When I first started making videos on YouTube, I was worried:
“What if one of my friends discovers my channel? What if a stranger on the Internet says something mean to me? What if make a fool of myself?”
I’d always been the definitive “quiet kid”, so even the idea of making videos was a step out of my comfort zone. The actual practice of it just seemed like an inevitable disaster.
But I had to do it.
I’d stagnated in my career as a writer, Internet marketer, and web developer, and I needed something new to work towards. I needed a fresh pursuit to help dig myself out of a rut, and YouTube seemed like an exciting opportunity.
In the end, it’s a Thomas Jefferson quote that pushed me over the edge and encouraged me to upload my first video:
If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.
But an inspirational quote wasn’t about to fix the fundamental problem of being horrible in front of the camera. That would take a bit more work.
My First Video
“Being horrible in front of the camera” means different things to different people, so to ensure we’re on the same page about what horribleness actually means, here’s the first video I ever uploaded to my channel:
Are there worse videos on YouTube?
But anyone with eyes and ears can see and hear that I’m extremely awkward as I stare down the barrel of the lens.
The good news is, I got better.
Here, for instance, is a more recent video. You’ll notice that I’m a lot more comfortable in front of the camera, and the channel actually became somewhat popular — two things that did not feel possible when I first started.
But of course, this isn’t about me. This is about you. So let’s talk about some (highly practical) ways you can be more confident in front of the camera.
1. Know what you’re trying to say
It’s amazing how many times I’ve been in the middle of a video, stumbling over my words, only to realise that I have no idea what point I’m actually trying to make. Usually, it turns out that I have no point and I’m simply wandering off on a dead-end tangent, making it impossible to remain coherent. To avoid this, write a short outline of the points you plan to cover before starting a video. A script, I find, can be too restrictive — when I used scripts, my videos would always end up feeling completely wooden — but an outline provides enough meat for you to remain on track, while being lean enough that the words can flow a little more naturally.
2. Make shorter videos
Long videos are exponentially more difficult to make because you have to fight harder and harder to keep the viewer’s attention. Try making videos that are 3-4 minutes long. This forces you to get to the point and means you don’t have to juggle as many thoughts in your head at any one time. This is a dramatically easier approach to video making. You’ll also be able to spend less time working on each individual video, allowing you to make more videos overall, which is a better use of your time at this stage.
3. Edit your videos with jump-cuts
On YouTube, the “jump-cut” style of editing is extremely popular. This is where you heavily edit a video, to the point that you might have multiple sudden cuts within a single sentence. Not everyone likes this style of editing, and I avoided it for the first few months of my video making, but as long as it’s not gratuitous — meaning, it’s important to have some self-control to avoid triggering epileptic fits — you’ll find that being able to fix basically any of your mistakes during the editing process makes you less likely to make mistakes during the recording process.
4. Warm up your vocal chords
This makes a huge difference when it comes to stringing words together into a coherent sentence. There are many ways to warm up your voice, but my favourite method is to grab a guitar and try singing a song in a silly voice — a voice that’s either extremely deep, sounds like Mickey Mouse, or sounds like Bob Dylan. Sometimes, I’ll change between the voices throughout the song. By doing this, you’ll feel somewhat mental, but by taking your voice to a bizarre and exaggerated extreme, it all of a sudden becomes much easier to speak with your regular, less insane voice.
5. Put a pair of fake eyes above your camera lens
Okay, this is a weird tip, and I’ve never actually done it myself, but it sounds like something that could work. Basically, print a photo of someone’s eyes and stick that photo on your camera, above the lens. Then, as you’re speaking, look at those eyes. Apparently, it makes it feel like you’re talking to a person instead of a camera, which can make you much more conversational in front of the camera. I don’t think it’d make a huge difference, but it’s easy to try, so it’s worth a shot.
