How to Make Your Staff (or Subject) More Comfortable on Camera

It’s challenging to shoot and edit a good video if your subject is nervous. Anxiety can make people fidget, stumble over their words, speak too rapidly or loudly or cause other viewer-distracting reactions that are unique to every single person. This is especially true if your staff or subject has never been on camera before.

Our first inclination is to try to reassure people by telling them something along the lines of, “Don’t be nervous. This is going to be really easy. You have nothing to worry about. It’ll be over with really quickly.” Unfortunately, that almost always has the opposite effect: the subject can wind up feeling even more tense. 

When you’re making marketing and corporate videos, this might not just be frustrating for the subject and the crew, but it could also cause time and cost overruns.  

This is a case of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With the right approach, you can put video subjects at ease and make the entire shoot and editing process go much more smoothly. Here are some tips for keeping your video shoots chill.

1. Set Clear Expectations

One of the worst things you could do is have a subject show up at the shoot without a clue about what’s going to happen and what they’ll be doing. 

The process of making subjects comfortable starts well in advance, before the day of the shoot, by making your expectations crystal clear. Make sure you tell them at least these three things:

  1. What the video will be about.
  2. How it will be used.
  3. How they fit in.

You might also tell them how they’ll be filmed, who else will be in the room during the shoot and whether they’ll be able to review the video before its release. Even if it will be too late for changes, many subjects will gain an extra level of comfort knowing they’ll know in advance what their co-workers, friends and family will be seeing. 

Finally, tell them what to wear, and be sure to give them an opportunity to ask questions.

2. Film Off Camera

Looking straight into the lens can put people who are not used to being on camera on edge, so use the off-camera technique, instead. 

Example of off-camera filming.

Off camera refers to having a subject look off to the side, usually at an interviewer, rather than right at the video camera lens. Most people are much, much more comfortable being filmed this way, so consider using this style if it will work for your video. Your subjects will feel better, and you'll get much stronger performances out of them. 

Want to learn more about off-camera filming vs looking into the lens? Read our blog here or watch the video below.

3. Expertise and Passion Rule

Another way to put people at ease is to cater to what they’re experts at or what they’re really passionate about. 

For example, if you're using your staff to create an About Us video, don't have the engineer talk about the design or the user interface. Instead, have them talk about the technology of the product and how it actually works. 

Think of it this way – for someone who loves the outdoors it’s much easier to talk about hiking in the mountains than it is to make conversation about the latest pop hit on television. And chances are the outdoors enthusiast will get... well... enthusiastic while they’re talking about last weekend’s hike, using their hands, varying their facial expressions, modulating their voice and overall just looking more at ease.

If you cater to your subject's expertise and their passions, they’ll be more focused, engaged and animated, and that means that, in the end, you’ll wind up with a superior video.

4. Reassure Your Video Subjects

Reassure your subjects as much as possible and at as many points in the process as possible. 

For example, when they arrive at the set, greet them, make them feel welcome, explain what they’re seeing and introduce them to the videographer and other people who will be in the room during the shoot.

Remind them again about what the video will be about, where and how it’s going to be used and their role in the final product overall.

I always like to remind subjects about the role and value of video editing, too. For example, I might tell them we’re going to shoot for 30 minutes or so, but that will be cut down to the very best 60 seconds. This reassures them they’re going to be presented in the best light possible.

Take care of the little things, too; if you don’t, they could become big things. 

  • Have cold water on hand in case they get choked up or thirsty. 
  • Provide a make-up artist so they don’t have to worry about how their face or hair will look in the video.
  • Be ready to go the moment they arrive. The last thing you want is for your subjects to be waiting around wasting their valuable time.
  • Limit the size and scope of your crew and gear as much as possible. Having a lot of people in the room can be very overwhelming.

5. Sit On The Questions

Subjects almost always want to know what questions they’ll be asked in advance. They think they’ll be more relaxed if they know precisely what points they’ll need to address. You’ll commiserate, so it’s going to be hard to say no, but say no, anyway.

While it might seem counterintuitive, giving subjects questions ahead of time actually makes them more nervous. That’s because they’ll try to write out and memorize their answers. Since they’re not professional actors, the result is a presentation that looks and sounds unnatural and forced. Instead, reiterate the topic they’ll be discussing and remind them it’s something within their expertise or that’s one of their passions.

Implement these tips and chances are the result will be a Video That Clicks.

Thank you for reading this post about putting your video subjects at ease. If you have any questions, please comment below or get in touch. Until then, we'll see you in the next video. 

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Grand Rapids, MI
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