How to Speak to a Camera during an Online Event?

In these Corona-times we're watching a lot of online events, video messages, hybrid events, ... We can imagine, for a lot of people, it's the first time they need to speak in front of a camera. How to speak to a camera during an online event? Kevin asks presentation coach Frederik Imbo.

Be sure to also select the right online event software for your event!

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Frederik.

Hi Kevin.

In these Corona-times we're watching a lot of online presentations, video messages and so on. And I can imagine, for a lot of people, it's the first time they need to speak in front of a camera.

If you do want to give a video message, what do you pay attention to?

Well, first of all: be enthusiastic. Because: if you have fun, then, of course, the listeners will undoubtedly enjoy themselves too.

And: stand up. Stand up straight. Don't remain seated. No, stand up. That looks way more dynamic, I think.

Okay, you will have a lot more impact if you stand upright. Because then you can move your hands. You can go a bit further away. You can come closer. You can let speak your entire body-language.

It's possible to be seated, although it's much more alive and dynamic when you're standing up. But if you sit down, just one tip, let me tell you this: make sure that the point-of-view of your camera  is higher than the position of your face. Because in a lot of cases I see people who have a kind of lower point-of-view. And as a result one sees your double, or even, sometimes, depending on your age, your triple chin. And let's be honest, that's not really elegant. So, make sure that your camera is at eye-level instead of somewhere below.

The way you are framed is also important. Because sometimes I see people. They are just at the very bottom of the screen. That looks really stupid. 

Or another big mistake: the face of the speaker looks completely dark, due to too much backlight.

So, to be honest: if you really want to make it a very good shot, the best is to hire a professional crew. Or even record your video message in a studio. That's the best.

Okay, Frederik, where do you look? Straight into the camera?

You look straight into the camera.

Okay, for a Zoom call, like we're doing right now, of course it's an interview, so I can just look at you. I see you in front of my screen, so I'm just watching you. To be honest, because your image is so close to my camera, you barely see the difference between: now, I'm looking at you, Kevin.  And now, I'm looking right into the camera. So, you barely see the difference, isn't it?

But for a video message, that's something completely different. Look straight into the camera. Into that tiny black spot over there. I admit that for many people, speaking into a camera, with really no-one else around, it feels really uncomfortable. But it's absolutely necessary to do it anyway if you want to give those present, the idea, the feeling, that someone is really talking to them.

So, looking straight into the camera, how do you do it? Well, imagine that you are speaking to someone that you really know. The person might be a colleague, a spouse, a sibling or your uncle, why not? It should be, anyway, a person you really would like to hear say: Kevin, wow, the way you spoke to me, that was really terrific. You really nailed it. When you imagine you're talking, really genuinely talking to that person, instead of to a recording device, you will, for sure, come across at your best. Authentic. Actually, just as you would in a natural conversation. Actually, all the things, Kevin, that you do when you're communicating in real life with someone you also have to do when giving a presentation. For example: if in real life you also make gestures. Or just beware of how close you are in image.  When this is your frame and you make these kinds of gestures, of course no one will see it. So, check how wide you are in the picture and, again, check the framing in advance. But please, please, please, do use your hands to boost your impact.


Watch. Let me show you something, Kevin. Keep your hand palms up. Because if you do that, you can show that you want involvement. You want some reactions. You want to provoke a reaction from the audience. So, palms up. It shows that you are open. That you are willing to take into account the listener and his needs.

And, pay attention: hocus-pocus. What happens if I keep my palms down? Now I show that I want to be listened to. Now I show that I'm in charge. That I really do not want to be contradicted or interrupted. I just want to make my point.

But I can imagine, with those hands, a lot of people don't know, during a presentation, where to put them.

Just hold your hands. Easy. You can just hold them.

Another trick? If you want to appear confident, what is then a good speaking posture? It's one of the questions that I have been asked the most. Well, the answer is: bend your arms. Bend your arms. Like in a 90° angle. It makes you appear more confident. It gives you a powerful attitude. For the rest, of course, you can hold your arms however you want. As long as your arms are bended. Look: this is okay. I think so.

