Business videos: What my first live shot taught me about looking into a camera lens

Business videos: What my first live shot taught me about looking into a camera lens
On:Jan 09, 2017

I’ll never forget my first live shot in TV news. It was February 2001, and I conducted a live interview with a legendary Wisconsin college football coach, who was visiting Wausau for a speaking event. I was fresh out of college and so excited to kick off my television career. By most measures, I actually did pretty well on the live shot for a 22-year-old kid, but I learned a tough lesson that night: There’s something about the dark abyss inside a camera lens that can paralyze thought. I don’t know what it is, but for many people, it’s tough to get over. I was able to stick to my ultra-memorized script to get through the live shot, but he could’ve told me he was stepping down effective immediately, and I was so nervous I would’ve nodded and said, “Thanks, back to you in the studio!”

In business videos, many of us have a tendency to want to be the one delivering the story by looking right into the camera and talking for a few minutes straight – or even longer. It makes sense – we started the business. We’re on the hook for the rise and fall of the company. The problem, I would argue, is that there are precious few people in the world who are truly comfortable and charismatic while staring directly into the camera lens. I think part of it is natural ability, and part of it is practice. I did it for a living for almost 10 years, but it took a long time for me to be okay with it, and there were still plenty of times well into that tenure in which I just couldn’t talk.

So does that mean that only a fraction of us can sell our company’s story in front of a camera? Absolutely not. I argue that the traditional interview method makes a much stronger connection with your target audience. By taking the route of traditional storytelling that you see every day in documentaries, newscasts and TV shows, you enter in a much more conversational tone that lends itself to a strong storytelling style. With a solid producer and interviewer, you can just focus on answering questions in your usual voice, instead of worrying about where you’re looking, where to put your hands, if you stumbled over your words, etc.

camera lens
camera lens

If you think about great videos from businesses, whether they’re on a website, social media or TV ads, do they include a talking head looking into a camera, or are they well-edited pieces that include short soundbites from someone looking at the interviewer sitting to the side of the camera? Maybe there are some great speakers out there that I’ve missed, but my answer would be the edited pieces. I don’t know about you, but my attention span with someone talking into the camera is about 15-20 seconds. I need something else to happen.

As always, there are exceptions. I’ve seen great looking-into-the-camera videos on social media, but you’ll notice a few things in common with the good ones. They’re usually short. They’re usually showing you something – how to cook a dish, the progress of the store renovation, the view from the construction site, etc. I’ve also seen some painful ones where the subject isn’t really doing anything. It’s more of, “The-book-told-me-I-should-do-social-media-videos.”

It can be tough for us to trust someone else to take us down the interview, documentary-style route. That’s where strong planning comes into play. When you have the core messages and story flow mapped out, you can put your confidence in a good producer who knows how to hit all of the points you want, and how to get you to say them in the best way possible.

And…at least it’s not live TV.

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