It wasn’t too long ago that the only people who appeared on camera were celebrities, sports figures, or other famous folk. In our own media-saturated times, smartphones have video capabilities, networks have almost instantaneous satellite feeds, and video is always accessible from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Chances are good that you might find yourself on camera sometime soon. “In this day an age, when everyone has a smartphone and access to social media, you have to think of your friends as Paparazzi. Your image can end up on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – so you should always look your best.” says Jeffrey Pattit, a TV Producer/Casting Director and former PR professional.
Because TV & video are so prevalent in our culture, you might need to appear on camera to represent yourself, your brand, or your business. Before you open up your mouth or home to the media and start discussing everything from your family, hobbies, career, or the pink tinted sludge you just ate from your favorite fast food restaurant, you might want to stop and think about the way you look and come across to others.
The right answers, confidence, clothing, and messaging can make the difference between your becoming the next Diane Sawyer or the next reality TV train wreck.
Looking great on camera is crucial, but just being telegenic isn’t enough. Once you’ve figured out your look, you have to create and practice your message and stay on topic in order to exude confidence.
So, what makes you feel confident? Knowing your stuff is a great start, but there’s a reason that companies regularly tout the “look good feel good” ethos. If you look good, chances are high that you’ll hold yourself in a different way, feel better about yourself, and better project your message.
Just because some people seem comfortable and come across as if they were born on camera, does not mean that they actually are. They’re just confident and know the tricks of the trade, some of which include:
Rebecca Resnick Driskill, a freelance producer who’s worked with the Sundance Channel, says that the first thing anybody asks is what to wear on TV. She advises avoiding black, white and busy, tight patterns (think tweed, small checks, thin stripes), which can create a ‘moiré’ effect which will seem to vibrate or “do weird things to the camera,” according to film and television director Joshua Seftel, of Queer Eye fame.
Resnick Driskill advises choosing a color that’s flattering on you and with a relatively simple neckline. “Personally, I think turtlenecks, large brooches, exploding ruffles, and too much cleavage are best avoided.”
Seftel says not to assume that there will be a good make-up artist on set. “Be prepared to do your own hair and make-up and bring what you need with you just in case.”
To that end, find a makeup artist you trust and have several trial sessions with, or practice your makeup in advance and have a friend photograph you from several angles and in different lighting. Better yet, have a friend shoot some video of you talking and pay attention not only to how you look, but how you sound and the gestures you make that might be distracting.
Make sure to blot or powder shiny bits and fill in sparse areas, but be mindful of being overzealous with color or powder. While more is better on camera, too much leaves you at a risk for looking ridiculous. “By the time you go on, you should not be worrying about your hair and makeup,” says frequent TV commentator Vera Gibbons.
Jennifer Joseph, a producer at ABC News 20/20 and the Barbara Walters Specials says, “Never stand head on to the camera. Standing at an angle is always more flattering.” Practice your angle though, so that you don’t look posed or you’ll risk looking silly.
Craft a Message
Mr. Media Training Brad Phillips, creator of the popular Mr. Media Training blog, advises clients to craft three unique messages and to try to steer questions and conversation to one of your three topics. If it’s too hard to create your three strongest messages, Phillips advises writing down everything that you want people to know about you, your book, your organization, or your specialty, and then go back and choose the three that are the most important.
“Your message is your lifeboat, without it you’ll drift. At best, you’ll be treading water, at worst- you’ll drown,” says Phillips. Once you’ve developed your message though, “don’t memorize – internalize.” You don’t want to sound too stiff and if you practice enough, your messages become part of you and each time you’re saying them in a different way.
“Speak distinctly,” advises Nancy Daniels, AKA The Voice Lady, who offers voice training and voice improvement, “there’s no need to rush.” While you’re at it, practice your breathing and try to breathe through your diaphragm.
Daniels believes that most people are guilty of “lazy breathing” and use their throats to push out their voice instead of their chests. “If your throat is doing the work the pitch in your voice goes up and down resulting in a nervous quiver.” The last thing you want to happen when you’re on-camera.
Think Before You Speak
When it comes to live TV, Pattit says that the pressure is high for everyone. “Even hosts and TV anchors sometimes step on other people when they are talking.” Resnick Driskill takes it a step further, “Ignore the camera. Don’t overthink it. And don’t be afraid to take a few seconds (or minutes, if it’s not live TV) to think about what you’re going to say, before you say it. You won’t regret it.”
Be Passionate and Authentic
You have to be genuinely excited about your message, according to Phillips. “Even if you stumble or say it inelegantly, make sure you’re excited about your topic. Your genuine enthusiasm comes through.”
For a confidence boosting exercise, Phillips also suggests “thinking about the person you are when out with friends. You avoid being too slick if you’re presenting the most authentic version of yourself.” For an extra confidence boost, Pattit advises sitting on the front third of your chair which helps you to avoid slouching.
Dress for Your Shape
Gibbons recommends taking things down a size when on camera or opting for fitted clothing. “It’s true what they say – the camera adds 10 pounds, so if you’re wearing something loose and baggy, you are going to look HUGE.”
Pattit believes that the same rules apply for everyday life as they do for on-camera appearances. “Dress for your body type. No matter your size, big or small, learn to wear clothes that flatter your figure and accentuate the positives.”
Keep Calm and Carry On
Pattit says that staying calm and really knowing your message will help you avoid tripping up on camera. “Make sure you know your talking points. However, don’t take yourself so seriously – everyone makes mistakes and owning up to them is the best advice I can give to anyone.”
If you say something wrong, Pattit advises making sure you not only excuse yourself, but make sure you get out the right message before moving onto another subject.
And if All Else Fails
“Smile,” says Gibbons. “No matter what you’re wearing or how you look, if you’re not smiling on the air, or otherwise having fun, it’s not going to work.”
Rachel Weingarten is a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her with your burning style questions at firstname.lastname@example.org