A Dedication: This post is for my dear friend who gave me some lovely compliments on recorded lecture on virginity and the patriarchal nation-state. She has an important interview coming up soon that’s taking place through zoom and I want the committee who sees her to know what an imitable bada** she is. Originally, I was just gonna share this with her, but we are both educators and we figured, if one person has the question someone else probably does too, you know? So, this is dedicated to Tehmina, may she shine in zoom, and a gift to all of you who are feeling antsy about being brilliant in front of a camera.
Tip 1: It’s okay to acknowledge this is weird.
No, really, it is. We don’t all have to sit and pretend that a recorded lecture isn’t different from an in-person one or that a zoom teaching demo won’t be the same as an in-person one. In fact, when you acknowledge that the situation is a little strange you build rapport with the audience and you build your credibility a little bit. The audience feels something like, “hey, this person knows what’s up they aren’t one of those weird people that pretends this is normal, that’s cool.” So, go ahead and acknowledge it’s a little strange, but, like, don’t make it weird.
One of the ways I do this when I record a lecture is to say, “When I give this lecture in person I ask students to do X activity.” This acknowledges that we’re all making concessions to do this video thing but, more importantly, it allows students to think through the activity with you which gives them a little bit of ownership over class and helps them take the lesson of the activity with them.
There’s a lot of variations of this. You can say, “If I was doing this teaching demo there with you I would walk you through this activity but I’m not sure it translates to zoom so let me tell you how this normally plays out . . .”
Tip 2: Eye Contact All The Time Is Creepy
I haven’t watched the show “You” but I’ve been told one of the creepiest things the main character does is make intense eye contact with his victims. Think about it, in real life, one of the things that gives you a creepy vibe is when someone’s eye contact is too intense.
In normal conversations our eyes move around a bit. They are naturally drawn to motion. Don’t think that just because you’re in a video conference you have to
Stare. Directly. Into. Camera. At. All. Times.
Normal eye contact rules apply. Yes, your gaze should come back to the camera and should mostly be on the camera, as it would be in a conversation, but don’t worry if you look away while thinking or do anything you would normally do in conversation.
Tip 3: Remember Your America’s Next Top Model Basics
If you never watched the hell and glory that is America’s Next Top Model and don’t have Tyra’s rules for modeling drummed into your brain there are two things you need to know.
First, find your frame. Play with your camera and know what is in frame and what isn’t. We all joke about zoom meetings where you’re professional above the waist and wearing pajama bottoms. It might be comfortable and you can get away with it only if your torso is the only thing in frame at all times.
Second, you gotta find your light. You don’t need a professional lighting set up just make sure there aren’t any weird shadows hanging out or making you look weird.
Tip 4: Trick Yourself Into Looking At Camera
There are a million ways to do this. Some have suggested putting a pair of googly-eyes on either side of your camera so you’re drawn to looking at the eyes. You can put a small picture of someone you love right above the camera. My computer reflects my own face near my camera so I wind up talking to myself–this is where my narcissistic tendencies help. While you don’t have to look at the camera all the time it should be your anchor, the thing you keep coming back to, and this is unnatural for most of us so find a trick that works.
Tip 5: Don’t Worry About Vocal Fillers
Again, even though the medium is different normal conversational behaviors still apply. It’s normal to use vocal fillers. It’s okay. It really doesn’t through off your audience off. If they aren’t excessive your audience probably won’t even notice.
In reality, most people who think they are worried about vocal fillers are actually worried about forgetting what they are trying to say. When we have a panic moment and forget what we we’re trying to say we is when the vocal fillers proliferate and we sound like we don’t know what we’re talking about.
When I coach political candidates on speeches I don’t teach them to avoid vocal fillers. I teach them to replace their vocal fillers. Instead of saying “um” and “uh” I often coach them to replace the impulse towards a vocal filler with their slogan or with standing up straight and taking a deep breath.
My teaching version of this, which you can see in yesterday’s video, is “Why is any of this important?” I ask that question when I feel like I’ve gone too far into a tangent and want to say “What was I saying?”
By posing the question “why is this important?” I create a transition for myself back to my thesis statement and from there to the rest of my argument.
What is the thesis of your job talk? Is it, “this relates to the position because” or is “as you can see, this relates to your programs emphasis on” or something similar?
Don’t eliminate your vocal fillers. It’s a pointless battle. Replace them with something better.
Tip 6: Give Yourself An Outline.
Keep it to bullet points, if you can, and print it in big a** font. I do this for all my conferences and most recorded lectures.
Again, you don’t want to be reading a paper, but it’s okay to glance over at your outline every now and then.
If you’re not familiar with talking and reading at the same time allow yourself to do a dramatic reading of your favorite book for whoever you have at home: your partner, your cat, your wall.
As you read, practice reading the next few sentences and, as you say them, looking at your audience and using your face to express the emotions of what you’re reading.
It sounds weird and artificial but I promise you it helps develop your speaking skills immensely.
Tip 7: Practice
As a veteran public speaking teacher (with excellent evals, I might add) and part-time speaking consultant, I cannot emphasize enough that the key to ALL of the above tips is to practice as much as you can.
Practice in the medium you’re using. Zoom with someone in another country or another room but get someone to be your audience and do your talk four or five times. Get feedback on your outfit, your light, your background. What sounds natural, what needs to be broken down, and so on.
I particularly recommend getting an audience who is a smart layperson. They can give you feedback on whether you are breaking your topics down well enough for an intro audience.
When I’m doing a talk I always imagine I’m giving it to my mom–smartest lady I know but no college education. Would she understand what I’m talking about? If not, what definitions do I need to break down further. What analogies would feel relevant to her life?
Get your audience to listen to you 4 or 5 times.
That’s it friends, those are all the tips I have you. I don’t have a tip on how to make you sound smart or seem brilliant because you already are smart and brilliant. You don’t need any help there. Just follow the tips above and your brilliance will shine through the grainiest of laptop cameras. Sending you love and encouragement in this time <3