6. Drink more water
You should probably be doing this anyway — I tend to end up dehydrated if I don’t make an effort to the contrary — but just in case you need more convincing, here’s what Steve Cohen says about the power of water in [Win the Crowd]:
Pure water hydrates every cell in your body and helps make your skin radiate a healthy glow. More important, water relaxes your throat, making your voice more resonant. The moist environments eliminates any resistance that is presented by a dry throat and enables you to produce a richer, more pleasant-sounding tone. On top of that, it’ll feel good. You’ll feel the resonation and reverberation of vocal tones more distinctly in your chest and nasal area. This helps you produce a better-quality sound.
7. Stand up
For the longest of times, I sat down in front of the camera, but when I switched to standing, I noticed that I felt more confident, I was able to move more comfortably, and because my breathing was less constricted, I was better able to control my voice. As a result, I felt great while recording videos and, from the viewer’s perspective, I had a lot more energy. Switching from sitting to standing might sound like a fairly small change, but it’s definitely one of the more important changes I made.
8. Make a lot of videos
Quantity is insanely important. You want to be pressing that “Record” button as much as possible. It might even be worth recording a daily video blog purely for the sake of practicing in front of the camera. You don’t have to upload these videos anywhere. You just need to be creating an immense volume of videos. In the words of Daniel Coyle, the author of [The Talent Code]:
There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do — talking, thinking, reading, imagining – is more effective in building skill than executing the action.
9. Publish before you’re ready
You don’t have to publish every video you make, but a big part of why you might be uncomfortable in front of a camera is because you know that, eventually, someone might see the recording. That is why it’s critical that you become comfortable with that discomfort by sharing your videos with the world *before* you’re ready to. There’s every chance in the world that a stranger will leave a mean comment on the video — one of my viewers said I bobbed my head up and down like a muppet — but that in itself is simply part of the process and it’s something you need to embrace rather than run from. If you wait until you’re ready before publishing a video, you’ll never publish anything and your fear of publishing will only increase.
10. Study your videos
It can be painful to watch your own content, but it’s an absolute must if you’re hoping to grow as a video maker. Every time you watch one of your videos, take note of 2-3 things you’d like to improve the next time you make a video and then try to implement those changes the next time you’re in front of the camera. You don’t have to make big, sweeping changes with every video, but any small and incremental changes will add up over time.
11. Pick up the slack elsewhere
Even after years of making videos, I’m not the most engaging on-camera personality. I’m not the funniest, the best-looking, or the most charismatic. But none of that really matters since I’ve gained confidence from my strengths, such as my video editing ability, my knowledge of what I’m talking about, and the speed with which I can record, edit, and upload a video. You can do the same. If you don’t feel like you’ll ever be great on camera, pick up the slack elsewhere. People will accept on-camera awkwardness if you’re delivering greatness in some other way, and as long as you know that you’re picking up the slack, you’ll feel less anxious about your on-camera ability.
12. Watch your older videos
After you’ve been making videos for a while, it’s easy to ignore how much confidence you’ve probably developed in front of the camera. It can be months before you feel truly comfortable on camera — in my case, it was *years* — but every month or two, look back at some of your older videos and take time to appreciate your progress. If you only rely on your memory, you might not feel like you’re achieving much, but when you go back and clearly see how far you’ve come, it becomes much easier to push ahead.
13. Think bigger
Instead of reading about how to be confident in front of a camera, focus on the fundamental skills that will allow you to be confident in front of a camera, such as public speaking and the development of charisma. Two of my favourite books on these subjects are [Confessions of a Public Speaker] and [Win the Crowd]. It’s easy to assume that you have hyper-specific problems, but it’s more likely that your problems are more fundamental than you realise, and if that’s the case, it’s more effective to focus on the underlying issues.
14. Close the gap
At the moment, there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Anyone who does creative work experiences the discomfort of this gap, and it’s something that NPR’s Ira Glass explains beautifully in the video below:
The video is mostly aimed at writers, but the advice is something I keep in mind whenever I sit down to make a video. Each time I sit down to record, I might feel like I’m not doing the best I can do, but I am nevertheless closing the gap.
Here’s a transcript of the video:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Although I was hesitant to begin making YouTube videos, doing so ended up being one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made in my life. The first few months of sitting in front of the camera and feeling out of a place are a bit of a hard slog but, if you stick with it, I can assure you: it’s totally worth it.