More than a talking Head: learning to be comfortable on camera

The meteoric rise of video as a communication tool has caught school Heads by surprise. It is no longer an option to be camera shy. While you might not feel like a star, you can be authentic and feel authentic too.

The imperative for Heads to be using video as part of their communication toolkit has never been greater. Your primary audiences (prospective parents, current parents and staff) are consuming more online video than ever before but, even more importantly, their authenticity filters are more finely honed and attention is harder to maintain than ever before.

Writing and public speaking are two important communication channels for Heads. In fact, they would be considered mandatory skills. You might not enjoy them — especially public speaking — but there is no way to avoid them when you lead a school. They just come with the territory. Communicating using video has now joined the list of mandatory communication skills required of a contemporary school leader.

In the same way you adjust your writing and public speaking skills to match your audience and context, there is no single style for video presentations. So how can you be authentic and get your message across at the same time? Here are imageseven’s top tips for Heads to feel comfortable on camera.

Consider your voice

Not the sounds coming from your vocal cords, but the voice of your school brand. The voice of your school brand is the personality and emotion infused into all your school communications.

It is everything from the words and language you use to the personality and image you aim to project. If you have not yet decided what your school’s voice is, now is a good time to start.

In addition to your school brand’s voice, it’s also important to understand tone.

‘Voice’ describes your school’s personality. It is consistent and unchanging.

‘Tone’ is the emotional inflection applied to your school brand’s voice. It adjusts to what’s suitable for a particular piece or message.

While your voice remains consistent, the tone will change according to the content and context of your message. The aim is to have all your school communications feel unified without being uniform. As the leader, you have significant influence on your brand’s voice.

Open up

Many school videos featuring Heads are well-produced, but they come off as too sterile or ‘corporate’ to really connect with the intended audience.

One big reason for this is that Heads are scared to share anything personal and stick to technical jargon or ‘edu-speak’, which leaves viewers wondering if there’s even a real human in there. Prospective parents, current parents and staff don’t want to just learn the facts; they also want to know they are in a relationship with the right people. Video is a wonderful medium to let people get to know you a little better.

You can pull this off without appearing unprofessional or turning your videos into a personal diary. A balance of polished presentation with a few dashes of human openness will build rapport quickly.

Nonverbal communication

It is now generally accepted that between 60 and 90 percent of all communication is nonverbal. It is worth spending some time to get it right. This means at least as much time as you spend considering your script and your delivery. Miss this important point and you can easily send cues of inauthenticity and lose your audience.

Much of our body language stems from habits so deeply ingrained we don’t even know we’re doing them anymore. We get a little anxious in front of the camera, and we might not realise we appear inauthentic. Here are some common elements to watch out for.

  • Closed body language: Be careful not to cross your arms or legs, as this creates closed body language which makes you come off as defensive or guarded. Keep your limbs open and relaxed to appear more approachable and honest.
  • Touching your face: If you touch your face a lot, your viewers will interpret some kind of underlying discomfort or anxiety. Make sure you relax, keep your hands at your sides and use them occasionally to gesture while speaking.
  • Eye contact: There is no better way to build rapport than great eye contact. Look directly at the camera while you speak, but don’t stare. You can glance away every few seconds or blink to keep from coming across as too intense.
  • Posture: Your mum was right! Sit or, even better, stand up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed. You’ll appear more confident (and interested) than someone who slouches.

You won’t be able to change body language habits overnight but practicing on your own using your phone camera will help tremendously. It might be painful, and it will probably make you cringe, but you will see things you would never notice otherwise and it will help you form new habits.

Cut down on filler words

Almost all of us use filler words like “um,” “uh,” and “you know” when speaking. This goes for when we’re giving a presentation, shooting a video or just talking with friends. A few filler words in your video are not a problem. In fact, they might actually help you seem more authentic because viewers can relate to someone who speaks like they do.

But too much filler and not enough substance is an issue because it distracts your audience from your message and damages your credibility. Fixing the filler word habit takes time, but it is doable. Try using the audio recorder app on your phone while you tell an anecdote or even when you talk on the phone. Awareness is the first step to fixing the problem. Focus on cutting down one filler word at a time for a few weeks before moving onto the next.

Don’t read a script

Video scripts are great tools that keep you focused on the most important points without rambling too much. But relying on a script too much can actually detract from your authenticity. Even great script readers sound a little ‘off’ and appear filtered and stiff.

You can make the best use of scripts by studying them closely before the shoot. Once you’re familiar with the key points you want to make, put the script aside. Your delivery won’t be a perfect copy of the script, but that’s okay because the things that make you authentic — your quirks and unique personality — will have a chance to shine through while still making your key points.

Talk to just one person

Your video may be seen by hundreds, or even thousands, of people … who view it one at a time. Talk to just one person as you record your video. This perspective forces you to get very clear about the purpose of the video and your target viewer. The narrower your focus, the easier it is to build stronger connections with your audience. Picture someone you know who is in your target audience.

Embracing this perspective from the start will do wonders for your messaging. You’ll know what to say, and it will come off like an authentic one-to-one conversation instead of a broadcast.

Insight applied

  • Video communication is now a mandatory skill for contemporary school Heads.
  • Be authentic and human … not sterile or ‘corporate’.
  • Rehearse, review and refine.
  • Focus on an audience of one.

Brad Entwistle is Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness. 

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