Lights, Camera, Action: Tips for First Time Company Video Spokesmen

Today, anyone can become a company video star. Are you ready for YOUR close-up? It’s easier than you think to shine when the lights come up. (Hint: Mom knew the secret.) Here’s a short checklist that can help you deliver a star-quality performance in any company video.

Practice Makes Perfect

When we were kids, we heard it over and over. Practice makes perfect. Mom was right. The most important factor in delivering a great video performance is to practice before the cameras start to roll. I’ve been helping start-up CEOs and clients get ready for their first video presentations for more than two decades, and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s that rehearsals and practice are the secret to a great video.

This is something I often get push back from executives on. “I’ve been doing product demos for years. I don’t need to rehearse,” they’ll say.  Or, “I’m just recording my standard investor pitch. I know what I’m doing.” What they don’t realize is that video is different from a live presentation, and even the best public speakers can wind up shocked at how poorly their presentation translates to video.

I suggest having the script finished two weeks before the camera crew arrives. A “finished” script includes a story board so you know what visuals match up with the words — I’m not a fan of “talking heads” videos. Are you? Probably not. A video that includes visual appeal will get far more traction than one that has a company spokesperson sitting behind a desk pontificating on something or another.

There’s no mystery to creating a good storyboard for a video shoot. PowerPoint works well — just put the script in the left hand column, and the suggested visual in the right hand column, on a two-column page. If the visual is your spokesperson talking, put in a photo of the spokesperson.  Here’s an example.Company Video Storyboard Sample Page

Once the script and storyboard are ready, it’s time to practice. Lots and lots of practice. Practice in front of a mirror. Record yourself on your cell phone. Do whatever it takes to get ready for the day of the shoot.

Word Games

Words matter on video.  A well-written script, carefully timed to allow you to speak clearly and understandably and finish on time, is vital.  If you’re writing it yourself, buy a stopwatch and time yourself reading the content.  If you hire a scriptwriter, they can walk you through the process and make sure you have the right words and timing.

Nail down the content early in the process, and make a list of the visuals that will accompany your key points. It’s important to write a script that your spokesperson is comfortable with. Not everyone has perfect diction or pronunciation, so one of the most important parts of the rehearsal process is to make certain that the person providing the voice over can pronounce the words correctly.

Use phonetic spelling in the script if needed. For example, I once represented a company with a product called Serendipity. But the CEO pronounced it Suren-dip-itty. We had to replace the product name in the script with a phonetic spelling that we worked out with the CEO to remind her how the product name should be pronounced. So the script used this phonetic guide instead of the product name: ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser’innˈdipuhdē] It worked, and she delivered a flawless video in just two takes.

Avoid Wardrobe Malfunctions

We all feel most comfortable when we know we look good, and a professional make-up artist and hairstylist can make a big difference in how we feel. You probably don’t need one if you’re recording a one-off video for an internal presentation. But if it makes you more comfortable with your appearance, and your video will be around any length of time, it may be the best investment you can make.

Don’t go overboard on the hair, make-up, and wardrobe, however. Unless you’re promoting a fashion product, glamour isn’t what you’re selling. You want to look credible, not as if you’re posing on the red carpet. If people are paying more attention to your eye make-up or your shoes than to your message, you’re not going to achieve the company results you want.

That said, women do need make up for a video shoot, even if you don’t wear it every day. Mascara, a light foundation, and some lip gloss make a big difference in how you look on camera. Men need to make sure they are freshly shaved, or if they wear a moustache or beard, that it it clean and nearly trimmed.  Both genders want their hair tamed (no fly-away hair, please).

Clothes matter, too. Don’t buy a brand new suit to wear for the video shoot – and never, ever buy new shoes that you wear for the first time on the day of a shoot. Why? Because you need to be comfortable.

If you’re recording a product video, consider wearing the clothes you’d wear at a trade show – comfortable khakis, company logo shirt, and walking shoes. And wear a favorite business outfit if it’s a more formal presentation. Your video is a sort of job interview for your company or your product, so conservative, practical, simple clothing works best.

When picking your clothing for a video shoot, consider three key elements: pattern,  color and shape/fit.

