Talking Heads? I Don't Think So
With all of the virtual meetings going on in Toastmasters clubs these days, it occurs to me that we need to learn (and teach) another skill set.
We can benefit greatly from becoming more effective at developing a screen presence. Today, I am referring to two skill sets:
1. Facial expression and upper body language and
2. Screen eye contact
Take a look at the main players on the news channels for an example of what NOT to do. People do not call these people “talking heads” for nothing. Their facial expression is almost schooled in it’s lack of expression and their vocal variety is practically invariable.
As a contrast, observe the people in the small screens in the corner of the larger screen; the people doing a sign language interpretation of the main speaker. Their faces are filled with expression and their hands do more than just interpret. Even their use of hands is filled with expression! This is at least part of the model we can emulate.
What appears on the screen of your audience can and should draw their eye; capture their interest.
Is your presentation important? Let that show in your face! Is there humour? Let your face know it. Lips can curve upward or twitch with unspoken “almost” laughter. Dimples can appear and eyes can twinkle. Your head can tilt to express irony, quizzicality and even as you pause for effect. World Champion of Public Speaking, Darrin LaCroix, decries practicing in front of a mirror and when it comes to learning your speech, I agree. But all of the devices I just mentioned can be practiced in a mirror.
Movement of the head can also impart meaning: Nodding, shaking a head in the negative and tilting the head as mentioned before are all useful. The next speech that you give in a video conference, practice head and hand movement and emoting in a mirror ahead of time. learn how to impart the emotions; the attitude and the sensation of your message with your physical presentation. This is your first step.
Next, is eye contact. When you look directly at the camera lens, it is the same as looking directly at a member of your audience. Now consider what it is like when you have a physical audience. Toastmasters recommends that you pick people at disparate locations in the audience and hold their eye for a few seconds then move on. When I was competing in the International Speech Contest at The District level, they had to video our speeches in HD and in high quality audio to be sent to a regional committee who would decide who, from the Region would move on to the International Conference semi-finals. We were asked NOT to look directly at the camera. Instead, we looked at audience members on either side of the camera and at a table of people directly
under the camera.
I recommend that when doing a speech for video, look to one side of the camera lens, look at the lens and look to the other side of the lens. Do this all as if you were looking at individuals in an actual audience. You can physically move your head as you change the “virtual” person you are engaging. This will simulate what your eye contact would be like if you were present in their room.
Finally we come to voice. Emotive power in your voice is key to getting your message to have more power. Let your feelings out! You wouldn’t even be giving this speech unless it meant something to you. So let people know what it means.
That is the sum total of my advice to you today.
- Let your head and face be free to move and emote
- Make eye contact as if you were present with your audience
- Make your voice impart your message
The rest of your presentation should draw on the skills that you are already learning in the Toastmasters program:
Vocal variety | facial expression | speech structure | rhetoric: grammar and so on.
These skills are not just for your Toastmaster meetings. They are for meetings with your cohort at work, in group meetings with other groups than Toastmasters and even with your family and friends.
Toastmasters is valuable for connecting and becoming known as a leader and communicator. Video is just another medium for that reputation.
Bud Brown DTM ES4 VL4