A subscriber to my YouTube channel emailed with the following question:

As a principal on a steep distance-learning curve, I’m honing my skills at producing short instructional videos. How do you manage to appear to be looking into the camera at all times?

Here is my response:

Thanks for the compliment! Believe me, trying to look at the camera while recording a video has been a struggle for me as well. I am fairly new at video myself, so I’ll share what I am finding.

My webcam sits on top of my computer monitor. So, I learned if I look at myself on the screen, the video looks like I am looking down. Furthermore, if I attempt to read from printed notes, it’s painfully obvious. The viewer immediately sees me looking down or across to see the notes.

When sharing my screen to show a technology concept, I’m talking off the cuff. My eyes are on the screen. This part is not distracting to the audience for two reasons.

First, they are also focused on my screen rather than on my face. Second, when I share the screen, Zoom shrinks my image. The viewer sees my face in a small square off to the side. The screen where I show the concept moves front-and-center. 

The real challenge comes when talking directly to the audience. People tend to “freeze” in front of the camera, and I’m no exception. Economy of words is important. YouTube viewers are pretty unforgiving of any rambling.

Using a teleprompter

My secret is the use of a teleprompter. The one I use is “teleprompt.me.” It’s free, at least for now.

The thing I love about this one is that it’s listening to my voice and moves at my speed. I never have to worry about talking faster to keep up with it.

If I go off-script, it pauses. When it senses I am back on script, it jumps to the correct point and continues. I’m able to talk at a relaxed pace and don’t have to worry about memorizing a script. 

The words on the teleprompter are only inches below the webcam. Still, I have to worry about the video showing my eyes moving back and forth. Two tricks minimize that issue.

Use of movement

First, I roll my chair back a little so I’m not right up on the screen. Second, I use more body language than I otherwise would. My head moves. I include gestures. A variety of facial expressions also helps. This motion takes away the attention on how my eyes are moving.

I created a video demonstrating composing and editing video. One reason I was always hesitant to do video was the fear of having to start over every time I made a mistake. Having to record an error-free take was too time-consuming. Errors are inevitable.

Now, I start the video and let it run. When I make a mistake, I pause, back up a sentence or two, and jump back in. Then I use Shotcut (free) to edit out the bad parts.

Positioning the camera

Be sure the webcam is a little above eye level and looking slightly down at you. When people record with a laptop, the camera is usually looking up at them. You wind up looking at the person’s chin and getting a good view of where the wall meets the ceiling behind them.

Both you and the background look better when the camera is slightly above eye level and looks down at you just a bit. One easy solution is to put some books under the laptop or computer monitor to raise it.

Conclusion

Whether you are a principal, as this reader was, or anyone creating content, looking good on camera is a trick. For our television-watching society, professional on-screen appearance is commonplace. So, viewers can be pretty unforgiving. I hope you find these tips helpful as you create video.