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10 Tips to Help Your Executive Look and Sound Great on Camera

 I once watched a brilliant, polished executive turn to jelly while taping an internal corporate video. She knew the subject matter back and forth, but she was really uncomfortable on camera: she rushed and stumbled her way through the teleprompter copy, voice quivering, hands shaking.

I was confused: In meetings, this woman was engaging and smooth, but on camera, she was suddenly stiff and awkward. Why?

Simple. Cameras, lights, microphones – and sometimes a crew of onlookers – just don’t feel natural. The camera is not a live person. There’s no interaction with it, no authentic connection. So unless you’re a broadcast professional who talks into a lens for a living, it can feel really weird.

Plus, with corporate videos, there are usually other execs or staffers in the room, and their presence can put the “performer” on edge. Let’s face it: A video camera – and the crew it comes with – can turn even the best public speaker into a Nervous Nelly.

It’s your job as a corporate communications professional to help your CEO tell the company’s brand story (either internally or externally) in a compelling way. So how do we get our execs to relax, stay on point, and even enjoy being the star of the show?

Here are 10 tips to help your executive be his or her best on camera:

1) Practice on a smart phone

For nervous execs, you may want to book some time ahead of the shoot to show up in their office with a smart phone or other visual recording device, and have them practice what they’re going to say. It doesn’t matter that they’re looking into a smartphone for practice before using a bigger camera for the actual taping. All that matters is that they’re getting used to the feeling of talking to a lens instead of a human being. The screen size doesn’t matter, but the act of talking to it does. This will get them primed and ready for their close-up, and as they practice going through the motions, they will feel more at ease.

Record this practice. They can play it back to see their on-camera presence: the way their hands move, or if they have a nervous tic, or if there’s something in their mannerisms that they want to correct before taping. Practice it again and again, and work to correct any stumbling points. Most people have no idea that they tend to make a certain facial expression, eye movement, or hand gesture while talking. These are subtle, unconscious tics that can be corrected with practice, once they’re pointed out.

2) Help them understand the format

If the video isn’t being sent out live, as is often the case with many internal videos, don’t be afraid to tell the crew to stop during taping. Remind your CEO that he can simply start a sentence over if he makes a mistake. He just needs to pause, take a breath and pick it up from the sentence before – that’s all the editor needs to make a clean cut, and just like that, poof! Stumble erased.

If your CEO didn’t notice he made a mistake, but you did, then it’s up to you to tell the crew to stop, and take it again. Of course, you may not want to interrupt a long-form roundtable-type interview, because it could throw off the flow of the conversation. In that case, make a note of what he said and ask him to stay for a moment after the show, so he can re-tape that sentence, if the mistake is crucial. Editors can work magic, particularly if there is video to cover the edit. If it’s not a serious mistake, let it go, because the viewer will forgive natural stumbles in conversation.

3) Let your CEO Shine on Camera – but not literally!

Makeup is key for both men and women. Just some powder for the men – simple and easy. It does make a difference; you don’t want a shiny head to distract viewers from the message. Explain to your CEO and guests that each and every aspect of the show is being executed in a highly professional manner, and makeup is part of its flawless execution.

4) Include a host or MC

If you’re planning a long-form roundtable interview on camera, or a Town Hall, for example, try to select a host who’s familiar with the company’s products and services. A host will handle all the on-camera logistics, while directing the flow of the show. He or she can open and close the show, moderate the agenda, listen for cues from the control room, keep track of time, and much more. This makes everything look smooth and polished. There’s no guesswork for the CEO and her guests because they’re only answering questions from the host. The production flows smoothly, and the guests only need to show up and talk about their favorite content.

5) The teleprompter is your friend

In fact, it can be your best friend, even if your CEO says he hates it. Just make sure your executive gets a chance to practice with it. Timing and pacing are really important, and if he takes a few minutes to practice reading from it, he’ll feel confident in no time. The added benefit to reading from a prompter is that you know he’ll stick to the script, word for word – and that eliminates wasted time having to stop and re-tape something that was inaccurate.

Remind your executive of the need to read slowly. Even when you tell your CEO not to speed, she’ll do it anyway, because the temptation is to rush it, in order to get through it faster. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

6) Have the crew “roll” on rehearsal

Be sure your guests show up early and sit on the set while you check shots and mic levels. Here’s where you can loosen them up – a lot. Record this pre-show chitchat. Sometimes, they say something golden that you can use later in editing (and quite frankly, this is where some CEOs deliver their best information.) But they’re also getting the butterflies in check here. The goal is to get the guests to relax, so that their conversation has a much smoother flow. Talk about anything – if they start talking about subjects that interest them, before taping, it eliminates the stiff look and feel of having them sit around quietly waiting for the cameras to roll.

7)  If it’s possible, and appropriate, use humor during the taping

It doesn’t have to be anything over the top, but a clever observation, or a quick-witted comment can evoke smiles and laughs, and that just puts the whole “cast” at ease, making for a much more fun and engaging segment.

8) Natural is better than corporate speak

Lose the corporate jargon, and the heavy corporate voice/tone; the read should be friendly and conversational. If you have to, tape a picture of someone funny/friendly to the side of the teleprompter if it helps the subject relax and read more naturally. The goal is to have them read as naturally as possible, so it doesn’t look stiff, awkward and too corporate.

9) Clear the room

Make all on-lookers leave the room, if possible. A lot of executives will be reading off the prompter while subconsciously thinking more about who’s looking at them instead of concentrating on the work they need to perform. This can unwittingly cause them to stumble, and lose their place. Clear everyone out who doesn’t need to be there, and let your executive have some space.

10) Break up the talking heads with video Cutaways

Find time to record pictures and video that pertain to the script. These can become video cutaways that make the video more interesting, as opposed to just showing your CEO on camera for the whole time. Cutaways can also fill in when the audio works and the video doesn’t, or to mask a need for an edit. The end result is also more engaging.

Keep it short, sweet and “snackable." No one can stay tuned in to a 10-minute video anymore. Make sure there's a version that's condensed down to about 1:30; you'll have more of a chance to get your message across to employees. Some formats (like roundtable video shows) need a longer window of time. In those cases, gather as many visual cutaways as you can before the show. An editor can cut to a picture or video while the conversation flows, making the show much more interesting.

With a little bit of practice and a few small tweaks, your boss will thank you for helping her enjoy the process!

Monica Brown is a corporate storyteller for a Fortune 500 technology company. A former television journalist, she enjoys helping companies tell their brand-defining stories through video and digital platforms. Monica lives in Pearl River, NY with her husband and two children. You can find Monica on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @brownmonica1.

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