Years ago, as a grad student at USC film school, I never imagined I’d be producing videos to promote my writing, teaching, and coaching practices. But here I am doing just that. Since completing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I’ve been designing a new website, which is launching today! On the site, I’m including three new videos: one talking about my coaching practice, one of me reading an excerpt from Raw, and one of me reading an excerpt from my essay in The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey, the wonderful new She Writes Press anthology edited by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner.
The decision to make these videos crept up on me. I didn’t know when I started working on the site a few months ago that I’d include them. But I wanted to break up the text and also bring more “life” to the site. Also, years ago, a social media expert advised me to integrate video into my platform, telling me, “You come off well on camera.” At the time I was flattered, but not ready. Now I finally am!
While it’s true that some people are more comfortable in front of the camera than others, there are things anyone can—and should—do to enhance the quality of their video (live-action) projects. Here are a few things to consider, whether you feel totally at ease in front of the camera or you’re one of those people who dislike, or even dread, it.
Organize your thoughts. Consider what you’re promoting and to whom. Take time to get quiet and turn within. Write in your journal. Explore what you’d like to say. What are the main points you’d like to communicate? You may have to wander a bit before you nail down these essential bits. Give yourself time. Even if you’re great speaking off-the-cuff, writing about what you want to say will make speaking easier. You may also want to write a list of questions for someone to ask you during the shoot (see more about this in the “speaking” section below).
Put your best face forward. Many authors I meet are promoting beautiful, well-written books and also writing businesses. It behooves them to show up on video looking well put together, or at least how they’d show up at a professional conference. This includes an awareness of the importance of hair and make-up. Even if most of the time you don’t wear make-up, I suggest you put some on so that your face doesn’t appear washed out. Do a trial. Put make-up on and shoot a few frames. See what looks and feels natural. The idea is to use make-up to enhance your features. When someone looks at your face, they should notice your face, not your make-up. Your hair should be clean and styled as if you were going to a professional engagement. The ponytail you wear around the house isn’t a great idea for a video in which you’re selling professional services. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen it done. Take time with your appearance, and ask for help if you need it.
Consider your “costume.” Dress for the occasion. Again, be professional. If you’re hoping to book speaking engagements, dress like you would if you were delivering a keynote. Solid colors work best on camera; patterns can be distracting. —Same with logos and printed text. If you don’t want your audience to read what’s written on your T-shirt while you’re speaking, don’t wear it.
Your environment matters too. Recently, I watched a video of an author publicizing her services to help authors promote their work. The video was shot in what appeared to be a messy apartment. As she spoke, she shuffled from one room to another. I wasn’t sure what she was doing or saying, because I was totally distracted by the busy background. I didn’t want to see her kids’ artwork on the fridge, her lived-in family room, her psychedelic lamp near the front door, or piles of unsorted mail. The video was haphazard at best, and felt like a waste of my time. Even if this author had fabulous book promotion ideas, her presentation was so unprofessional and off-putting that I stopped watching.
Set the scene. Have you heard the expression “dress the set”? This means everything in the shot is carefully chosen. It has a reason for being in the frame. Most “authorpreneurs” will want to produce films in the three-minutes-or-less category. For this purpose, if you’re making a live-action film (as opposed to animation) it’s fine to sit or stand in one place and talk. But make sure that everything in the shot belongs there. I like shooting outdoors because nature brings life to the shot. But indoors, in your library, office, or den, can work well, too. Either way, don your set designer’s hat and consider how colors, patterns, textures, and content communicate. The overall image needs to be balanced and uncluttered. Think of the shot itself as a blank canvas against which your message will be conveyed, through you. Keep it spacious.
Speaking. If you need notes, set up a white board next to the camera and jot down your main points. Refer to them as needed, but try to talk to the viewer as if you’re talking to a friend or interviewer. It helps to have someone sitting next to the camera. Here’s where that list of questions I suggested you write in the “organize your thoughts” section above comes in handy. It can be helpful if a friend or family member asks you questions. This works well for me. It enables me to forget about the camera and focus on the conversation.
Some people might be able to convey their message in a single take, but if you want to shoot a lot of footage and use selected bits, you’ll need to edit. If you don’t know how to do video editing and don’t want to learn, find someone who knows the craft. Work with your editor to select the best content. See if you can tell a story in the few minutes you have. Shooting the same footage from two different angles makes cutting easier (because when you cut two pieces together you need to change either the angle or image size). This is something I didn’t do when shooting my recent videos, and the result is editing that’s not as smooth as I’d like. But I’m using them anyway, and releasing my need for perfection.
Most importantly, have fun—and be grateful for this brilliant technology, which has gotten so much easier to use since I was a student.
Please share video tips and links here. Let’s all keep learning!