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This movie is specifically about talking directly to the audience through the camera for things like TV commercials, informational videos, or even podcasts. And believe me, this is not a natural act, this is an acquired skill. You have to first learn to forget much of what you know about public speaking. You may be presenting information that you have created, and assembled or you may simply be the person chosen to relay the information. You might be speaking extemporaneously or reading off of a Teleprompter.
Whatever the case, you need to connect with your audience. You do that by being confident, not just about the material, but also about yourself. This is not easy because it's more than just looking into the camera. You need to look through the lens, not at the lens. Just think of the lens as your audience, one person, someone you know, and talk to him or her. When I work at public television pledge drives back home, I talk to my mother-in-law, it helps me make my delivery more personal.
If you're speaking extemporaneously and not working with a script or a prompter, it's okay to glance occasionally at your notes. Just make sure they're in bullet point form so you won't be tempted to read them verbatim. You want to keep it conversational. Telling is always better than reading. Whether or not you are using a prompter, you want to make sure you are familiar with the script before shooting, and that you've practiced narrating out loud several times.
This helps you train your ear to know how your delivery should sound. During the rehearsal is the time to learn how to phrase things and when to pause, and emphasize. You don't have to know what you're talking about, as long as you sound like you do. If you're lucky, there will be a subject matter expert on hand to help you and confirm that it sounds right. Here are some tips specifically for delivering copy using a Teleprompter. Of course you want to rehearse the script beforehand, the main reason here is that it lessens the need to focus so hard on the screen.
When you read the script for the first time while you're on camera, you won't have the comfort and confidence you would have had you practiced. Simply put, don't get caught reading. A lot of this kind of work is shot a paragraph or two at a time. This is great for you, the talent, because you won't have to record the whole script in one take. It's kind of like that old joke about eating an elephant, one bite at a time. You may be asked to read the script from the prompter and see how far you can go without a bobble, then when you do make that mistake, they just have you go back to the last good paragraph and pick it up from there.
Keep these in mind for Teleprompter use, but you won't always be on prompter. So whether you're speaking extemporaneously or reading from a prompter, here are a few more tips. Even if the director isn't sure what parts of the video will show you on camera and what will be covered by your voiceover, by having you read the whole script on camera, the editor is guaranteed you always have something for the audience to look at. When delivering your copy, slow down and wait for the director to call 'cut'.
Talk about half as fast as you think you should. You want your audience to get it the first time. They may not have an opportunity to go back and review, and if you are speaking extemporaneously, slowing down will give your brain time to think about what you will say next. Then when you finish a paragraph, keep looking into the camera. It's important for you to maintain that eye contact so the editor will have time for a transition. Wait until you hear 'cut' before looking away.
It's natural to look over to someone who will give you approval. Well, you won't get it if you break your gaze. Remember, talking to a camera is not a natural act. Oh! And here's a bonus tip that works in any kind of on-camera delivery. Crank up the energy about 20%. The recording process has a way of sucking up your energy, in addition to your soul. So pump it up a little, send that dynamic energy toward the camera. You can always tone it down if it's too much, but if you just use your normal speaking delivery, you will come across onscreen as half dead.
Here's another bonus tip, this time about practicing Teleprompter reading without a Teleprompter. Next time you watch a movie on TV, when the credits roll, turn off the sound and read aloud the names and crew positions as if you were narrating it. You'll quickly see just how difficult prompter reading can be and why one needs to practice. Speaking of practicing, these days you don't even need to have a regular video camera in order to practice your on-camera delivery. If you have a phone, especially one with a front facing camera, you can just hold it up in front of you and practice away. Or just sit at your webcam-equipped computer.
And once you see yourself, do you see yourself smiling? You should, whether you're selling or instructing, smile. Remember, you are not daring people to learn or to buy, you are inviting them. Train yourself to smile at the end of every sentence. That way you will not only maintain a smile throughout your narration, but more importantly, you'll end your paragraph with a smile. Of course, if you're delivering bad news, you may want to rethink that smiling business.
So to summarize, rehearse your script, crank up your energy, maintain eye contact while you think of the one person who's watching, tell rather than read, and smile. Oh, and practice. Piece of cake!
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