Ready for your closeup? Advice from an actor on nailing that Zoom presentation

Emma Rendell on stage
Emma Rendell competing on stage at the Noel Coward Theatre in London in 2017. She received a degree in classical acting from the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Arts.

When I first first saw myself acting on camera, I was appalled. The size of my expressions, the tension around my mouth, the awkwardness and self-consciousness — honestly, it was bad. Coming from the world of theatre, where your performance needs to be seen and heard from the back row, I was shocked to see the detail and nuances the camera picked up. It’s incredibly exposing. It took a long time to become comfortable in front of a camera, to let myself be vulnerable and to allow the camera to witness my work, instead of pushing my work onto the camera.

Hands up if you’ve found yourself, willingly or not, in front of a camera this past year.

Now more than ever our presence is being requested on video — be that on social media, websites or virtual speaking engagements. Companies and brands are wanting to put faces at the forefront, establishing a more authentic, relatable presence — the people behind the product. (Instagram just announced this month that it’s officially moving from a “photo-sharing app” to a “video-sharing app.”)

Being able to show up in front of a camera with authenticity, warmth and confidence is crucial to engage and connect with your audience.

Here are four foundational concepts from the world of acting that will come in handy when it’s time for your close-up.

It’s Not About You 

As actors, we learn to focus all of our attention on our scene partner. Our scene partner is the most important person in the room — be that in an audition, on set or on stage. This is one of the most fundamental yet most difficult, parts of acting, because when we’re under pressure, our attention turns onto ourselves. This, in turn, makes us even more nervous, self-aware, self-conscious and (frankly) not very interesting to watch.

To connect to our camera, a.k.a. our scene partner, we have to give it our full attention. Take the pressure off yourself — it’s not about you. Consider who is on the other side of the camera. How do we want them to feel? The more specific you can be about who you’re talking to and why, the more engaging and natural you will become. I find it helpful to have another human being in the room when you’re recording something — practise speaking your message to them, and then turn to the camera.

Slow Down and Breathe

Back in my early years as an actor, I remember the feeling of walking into an audition room — bright lights, a big camera, a table full of people, a big “X” on the floor — and my heart would be pounding through my chest. I’d launch into my lines at the speed of light, worried that if I didn’t get them out, I’d forget them.

Recording video can feel full of pressure — time pressure, pressure to get it right, pressure to be natural, pressure to remember everything you need to say. It’s very common to launch into speaking at a breakneck speed, often glossing over one’s thoughts and blurring things together. Take a few deep breaths, bring yourself into the present moment and start slow. Don’t be afraid to take pauses. Be intentional about your message, emphasize key words and remember that your audience is hearing this for the first time.

Instant Forgiveness

We all make mistakes; it’s bound to happen. I, for one, have fully blanked on a line mid-performance, tripped on a carpet, missed an entrance, chipped a fellow actor’s tooth (whoops) … you name it. As an actor, the ability to maintain our sense of focus and calm is essential, and one key tool we employ is instant forgiveness.

Instant forgiveness is the ability to let things go, instantly, when they happen. Holding on to feelings of guilt, anger or frustration will only hinder your ability to perform. When recording video, we feel the need to get things “perfect.” But “perfect” shouldn’t be the goal. If you have a little mix-up, forgive and carry on. The camera loves spontaneity — these moments are the little bits of gold that make up incredibly authentic and engaging content.

Engage Your Body

Being on camera can feel like an activity that happens from the shoulders up — more often than not, we completely ignore or forget what’s happening with the rest of our bodies. When our bodies are tense or unengaged, it affects our ability to breathe, to focus and to relax. On camera, this reads as discomfort, nervousness or feeling unconfident.

Take a few minutes to connect with your body before you begin.

Take some deep breaths, stand up, unlock your knees, walk around, roll out your shoulders, stretch out your hands. If sitting isn’t working for you, try standing. Or vice versa. Your body is there to support you, to provide grounding, to provide breath. Don’t ignore it.

Videos are a critical new tool, allowing you to connect to your audience and share your story on a whole new level. By incorporating these techniques and channeling your inner actor, you’ll be delivering compelling and engaging content that not only gives you a leg up in the virtual world, but has that extra, sought-after “je ne sais quoi.” So grab your script, hit the makeup chair and we’ll see you on set in five. ′

Emma Rendell is a professional actor, singer and communications coach. She is the co-founder of the company ‘once more with feeling’, offering workshops and coaching designed to empower people to speak with authenticity, impact and ease.