camera (including hand gestures, whether seen on screen or not) to be the same as when you are off camera.
  8. What You Wear—Let’s face it, people notice what other people are wearing. On-camera, you don’t want your attire to be the focus. Use the expectations of your colleagues/audience as your guide. Dress appropriately for the occasion. As for colors? Blue is always a great color choice, jewel tones work well too, and remember that solid colors are a far better on-camera choice than patterns.
  9. Sitting or Standing—Chances are you will be sitting as you participate in a videoconference or video chat. However, when you relax in a comfortable chair, you tend to lose that mental sharpness required for any impactful performance or discussion. Sinking into a chair can also make you look sloppy. Shirts have a way of bubbling or gaping, and your clothes overall may appear rumpled. The solution is to sit erectly with your back either just touching the chair or not touching it at all.
  10. Hair & Makeup—Whether you are a man or woman, you don’t want viewers preoccupied by wondering if you bothered to look in the mirror before your appearance. Vanity is not the driver here, your mission is. Don’t let your message get lost because your hair is unruly or you looked like you just rolled out of bed. If your look is so distracting that it runs contrary to audience expectations, the power of your presence is diminished. While you do not need to look like a member of the cast of Cirque du Soleil, you do not want to be washed out, either.

It Never Hurts to Look & Sound Your Best

We’re all in this together right now and everyone’s willing to cut each another a little slack, especially with many hair and personal care salons still shuttered or available only on a limited basis. That said, it still behooves us to look and sound our best, whether we’re simply talking one-on-one, engaged in a group meeting, or moderating a webinar. Solid on-camera performances can be a real differentiator, but performing poorly on camera can undercut credibility and damage your personal and/or professional brand.

Learn More: On-Camera Coach

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, On-Camera Coach: Tools and Techniques for Business Professionals in a Video-Driven World, now available from Wiley Publishing. On-Camera Coach aims to take the mystery out of communicating through the camera and provides specific tips and techniques that can make your message sing—and you, the messenger, feel confident in a job well done.