Feel the fear and videotape yourself anyway

I had a difficult task at work the other day: Asking my coworkers if they would be willing to appear in a department video. Most of them said no. The one person who agreed did so reluctantly. One person gave me a “if no one else would do it,” but then offered me a plate of brownies to get out of doing it.

So, I went back to the person who asked me to find volunteers and gave him the bad news. He was not surprised. He said he expected people to be reluctant to do it. In fact, he said he would decline if he were the one asked to be videotaped.

Even though I have been videotaped and have appeared on a cable TV show produced by the On The Air Toastmasters club, I can understand why people are reluctant to appear on video.

First of all, we don’t look the same on video as we do when we look in our mirror. The lighting highlights or hides our facial features. If you’re not wearing makeup, it can wash out your face entirely. The resolution of standard video can also distort your look by removing details. (If you have tried videotaping yourself on an HD camcorder, please let me know if it made you look more natural.)

There is also the experience of listening to our own recorded voice. We usually hear our voice through the filter of our head. Hearing our voice as others hear it can be a strange experience.

Finally, there are the psychological barriers to seeing ourselves on video. TV has an exalted place in American culture. Here, if you want to be somebody, you have to be on TV. (Why do you think YouTube is so popular? People are willing to get duct taped to stop signs just so their image will be captured for time immemorial.)

An experience I had about 18 years ago made me realize this. Neil Armstrong was invited to speak at our company meeting. The first man who walked on the moon stood about 20 feet away from us, but everyone was looking at his image projected on the video screen behind him instead of looking at him. It wasn’t that he was too far away for us to see him clearly. As one of my coworkers told me, “It seemed more real to see him on the TV. It didn’t seem real to see him in person.”

This may be the reason why people say “I don’t look good enough to be on video” or “I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” We don’t feel like we size up when occupying the same video space as celebrities. (And considering what certain celebrities have done while caught on camera, I can understand why they too would be leery of camcorders and camera phones.)

But videotaping yourself speaking can help you develop your skills. Video enables you to study how you perform. You can look for distracting habits such as repetitive gestures or a lack of vocal variety. You can listen for the audience reaction. As I watch my contest speech, I found a number of things that I can use to improve future speeches. With devices like the new iPod Nano, it’s easy to take your videotaped speeches with you and study them whenever you want.

So, give videotaping a try. You will find that it will help you improve your skills. By becoming comfortable speaking on video, you will also increase your opportunities to speak.