We’ve all heard of some live television blunder or misspeak which is so hilarious that it’s retold over and over for a good laugh. These cautionary tales can feed into our insecurities when we’re asked to be on camera. This can be true even if we’re not generally shy about public speaking.
You could be anxious because you’ve never performed on camera before or because you have and it didn’t go as well as you hoped, so you’re afraid to relive the experience. Some people are nervous every time the camera rolls, even if they’ve been performing for many years. Others just need to get accustomed to the feeling a few times and then develop a level of confidence or ease in front of the camera.
With so many factors feeding into this kind of stage fright, it can be hard to get past them to deliver a good performance. The reality is that even the most celebrated actors and influencers have these moments and it’s rarely detrimental. We’ve collected a handful of sensible tips used across the film and video industry to help people appear more comfortable and natural in any type of performance. Combine these with practice techniques and you will be camera-ready when the time comes.
Often, nervousness is based around fears of the unknown. We tend to run worst case scenarios in our mind and, if we don’t have experience to disprove the likelihood, we might become worried about the possibilities of embarrassment, failure and rejection. Much of that can be alleviated with practice, though.
There are many ways to practice your readings. Try several and stick with what feels good to you. Start with as much privacy as you can find so that you’re able to speak out loud and be experimental. Try the following tips:
- First, go over your script, then try speaking improvisationally. This will allow you to ease into the process a little easier.
- Practice in front of people—friends, family, colleagues, strangers. Be bold about it or work a line or two into conversations just to gauge the reactions.
- Run through it slowly and then speed it up as fast as you can to help with familiarization and relaxation.
- Try it with different kinds of body language and hand placements. Tilt your head slightly and do a few things with your hands to find your comfort zones and flattering angles.
- Run through it with your own camera or even just your phone. When you watch the recording, notice your eye movements, cadence and tone and body language.
As much as practicing can help, be careful not to overdo it. If you’ve memorized every word and inflection and practiced dozens of times, you’re at risk of being over-rehearsed. This can come across as robotic or insincere. It can also make the director’s job difficult if they have a different vision of the performance.
Don’t let the script run the show
In creative filmmaking and method acting, the script is an important tool to tell the story and give the characters depth. For other kinds of filmmaking and videos it’s important in different ways and should be used less rigidly. In many cases, the script is a way to organize thoughts, keep the speakers on the right path to ensure the final product is what it’s meant to be. Use the script to understand the content and context for vlogs, documentaries, tutorials and personal projects and then try to speak as naturally as possible during filming.
One of the best ways to keep the script from being too central and keep your speaking voice natural is to completely avoid teleprompters or cue cards. Notes can be helpful, though, particularly if you’re feeling nervous about being on camera. Your notes might be a paper in front of you to glance at when needed. It could also be more like a poster board near the camera. Either way, do not include word-for-word scripting on these. Use bullet points or outline topics to keep you on track and save you if you lose your next beat. This helps you talk about each topic without sounding recited.
Some people can become distracted by trying to adhere to the script too strictly or the fact that they’re on camera. If you’re preoccupied by missing a line when you’ve worked hard to memorize every word or trying to carefully manage your hand movements, it can throw off your entire performance. Try to focus on the concepts and content so you can be yourself. Remember, you’re really just talking to other people who are interested in the subject matter.
Dress comfortably and consider the angles
If you’re going to be the on-screen talent instead of the director, it may feel like you won’t have a voice in wardrobe choices. If what to wear is a source of worry for you, it’s a useful conversation to have. Wearing clothes that you feel good in can be one way to appear more comfortable in front of the camera. Work together with the director—or wardrobe manager if there is one—to find common ground on your outfits.
There may be reasons they want you to wear a certain color or you may have total freedom in wardrobe, so definitely ask questions. Find out what the background and props will be so that you won’t blend in or clash. Use your most flattering colors if you can. Choose clean lines and avoid busy patterns. Solid white is rarely a good choice because the lighting can make it seem extra bright or it may be slightly off from the white of your teeth.
Take other details of the project into consideration so that you’re really dressed for the shoot. If the video is about cooking, for example, you’ll need to be able to reach and bend. Plus, a kitchen set might be much warmer than other sets because of ovens and stovetops. You’ll want to be in comfortable fabrics that won’t restrict your movements. It’s advisable to wear these clothes once or twice before filming to be sure they will meet your needs.
The bottom line is this: if you feel good in what you are wearing, it will help you feel more confident and comfortable on camera.
