Video content is one of the most powerful drivers of engagement and visibility for press release issuers and content marketers. Messages that include multimedia get favorable treatment from search engines and social networks; and the human eye naturally gravitates toward visuals. Producing video is part of many communication strategies. To develop the best content possible, it’s important that the subjects of your video look (and sound) great on camera.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) annual Writers Conference featured more than 80 sessions covering a wide variety of topics, including “How to Look and Sound Great on Camera.” While the conference was geared toward writers, the tips work well for anyone in the camera’s lens.
Three panelists shared their tips on how you can hone your personal style, develop an appealing speaking voice and craft effective messages.
The panelists were:
- Rachel Weingarten, style expert, marketing strategist, personal branding consultant, and founder of Interrobang, a marketing and promotions agency. Weingarten is the author of “Career and Corporate Cool” and “Hello, Gorgeous,” and is a regularly featured expert on TV shows, including “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show.
- Nancy Daniels, founder of Voice Dynamic, offering voice training, voice improvement, and public-speaking solutions through seminars, corporate training and group workshops. Daniels is the creator of the “Voicing it!” DVD training program, which helps clients find their “real” voice and correct problems such as low volume, nasality and childlike tone.
- Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, a media presentation firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Phillips is a former broadcast journalist and producer, and is the creator of the popular Mr. Media Training blog, offering media and presentation training.
- Eileen Kennedy-Moore (moderator), a psychologist, author, and blogger at PsychologyToday.com, moderated the discussion.
The average American watches 28 hours of video a week, said Weingarten, or roughly nine years of their lives. In October 2011, more than 184 million people watched 42.6 billion videos on YouTube.
“People really are hungry for videos,” said Weingarten, “and especially for good videos.”
The first thing people think about when preparing a video is what they should wear, but there is more to looking good than what you’re wearing. In fact, the No. 1 key to a good video appearance is that you exude confidence, even if you don’t feel it, said Weingarten. How do you do that?
Know your stuff. Do your homework, and prepare as much in advance as you can. Know what the set is like. Do as much research on the host as you can, and make the host the focus of your attention. “If the host loves you, the audience will love you,” said Weingarten.
Be put-together. “People make snap decisions,” said Weingarten. “You want them to focus on your knowledge, not on what you’re wearing. For example, there’s a lawyer that loves to wear head-to-toe green suits. People tend to tune out his message because they’re so focused on what he’s wearing.
Be picky. Research every opportunity, rather than accepting every offer. Weingarten shared the story of how she was offered to be on “The Daily Show,” but turned it down because it would not have provided her the kind of exposure she was looking for.
Be comfortable. When deciding what to wear, pick something you’re comfortable in so you are not self-conscious. Otherwise, you are going to be too distracted to do a good job.
“The way you sound on your answering machine is the way everyone else hears you,” said Daniels. If you don’t like what you hear, there are ways you can improve and find your “real” voice:
Record yourself. Practice by recording yourself in a mock interview session with a friend or colleague. This will help you gauge:
- The volume of your voice: “You don’t want to speak too softly,” said Daniels.
- Your accent: You don’t have to get rid of it, but you do have to be understood.
- Whether you speak with “Valley Girl-ese,” as Daniels calls it. “If every sentence sounds like it ends in a question, you will not sound confident or professional.”
Find the friendly faces. The secret to public speaking, said Daniels, is to treat the audience or interviewer as if you were having a conversation in your living room. Zero in on your “smilers” – they will make you feel more confident.
Learn diaphragmatic breathing. It’s OK to be nervous. Learn to breathe with the support of your diaphragm; it will help you take control of your nervousness. Daniels recently wrote about how to control what comes out of your mouth when you’re nervous.
When speaking to the media, remember that your job is not to be comprehensive – your job is to give the public only enough information to take the action you want them to take. Reduce your points to your three most important messages, and support them with compelling stories and statistics.
People will remember almost nothing you say during media interviews, and one of the ways you can combat that is through repetition. “It takes 7-15 repetitions for people to remember your message,” said Phillips.
So what makes a message effective? According to Phillips, an effective message is composed of stories, statistics and sound bites.
Stories: These can be a personal story, an anecdote, a case study or a historical example. It just has to reinforce the theme of your message and make it less abstract and more tangible. You should be able to tell a compelling story in 20 seconds or less.
Statistics: Don’t use raw data; use statistics in a way the audience can relate.
Philips gave this example: “Five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.” That doesn’t immediately make you think, “Wow.”
Try this instead: “Fenway Park seats 37,000 people. It would take 135 Fenway Parks packed with people to hold every American with Alzheimer’s. That’s 5 million people in total. Now, think about the family members caring for that patient. It would take almost 600 Fenway Parks, packed with people, to hold all the patients and family members affected by Alzheimer’s.”
“For most people,” said Phillips, “that statistic is more powerful, evoking a specific image and producing that desired ‘Wow’ response.”
Sound bites: Sound bites are short, wonderful quips that are repeatable – e.g., “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Other types of sound bites:
- Simile, metaphor, analogy
- Rhetorical questions
- References to pop culture
Once you have your messages, prepare for the interview. Create a worksheet detailing each message, and the story, statistic and sound bite for that message. Repeat for each message.
On his blog, Phillips shares more tips on how to create a message: Creating Your Message: A Seven-Part Series.
Q: When offering statistics, do you need to provide the source?
Phillips: Your goal is to intrigue. In a public presentation, I would stay away from it. Unless it’s core to their understanding, I wouldn’t focus on it.
Q: Which television personalities should we watch that have a good presence?
Daniels: Diane Sawyer – her voice is like a blanket around your shoulders. Listen for the voice that has warmth, speaks comfortably.
Phillips: Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton are both very effective in their own way. Also, Tom Friedman – what I like is that he comes in very prepared, with three or four tight bullet points he can deliver in 20 seconds. One thing I don’t agree with that he does is saying the name of the host – “Well, Diane…” – because you want the audience to think you’re talking to them, and that breaks the connection.
Q: If you make a mistake, should you correct it or let it go?
Phillips: It depends on the nature of the mistake. If it’s a mispronunciation, let it go. If it’s a significant mistake, correct it.
Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/