This is okay.

This is okay.

This is okay.

Even this is okay. When my arms are crossed. It's not necessarily bad. There are so many books are pretending that this is a bad posture. Because then you appear closed, as you're closing yourself from the audience.

Kevin, can I ask you: as long as I have an open face, I smile at you and I make eye-contact, really, do I come across as closed? Right now?

No, quite open, actually.

Okay, so the posture is not the problem. It's the lack of eye-contact or the frowning. The whole time. That is the problem. As long, of course, as you don't keep your arms crossed for the whole presentation. Then, I think, there is not really a problem. But, okay, here again, you should vary in your position of your arms. You can use them to make gestures. For example: okay, we have been talking about topic A. Now let's switch to topic number B. But pay attention. Don't always do the same gestures, otherwise you look like an accordion player. And after a while, your audience starts focussing on that annoying, never-ending movement. And the audience will no longer listen to your message. There is a funny story, a funny video of Donald Trump, on YouTube. Where he constantly, you know him: yeah, so we think...

And where he constantly moves back and forth with his arms. No, what you should do, instead of always doing the same, is to vary. Vary your gestures. Maintain them, your gestures, long enough. If you're talking about topic A, don't go back and forth. But remain, for example, with both hands in that position. So the audience will understand that you're still talking about the point that you made the gesture for. So, for this, of course, let's be honest, you have to control yourself a bit.

Another pitfall, about controlling yourself: people who sway around the whole time. They simply can't manage to just stand still. Or they wobble. They wobble back and forth. The audience gets sea-sick. They vomit. Or at least they get very, very nervous. The solution: stand still. Think that you are on a skiing holiday. And click, bam-bam, left-right, your ski-boots into your skis. So that you stand still. Instead of wobbling and wandering about.


You really have to think about a lot of things, giving a presentation. There's a lot involved here. 

Absolutely. I wish it was different but: no sweat, no glory. You have to invest time to practice. At least if you want to boost your impact. Indeed, you have to pay attention to so many things. But don't expect of yourself that you can implement all these tips at once, from the very first time. That's completely impossible. It's unrealistic.

Instead you should focus on one tip at the time. So, step by step. First you work on the content. You have to provide a strong story. It's important. Your message should stand there, as a rock. I mean, when you record your message for real, you no longer should be busy with: okay, what did I exactly want to say again? No, pay attention, this does not mean that you should know your entire text, word by word. But what you do have to know, are the big parts. The main messages you want to deliver. And in which order you want to give them.

So, only when your story is crystal clear, here in your head, just like saying your ABC’s or the months of the year, January, February, March and so on, only then you are ready to practice the how you will speak. Our brain can only deal with the how if the what is checked. I always tell it like this: if you forget to prepare yourself, you prepare yourself to be forgotten.

If I hear all this, I can imagine a lot of our viewers are thinking, now: well, if I want to do this well, I cannot do this alone.

Well, that's why coaches exist. Like me. Our job, as a coach, is to consult. To support. To motivate people to deliver a powerful message. It's my job to let the speaker shine. That's what a coach is for.

By the way, Kevin. Do you know what is the origin of the word coach?

No. No, I don't.

You wouldn't say it, but coach is actually French. Okay, around 1500, it also became an English word for carriage. You see: carriage, the vehicle with horses in front. Well, a coach to transport people from one place to another. Driving a carriage was at that time called coaching. Well, this is what a coach, as a profession, actually does. We are glad, as a coach, to take you, as a speaker, from start to your goal.

If you want to take it step by step. Before looking into the form, you mentioned, there is the content.

How do we get started?

Kevin, what is the first question you should ask yourself, when you want to create a video message? What is it?

I think, something like: what's my message or something?

What's my message? What is my goal? What do I want to achieve with my audience?

You're not speaking for yourself. You're speaking to an audience. So, what do you want, as a speaker, that your audience will "hm", but also "hm" and also "hm, hm"?