Know your cast, crew and audience
Another way to be more comfortable on camera is by being comfortable with the other people you’ll be working with. Meet as many colleagues as possible before the shoot. Obviously, you’ll want to spend a reasonable amount of time with the producers or directors and try to be involved in pre-production decisions when possible. Try to learn about the target audience so you know who you’re really talking to.
There are several conversations you can have with the director to guide your performance and quell any nervousness about unknowns. Talk about the script to get a feel for their vision and suggestion changes that will help you feel more natural. Have those discussions about wardrobes, backgrounds and notes. Always lead with “why” in these conversations so that it’s clear that you’re trying to give your best, not take over the project.
Go a few steps further, too. Grab coffee with a co-star a few times to build a friendly, professional chemistry that pulls through in the performance. Make time to introduce yourself and learn the names of anyone you encounter on set, especially the camera crew. Ask about their favorite past shoots or ask if they have any helpful tips to share. Having this kind of camaraderie on set will help you feel better and it will show in your overall performance.
Settle into your surroundings on the set
Arrive early on filming days and get comfortable in the finalized space. Have a firm understanding of the range of camera view and where the edge of that is so that you aren’t accidentally stepping out of the frame. If there are critical spots to stand in relation to the cameras or background, know exactly where those spots are. The director and cinematographer can advise you on this.
Then, try to use the space but do it carefully to not disrupt any placement of props. Sit in the chairs, open and close the doors, consider doing a casual walk-thru of a few scenes to see if there’s anything you tend to bump that might cause distractions or retakes.
It’s okay to make mistakes
Speaking of retakes, if you’re working on a recorded project that will be edited in post-production, there are a few things to know. First, it’s okay to make mistakes because you can do a retake. Second, if the retakes aren’t working well, you can do a different scene and come back to it later. Filming is rarely done sequentially. Third, even if the first take was perfect, there will be retakes anyway. Retakes allow for better options in the cutting room. Don’t allow the number of retakes to shake your confidence.
For live streams, it’s a little different since there are no retakes. The key in live streams is to embrace your own human errors and just go with it. Laugh at yourself and correct misspeaks quickly. Again, remember that you’re just talking to other people. They don’t expect you to be perfect and being a little imperfect adds a layer of authenticity to the video. It helps the audience feel connected to you.
Take a few tips from the coaches.
In addition to practicing scripts and creating on-set friendships, there are some tips that acting coaches might recommend to help you stay cool, calm and collected. If you’re not practicing yoga or intentional relaxation, go online to find a few that work for you. There are several ways to relax your facial muscles, calming breathing techniques and mantras to reframe your stressors when you’re feeling tense or nervous. Incorporate some of these to reduce your performance anxieties.
Also, being well hydrated is more important than you might think. At least 24 hours prior to filming, focus on your hydration. Drink plenty of water, get some extra electrolytes and avoid alcohol. Being hydrated will make you feel more healthy, which is helpful in itself, but it will also give your appearance a boost for more supple skin and brightness to your eyes. Knowing that your skin looks great might just be the confidence lift you need when you arrive for the shoot.
Finally, remember that it’s okay to use your hands and personal mannerisms a little when you talk. This is particularly true if that’s something you normally do because forcing yourself to be still will appear rigid. Let the director guide you about how much casual movement will work for their video, of course, but this small freedom can allow you to feel more like yourself.
Don’t forget to breathe
Whatever your personal hurdles are with nervousness about being filmed, you’re definitely not alone. Performing in front of a camera can faze even seasoned pros. Take the “do’s and don’t’s” you’ve learned here and use it to put your best foot forward each time you arrive to a shoot.
Before the shoot, practice your scripts to get familiar with the content and expectations. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone when you practice. Don’t practice so much that it becomes insincere or robotic. Open discussions with the director when you find small ways to be more comfortable. Create a friendly connection with as many on-set colleagues as possible.
On set days,be prepared. Drink lots of water and get some sleep so that you arrive fresh. Dress for the shoot so that you’ll feel comfortable in your clothes. Take time to get to know your set and the spaces you’ll be moving around within. Talk to the camera like you’re talking to your audience. Don’t worry about being perfect because no one is and that’s okay. Laugh at yourself and move on quickly when there’s a mistake.
Most importantly, allow a bit of your own self shine through. After all, they selected you for a reason, right? Confidence comes with experience, so keep practicing and learn from your mistakes. Don’t forget to breathe and enjoy the experience.
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