  1. Pattern: The question of pattern is simple. Avoid them.  There are very few people who can make checks, stripes, florals, paisley, and herringbone patterns look good on video — and many consumer-grade video cameras simply can’t handle them. So when you go to your closet to pick an outfit for your video, simply remove anything with a pattern on it from the list of possibilities.
  2. Color: When it comes to color, the most important factor is to pick a color that complements your skin tone. Most video cameras can’t handle high contrast between bright and dark objects, and this includes skin tone and clothing. If you have dark skin, avoid wearing white or very light colors so that your shirt won’t appear to glow when the camera is set to make your face look its best. If you have very light skin, avoid black or very dark clothing so that the black shirt doesn’t become a formless hole in the video. Men: Collared shirts look better than a t-shirt. For a light-skinned man, a soft gray jacket may look best. A darker-skinned man might look best in a medium blue jacket. Wear a tailored jacket that fits perfectly. Wear a light blue, pink, cream or burgundy shirt – not a pure white shirt. You can wear a tie with a pattern, and it’s ok to have a red tie – but stay away from the orange side of the red color wheel, and keep the pattern simple. Women: Avoid the same color and pattern problems as the men, but add to the list neon bright  colors and huge, flowery patterns. Don’t wear a red power suit on camera, and avoid drab earth tones (beige, brown, olive green). Keep your jewelry simple. The video camera needs light, and light reflects off shiny objects. Avoid large rings, bracelets, dangling earrings, necklaces and pins. Simple and tasteful are two key words in video. Pearls and small neck chains with cameos or colored stones look best.
  3. Shape/Fit: Yes, it’s true. The camera can add pounds to anyone’s figure. But that doesn’t mean that you will look better if you wear baggy clothing. It’s just the opposite, in fact. When you’re on camera, it’s important to pay attention to the shape and fit of your clothing — all of your clothing. One of the most common problems men have on video is they forget to check how a jacket “hangs” when it’s buttoned, or they have pants that are not hemmed properly. Both women and men need to make sure that clothing flatters their body shape, and is neither too tight or too loose. Pick clothing that feels comfortable — you can’t tug or adjust clothing while the camera is rolling.
White Shirts tend to glow on video

Hollywood Director/Producer Del Shores runs video workshops for actors on how to look their best on camera. In this photo taken at a Del Shores workshop in Dallas, you can see how the actor’s white shirt glows slightly on the video monitor. Although he looks great in his tailored suit, a light blue shirt would have looked better in the finished video. Actors dress to fit a character or role — this actor was taping a scene that took place at a funeral, so his white shirt and dark suit is perfect. If you’re recording a company video, however, you should dress to look your best — so avoid stark white and deep blacks.

Location, Location, Location

Where you shoot your video determines what equipment is required. These days, portable green-screen rigs can help to create the perfect backdrop – with the help of computers, of course. But shooting in your office may not always be the best option.

Studios are quiet, pre-lit, faster, and sometimes less expensive than video shoots done at a corporate site. Noise and ambient light are critical factors in how well your video turns out. So budget for the video crew to visit your location and determine if it’s a good option for your shoot before you decide where to film. An in-studio recording may wind up being more cost-effective than you think, and you could get better results.

Remember that you can’t simply decide to film your video in a public place without getting advance permission from the authorities — and you may not be able to film in front of a building without permission from the owners. I know of one case where a technology company was excited that a big retailer was using its products. So they got permission to film a promo video in a shopping mall parking lot, where the store’s logo was visible on the building behind them, along with a number of other company logos. It took less than 24 hours before they got multiple DMCA takedown requests (copyright infringement notices) that got their video pulled off of YouTube and their own website.

Take 30 (Seconds, That Is)

Mom was right about something beside the importance of practice. Remember when she used to tell you to slow down, and speak clearly? She knew intuitively what great directors and actors only learn over time.

It’s important to change your pace, rhythm, and content every 30 seconds.  Viewers think faster than we talk – and we live in a society where everyone has seen great video. Use your stopwatch to time yourself reading your script – and stop after the first 30 seconds. It came faster than expected, didn’t it?

Droning on for more than 30 seconds about even the most important product feature or message can cause your audience to tune you out. But if you change the pace, the visuals, or even your tone of voice regularly, they’re more likely to stick with you until the end.

We don’t have to be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie to be company video stars.  But we do need to be professional and prepared – just like Mom said.


About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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