Kevin, could you tell me: what were the three hm's that were missing? No?



What do I want my audience to feel? I want to motivate them. I want to give them the feeling that they belong. That they matter. That I'm concerned. And also: what do I want my audience to do?

It's funny, though, emotion, feeling, comes from the Latin: emovere. And what does it mean? It means, literally, to put in motion. So, if we let people feel something, we don't just want them to feel something. We also want them to do something with the message. And many speakers don't think about this in advance. They just say something that comes up in their minds.

You know, Kevin, many speakers suffer from a strange condition. They have verbal diarrhoea. They talk, they talk, they talk.

Well actually, it should be the other way around. Less is more. It's a cliché but is a true cliché. It's a true one. So, keep it short. And sweet.

As a speaker, let's be honest, you know a lot more than your audience wants to hear. Can hear. Guess how many minutes a listener can be really focussed. Guess. How many minutes do you think an audience can pay attention?

Fifteen - twenty minutes? Something like that?

It's less.

Even less?

A listener can only focus for about seven minutes. After seven minutes they are distracted. So, to avoid that, please, pretty please, get to the point.

What else do you have in store, Frederik?

Stop delivering your message as if you were a postman.

How do you mean that?

Well, what is the job of a postman? What does he do? A postman simply drops a letter into the letterbox of a receiver. That's his job. Period. Because, do you really think that he's concerned, he's asking himself in the evening: oh, did those receivers open the letters and did they really read them?


He's only paid to deliver the message.

Do you see the analogy with many speakers? They just drop info into the heads of those listeners and couldn't care less whether we, as listeners, understood the message. Or whether we will do something with it. Many speakers behave the same way as a postman. They just drop information in our mailbox. But they do not care much about whether we think, feel or do something with the information.


But how then could we do that in a better way?

Well, simply stop giving information and start to communicate with your audience instead.

Let me explain. Information is only one-directional. It only goes from me to you. And it's therefore quite sleep-inducing for those present. Honestly, who is actually waiting for your endless list of facts, jargon, features and all those details? They are so boring. So, they do not appeal to the audience. So, stop doing that. Instead, make sure you say things that really mean something. They should truly bring value to your audience. Only say things that really stick. Things that are interesting parts for the audience. Talk about things that are a part of their living world. Choose matters that concern them. Create a two-way traffic instead of a one-way traffic. Choose for communication. Instead of information.

For example, you could say things like: I know that in recent weeks you have suffered from this. It's painful.

Or: now, maybe you are wondering why we, as a management, decided that...

Or, a last one: how long have you been looking forward to the new track & trace-system? For months. Right, I know it. Well, today I have good news for you.

Kevin, did you see what I did? I asked the audience questions. Rhetorical questions. And what is the consequence of these rhetorical questions? People feel more involved.

Kevin, I don't know whether you noticed it but did you see what I did? I just asked you a question. And I answered it myself. Well, that's another technique that you can use when you want to deliver a strong, powerful video message. Asking rhetorical questions. You ask a question and just wait. The pause that follows triggers the listener. And what happens? He starts to think. He wonders: oh, what would be the answer to that question? When he reflects upon your question, he's 100% involved and that is what you wanted. Super. And since you are giving a video message, in which the other person cannot really answer, you, as a speaker, simply give the answer yourself.

For example: if we continue emitting that amount of CO2, what do you think will happen in a few decades? Our planet will no longer exist. Is that what we want? Of course not. You see? I asked a question and I responded myself.

That's indeed a lot more involving than one-way traffic.

Well yes, so don't inform people. They don't really get excited by it. But they do get excited by storytelling. Stories are content with a soul. Tell your audience what you believe in. What you're concerned about. And what you would like from them.

And don't forget, of course, to surprise them every now and then. Remember the attention span of only seven minutes? So, come up with a shocking statement. Tell a joke. Or state a quote. They all have one purpose. To keep your audience interested.

