Don’t point that camera at me! (Or…how to relax in front of the lens)

If you’ve ever watched a politician or celebrity being interviewed and marvelled at their apparent confidence on screen you’ve probably assumed that they were totally at ease in front of a camera.

But forty years in broadcasting has taught me that even the most experienced public figures can struggle at times when it comes to facing a microphone.

Just like the rest of us – those veteran politicians never lost for words or the smooth celebrities born to perform can occasionally succumb to an attack of nerves.

Let’s be honest – few of us are blessed with natural confidence when confronted by a camera.

Let’s be honest – few of us are blessed with natural confidence when confronted by a camera.
Let’s be honest – few of us are blessed with natural confidence when confronted by a camera.

Why? The simplest answer is that most of us are not used to spending much time in front of a lens and doing so understandably feels unnatural and strange. Scientists tell us that if we feel awkward on camera we will look for signs of that when we watch our video back. It’s called confirmation bias and it negatively affects our judgement.

Experiments have shown that we prefer pictures of our loved ones as they really are but when it comes to seeing our own face we actually respond more favourably to a mirror image. This is known as the familiarity principle. Because each of us is used to seeing ourselves in a mirror we are programmed to identify more readily with the mirror image than as we actually are in life. It’s the same for voice recordings: we hear a different version of ourselves when it is played back because we don’t get all the “internal” sounds we normally hear when we are talking I.e. it doesn’t sound familiar.

Then there’s the fear about what will happen to any recording. Even in this age of increasing exposure to social media most of our words and actions still don’t get recorded for posterity. The vast majority of the time we can relax knowing that what we say or do will not re-emerge to embarrass us further down the line.

There are lots of other explanations for why adrenaline starts pumping but take a deep breath and relax…here comes the good news (a) It’s a natural human response that is hardwired and (b) you CAN do something about it.

So how do you make sure you don’t have one of those off days when the person in front of the microphone is you? Here are a few brief tips.

  • Practice makes perfect. Ask someone you trust to record an interview with you on their phone. Watch it back and even if it makes you wince try it again and again…
  • Be a swat! Do your homework. Know your stuff. Use the time you have to prepare by researching the subject you are being interviewed about.
  • Don’t learn your lines! You needn’t (and shouldn’t) memorise your answers. If you feel happier with notes as a backup – fine! But DON’T use a script otherwise you’ll end up looking and sounding robotic.
  • Think like Usain Bolt! Successful athletes use mental imagery before important events. It may sound like psycho-babble but experiments have shown that positively imagining success can help achieve it.
  • Familiarise yourself with the surroundings and what exactly the interviewer wants. Ask basic questions such as: Is it live or recorded?
  • PLUG ALERT! Get yourself some training if you can…ask others who’ve tried it. It really does work.