Audiences make snap judgments about anyone on camera. Viewers immediately assume someone is hostile if they look slightly angry. A confused look can come across as dopey. A blank face looks snooty or boring. That’s because video amplifies every facial expression—and often viewers don’t stick around to find out if their first impression was wrong. They’ve already changed the channel.
No one wants to spend time with someone who seems pissed off, stupid, or holier-than-thou. So before you get ready to appear on CNN, film a segment for your YouTube channel, or just fire up Skype for a conference call, consider how you arrange your face. I know it sounds weird but look in the mirror and find what I like to call your “benign smile.”
BENIGN SMILE: a pleasant expression that conveys a reasonable sensibility rather than happiness.
Relax your face and smile ever so slightly, just enough to let the audience know you are someone it wants to spend some time with. The goal isn’t took come across as happy or excited (although that may be appropriate at other times) but to come across as reasonable and pleasant. Worth watching.
My default on-camera expression was a furrowed brow and intense worry—I used to look perpetually concerned when I was interviewed. You may not even know you are making a bizarre on-camera face. But trust me, you’ll soon be able to summon your “benign smile” whether the topic is accounting, radish recipes, or curly hair care.
And here’s another trick for your next audio presentation. Try smiling slightly when you’re on a conference call, radio show, or being interviewed for a podcast—your voice will convey your pleasant expression and keep the audience tuned in for longer. Just listen to my colleague, the master of public radio Brian Lehrer to hear what I mean. That man always sounds like he is enjoying himself…an enticement to every listener.
AN EASY EXERCISE: Turn on the TV or YouTube. Find someone you think is really great on camera. Now watch her with the sound turned off. Notice her facial expression, where her hands are, how she is standing, what her face looks like when she’s NOT talking. Then with the sound ON, close your eyes and just listen. How does she pace her sentences? What’s her voice like? Does she vary her tone?
Manoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC’s New Tech City and the author of Camera Ready: How to Present Yourself and Ideas On Air or Online. Download the show on iTunes, get the book on Amazon or iBooks, and follow her on Twitter @manoushz. She also blogs at manoushz.com/blog and for The Huffington Post.