Yes and just because of that attention span of seven minutes, you need to get the message lively and not being boring.

If you just want to give facts and figures, if you just want to give information, why don't you just send them an email then? But if you want to talk to them, via a video message, please take advantage of all the

many benefits of spoken communication. Let your voice be heard. Very in your volume, intonation. Vary in your speaking speed. If you say something important, speak louder. Speak higher. Speak slower. And do the opposite when you're mentioning something that is less important for you. Then you're speaking lower, quieter and faster.


Kevin, I have a question. How many languages do you speak?




Could you name them?

Dutch and English.

Dutch: Nederlands. And English.


No, you forget one. You speak three languages, at least.

Body language then?

Body language, indeed. Body language. Yes, use it. Speak with your body language. Show, with your entire body, what you are feeling. Show that you are surprised. Show that you're shocked. Or amazed. Or concerned. Or also show that you're, sometimes, annoyed. And, of course, pause.

Pause for effect. To let what you just told sink in. Or pause to build up suspense for what you have in store. Pauses for effect are such a powerful and easy applicable technique, to boost your impact.

If you really want to involve your audience, look straight into the camera. Raise your eyelids and nod yes. Who wants to bet that the listener nods back in return?

Talking about language, to be honest, sometimes I have the impression that some speakers got a Botox-treatment. Botox-treatment. Because their facial expressions remain the same. No, please, pretty please, like you're doing right now, Kevin: smile. If you smile, Kevin, it's so much nicer to look at you. You are handsome anyway, but if you smile you're even more handsome. Because, Kevin, can I be honest with you? And also to the audience. You are not responsible for the face you were given. Sorry. But you are responsible for the face you make. Does it mean, though, that you have to keep smiling all the time, during your message? Of course not. Otherwise that becomes boring and monotonous again. Here the motto is: vary. Frown. Frown to show that something is complex, troublesome or frustrating. And show it by using your entire body language. The feeling is not only expressed by your facial expression. It's also visible in your shoulders. In your legs. You can accentuate sudden parts. Your entire body has to speak. To them. To your audience. Suddenly change emotion, again.

That is what Steve Jobs did. The upper-man. Steve Jobs. He kept alternating  something positive with something negative. First he talked about a new feature of Apple. Then he mentioned a problem that really troubled and concerned him. And then he popped up, again, a solution to that problem. Really awesome.


But to become as good as Steve Jobs, that takes an tremendous amount of practice, I assume.

It was an open secret that Steve Jobs practised, again and again, before every presentation. And it paid off. The incredibly natural feel of his presentations, was due to a tremendous amount of practise.

So practise, practise, practise.

Indeed. Over and over again. To become better and better.

Record yourself. And if you watch that recording, celebrate your mistakes. Practise even more and you will see that both you, as a speaker, and thus also the impact of your presentation, will become better and better.

So far we have been talking about giving or delivering a video message. But that's a message without real interaction.

If you're doing a Zoom call, is it possible to get interaction into that call.

Yes, that's very possible. Although everyone knows it: who does a video-call via Zoom or Teams or whatever other feature, it's difficult. And that is because many people do not use their computer properly during that video call.

What do I mean? Okay, nowadays everyone has two screens. They work on two screens. A screen here and a screen there. So, if you are the speaker and you address yourself to your audience, make sure that the people you're talking to are on the same screen as your webcam. If you put the image of your conversation partner on the other screen and you talk to that person like that...

Because it's normal. I see the picture of you right here. Then I don't think, Kevin, that you have the idea, if I'm looking at you like this, that I'm talking to you. Am I? Hello Kevin, are you still there? Hello?


It's weird, isn't it. At the start, the very start of your call, in the very beginning, make a few agreements with your audience.

First ask everyone: hey guys, can you please put on your camera, even when you're still in your pyjamas? I just want to see your reactions. I really need it to have contact with you. I would love to hear and see what you're thinking about what I'm saying. And I want your input as well.

