Never Mind the Videocamera: Advice for Presenters

I’m not going to name any names (see ”Name the sin...” at http://andrewhennigan.blogspot.com/2007/11/name-sin-but-not-sinner.html) but from time to time I see books and articles about presentation skills that recommend you practice with a video camera. Sounds like a sensible idea but in my experience it frequently causes more problems than it solves.

The problem is that there are roughly two categories of people who need help with their presentation or speaking skills. The first group includes the competent, confident speakers who are good but want to get better. Typically these people have no issues with self confidence but they need technical advice and maybe some objective critiques. These are the people who can safely video their own practice sessions.

But many people I meet who are looking for help with their presentation skills are far from reaching that level. They are the people who have very little experience of speaking and even less self confidence. In this case the typical approach of looking for flaws in a practice presentation can undermine their already fragile confidence. In this situation I usually switch to an alternative mode where you look for the things that are good in their presentation, not the flaws. The goal of this approach is to give them more self confidence, so they can go out and make more presentations confidently, learning from their experience. For absolute beginners or serious cases of presentation fright this is the best approach to get over the confidence barrier and get to the point where you can begin to work on the technical flaws in the presentation style.

For the people who already have little confidence any critique can be discouraging, but watching a video can be even worse. Unless you have a professional camera and adequate lighting most people will not look good on video -- something like a cross between the Blair Witch Project and the stuff on YouTube. Add to that the problem that most people are not used to seeing or hearing themselves and you are almost guaranteed that they will not like what they see. Maybe their presentation was actually ok, but it will look awful.

There is, of course, a place for video recording of test presentations and that is when you are being trained or coached by a professional who will be sensitive to confidence issues. And learning to talk to a camera is also a must if you plan any career where you might have to talk to the media, but that is a separate and more advanced topic. If this is your problem then I’d recommend you get professional media training.

But if you are not being coached by a pro take my advice and leave your little video camera alone. Believe me it’s the best way.

(There is also an article on a related topic "Three Techniques to Become a Confident Speaker" at http://andrewhennigan.com/articles/article_confident_public_speaker.htm).

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