So, if you explain to them why it's so important for you to have their camera on, I believe that everyone will just do that. It was my experience up 'till now, when you ask for involvement, as a moderator, people are happily willing to give you that involvement.

It's actually the Penis Principle.

What do you mean by that?

Well, you don't know the Penis Principle, Kevin?


This surprises me.

Everything you give attention to, grows.


Frederik, you just mentioned: put on the camera.

What do you do with the audio of the participants?

Well played, Kevin: switching immediately the topic from the Penis Principle into another subject.

Yes, I wanted to get away from that, so...

But however, it's a really good question. What do you do with the sounds of the participants?

Well, what I do is the following: if there are less than ten people attending the meeting, I propose to leave their microphone on. Unless, of course, there is a disturbing background noise coming in via someone's microphone. But the advantage is, when you leave the microphones on, that you create space for a quick and easy response by those present. And that's exactly what you wanted, right?

But if the amount of people is bigger than ten, then, of course, I ask everyone: guys, can you please mute yourselves? To have as less disturbance as possible. And please, of course, if you want to speak, unmute yourself. Feel free to do that.

I always tell them, as well: please guys, interrupt me as much as possible. Whenever you have a question, you have a remark or would like to share your point of view, please interrupt me. Because I love to do everything that is in my power to have as much reaction and involvement as possible.

So, take your time to make good agreements with the participants. At the start of your meeting. Because good agreements make good friends. And before you want the attendees to invest, to listen to you, I think, first of all, you should show yourself. That you appreciate those present to be there. And that you appreciate that they are interested and made time for your meeting.

People don't care how much you know. Until they know how much you care. Okay, it's a cheesy quote but I think there is some value in it. Make time. Make time to hear how they are doing. Ask some questions. Hey guys, how are you feeling right now? What kind of projects are you working on? How is it going? Create as much a positive atmosphere as possible. And make sure that everyone really feels involved. Only when you feel that the attendees are...

Okay guys, are we really online now? And I mean by that: really connected to you? Only then you can, to use the analogy of the internet, stream information. And yes, I admit that sometimes it's really hard to discover some participants' passwords. Some are difficult to reach.

But how do you ensure, then, interaction? If it is difficult to reach them.

Yes, as I said, it is really not easy. But isn't that understandable? I mean: they are not physically present in the meeting room. No, everyone sits safely behind their computer, at home. Sometimes children are walking around, making terrible noise. Or just pets are passing by. There are so many triggers for those people. So many stimuli, distracting them.

So, first of all, you have to accept that. I mean, that's just how it is. And above all, don't let it frustrate you that much. Let go of your expectations. That everyone is 100% focussed on your message. But do find a solution. Do everything you can to include them in your story. That only works if you stimulate and involve them as much as possible.

We have discussed that before. Look, Kevin, people have two pairs of halves. Two pairs of halves. A pair of halves to sit on. And a pair of halves to think with. And the extent to which your audience will remember your message, depends on which pair you encourage your audience to use the most. And, for sure, it's not this pair. It's this pair. So, interact with your listeners. As much as possible. And you can do that in so many ways.


One: state the names of the attendees who are speaking. Kevin, do you agree with what I just said? Or: Jessica, what is your opinion?

Two: let people raise their hands to indicate whether they agree or not. Or to let them say that they recognize a particular situation or a story.

Three: ask them questions. And of course, let them answer. For example, when there are many people, let them answer in the chat. The advantage of the chat is that it is easy and safe for the participants. Because they just need to write down what they think instead of saying it out loud. Because some people lack the courage to do that. And after you, as the speaker, read their messages, out loud, you can easily pick someone and ask to clarify their opinion. Hey Michael, can you please turn on your microphone and tell me what you exactly meant by what you wrote down in the chat?

Four: you can put people in break-out rooms. I can name five, six, seven...

You see, the possibilities are absolutely endless.

Frederik, thank you so much for sharing all these insights and tips.

We will put the link to your website below, because I can imagine some people will want to contact you as a coach.

Thank you so much, Frederik.

We are available, as we call it.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.